No, of course you don’t have to put away your peat-smoked Scotch just because it’s spring.
But if you secretly want to, I will point out that in the season of early herbs and flowers there are many ways to take advantage of botanical-forward cocktails and lighten up. Almost all booze begins life as a plant, but by the time you’ve become, say, vodka, there’s not much left of your roots as a thing with… you know, roots.
On the other hand, there are spirits that are all about the herbs, notably gin, which has to contain over half a dozen specific ones to qualify as gin and might have many, many more. Absinthe owes its freaky-deaky je ne sais quoi to wormwood, a bitter and slightly brain-bending member of the Artemesia family. Other famous herby bevvies include Chartreuse, which if my data is correct contains 130 different herbs, including lemon verbena, angelica and sage; St Germain (Elderflowers); Crème de Violette (sweet violets); Pernod (anise); and Bendictine, a brandy with 27 herbal inputs, some of them secret (known ones include fir cones, myrrh, mace and arnica). And that’s for starters. The world of herb-infused spirits is nearly endless, and that’s before you start getting into the explosive growth of craft bitters and the wild world of forage-ables you can use to muddle, garnish or otherwise embellish a cocktail.
So, clearly, we could be here for a while. I’ll spare you the 27-volume encyclopedia of herbaceous drinkiepoos and rattle off a few to get you wondering if it’s 5:00 yet. (PS: yes, yes it is.)
From The Martini Club in Toronto, Canada, here are a couple of gin-lover’s concoctions. These are made with British gin in mind (in homage to a certain upcoming Windsor family milestone, I believe), but if your allegiance is to another gin, you always have my permission to substitute.
1.5 oz. Bloom gin
.5 oz. orange liqueur
1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 oz. white cranberry juice
3 cucumber slices
3 oz. club soda
Cucumber slice, for garnish
Directions: Fill a wine goblet with ice. Add gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice, cranberry juice and cucumber slices. Stir to mix. Top with club soda. Garnish with a cucumber slice.
1.5 oz. Portobello Road gin
.5 tbsp.. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 oz. Whittard golden chamomile tea syrup (see recipe below)
2 to 3 oz. Fever-Tree tonic water
Mint sprig or 2 tsp silver dragees (edible cake decorating balls), for garnish
Directions: To a stemless wine glass filled with ice, add gin, lemon juice, chamomile tea syrup and tonic. Stir gently to mix. Garnish with a mint sprig or gently add dragees.
Chamomile Tea Syrup: Add 1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar and 4 chamomile tea bags to a resealable, heatproof container. Pour in 1 cup (250 mL) boiling water. Stir until sugar dissolves. Allow to cool, remove tea bags. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 cup for 8 servings.
1.5 oz. Sipsmith gin
1 tbsp. Tiptree orange marmalade (or marmalade of your choice)
1 oz. Whittard Earl Grey tea, chilled (again, use an Earl Grey you have local
access to and all will be well)
Dash orange bitters
Orange twist, for garnish
Directions: In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add gin, orange marmalade, chilled Earl Grey tea and bitters. Shake and pour into a rocks glass filled with ice. Add more ice and garnish with orange twist.
From The Botanist, the only gin native to the island of Islay (and an exceptionally herby one) come the following suggestions:
1.5 oz. The Botanist Gin
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
3 Cucumber slices (thin)
Directions: In a highball glass, add The Botanist Gin, Sweet Vermouth and Lemon Juice. Add cucumber wheels and ice. Top with soda water
1.5 oz. The Botanist Gin
1 oz. Cointreau
.75 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
2 dashes Bitters
5-8 Fresh mint leaves
6 oz. Soda Water
Directions: Add The Botanist Gin, Cointreau and Fresh Lime Juice to shaker. Add 2 dashes of bitters and 5-7 mint leaves to shaker. Add ice and shake. Strain into a Highball Glass. Top with Soda Water. Garnish with a mint sprig
There, that should keep you busy for a while. If not, there is a dill-infused Aquavit you can play with. Just keep it away from open flames. Seriously, as the daylight hours increase, herbs from temperate zones across the planet come into their own, and somewhere or other, a monk has learned to capture its essence in alcohol, a bartender is using it as an aromatic garnish, or it’s sprouting right in your window box. Or all three. Play around. That’s what spring is for.