Summer gardening should inspire me to invent new salad dressings, but frankly, it just makes me want to put mint in a glass with vodka. Once my little deck container garden is blooming, I find myself browsing Pinterest for some herbal cocktail inspiration. Summertime backyard parties with friends are the perfect time to test out pitcher-friendly refreshments. And who doesn’t love a beautiful Pimm’s Cup?
photo by Whitney Wright via unsplash
This summer I decided to up both my gardening and mixology game with Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Greatest Drinks. I came across this little bundle of joyful information in a bar in Dublin during a gin-themed happy hour, and was drawn in by my favorite triple threat: history, science, and food [or the delightful subcategory, drinks].
The Drunken Botanist is organized into three sections. Part One moves through the alphabet of plant life that produces our favorite alcoholic beverages. Amy takes us around the world in space and time, starting with agave, the plant behind mezcal, tequila, and other lesser-known historical or regional concoctions. We stroll through the letters to wheat, best known for its role in beer, but also the “secret ingredient” that makes Makers Mark, Grey Goose, Ketel One, and Absolut so universally popular. She even covers more obscure sources of a stiff drink, from the Cashew Apple feni made only in Goa, to the ceremonial mudai made from thousand-year old Monkey Puzzle trees in Chile.
photo by Jennifer Pallian at foodess.com via unsplash
Part Two walks us through the herbs, spices, flowers, trees, fruits, nuts and seeds used by distillers in the “secret recipes” that produce the science experiments we routinely consume. We learn about the botany behind the distinct flavors in liquors, such as caraway in Aquavit and what is believed to be fenugreek in Pimm’s No. 1. Hops are perhaps the most famous flower, and angostura (known for its role in bitters) is a tree, as is cascarilla, thought to be the distinct flavor of Campari. Thanks to my Montreal friends who became family, I know all about maple sugar trees and maple whiskey, a delicious treat to warm up a cold winter night.
Each section offers sidebar tips on growing your own ingredients, including candid advice on when the degree of difficulty might make it not quite worth your gardening energy. I loved the deep dive into the science behind our most basic plants. Did you know apples are more genetically diverse than humans? Or that grapes would have never survived without humans selecting hermaphrodite mutations of the reproductively challenged fruit? The history lessons gave some color to big events, such as John Adams citing molasses as the essential ingredient in the American fight for independence. And yes, it was super helpful to have an encyclopedia-like reference to all the terms I don’t understand on today’s artisanal cocktail menus.
photo by adam jaime via unsplash
Finally we come to Part Three. Here we wander right into the average container garden in search of those lovely additions that do more than just garnish our drinks. Herbs, edible flowers, trees, berries, vines, fruits and vegetables — Amy covers them all, including growing notes and “experimentation guides” to help constructively stir your creativity.
You can visit Amy at DrunkenBotanist.com for plant and liquor sources, recommended reading, events, tours, recipes, and techniques for both the gardener and the mixologist. But I promised you cocktails, so here is a roundup of some of my favorite recipes. Cheers to a happy summer!
photo by Jenn Kosar
Favorite Summer Cocktails
Cider Cup [from The Drunken Botanist]
This is a lovely alternative to sangria, and a great way to use up those extra fruits from the farmers market visit or CSA. I love this for summer parties, as you can make the base ahead and top off with the frozen fruit and ginger beer.
2 parts hard cider
Sliced apples, oranges, melons, or other seasonal fruit
Frozen raspberries, strawberries or grapes
1 part ginger beer or ginger ale (non-alcoholic)
In a large pitcher combine the cider and fruit, allow to soak for 3-6 hours. Strain to remove the sliced fruit. Fill highball glasses with frozen berries and ice, and fill the glass three-quarters full with cider. Top with ginger beer to taste.
photo by Jenn Kosar
The Frank Meyer Expedition [from The Drunken Botanist]
I love. love. love Meyer lemons. When they come into season, I am on the hunt for any way to use them. This is one of my favorites. Unfortunately they are not really a summer fruit, but you can find them in stores, or use it as inspiration for your favorite seasonal fruit of choice.
1 1/2 ounces vodka
3/4 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce Meyer lemon juice
Dry sparkling wine (Spanish Cava or a dry Prosecco) or sparkling water
Shake the vodka, simple syrup, and lemon juice over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Float sparkling wine on top and garnish with lemon peel. For a less intoxicating variation, strain into a tumbler over ice and top with sparkling water.
photo by jenn kosar
more summer cocktails
The Kitchn Blueberry Lavender Vodka Spritzer
This one requires a little more effort, but it is worth it, and it provides a make-ahead pitcher option for a very happy hour party.
Crumb, the food blog Meyer Lemon Rosemary Gin Fizz
Ok, another Meyer Lemon one, but they are delicious. This one for the Gin fans.
Cookie + Kate Lemon-Basil Mojito
There is always plenty of basil around in New Jersey, so this one is easy to pluck from the garden. I also like this recipe easily made “virgin” and diet-friendly with Splenda.
A Healthy Life for Me Peach Bourbon Thyme Smash
This ones sounds more complicated than it actually is, with only a ten minute prep time. A perfect Sunday afternoon sipper.
photo by Kelly Leeves via pexels
You can purchase The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart on Amazon or your favorite local bookseller.
Excited for summer cocktails? Drop a comment with you favorite recipe. Follow my Pairings board on Pinterest for recipe inspiration, or check out my Manuals pinterest board for what I’m reading next. Cheers!