The Museum of the American Cocktail offers events and seminars in several places in the U.S., including a monthyl seminar at SoBou in New Orleans. For upcoming events, visit the website at MuseumOfTheAmericanCocktail.org
In the summer, I am happiest when drinking simple cocktails. By simple, I mean one or two ingredients, preferably with a lime. However, I am always intrigued by more fanciful concoctions that fully utilize the freshest fruit of the season, melding seasonality and creativity into something that truly represents the season while refreshing your palate. I’m always optimistic that I will be able to recreate this delightfully fresh cocktail, and I search out recipes for strawberry simple syrup and find discussions of which aged rum really plays up the flavors better. Usually when I have this thought I end up with a fridge full of fresh fruit and a Gin and Tonic resting in my hand. Hey – at least I used the limes.
From a very personal point of view, I see this as the dichotomy between the fancy cocktail world that we have found ourselves in and the way most people actually make themselves drinks. Many imbibers will order a drink on the cocktail bar’s menu that comes with a variety of liquors, liqueurs, muddled fruits, herbs, and bitters, but if left to our own devices we stick to the basics – the gin and tonics and the rum and cokes. I’m a little ashamed to admit that most of the time, I actually have no idea what I’m going to be drinking when I order a drink like the “hot silk” from Booty’s made with “Swedisch Punsch, damiana, aguardiente, cardamom banana tea.” I don’t have the foggiest as to what most of these words mean, let alone taste like together. But I’ll give it a shot, think briefly on whether I could afford a bottle of Swedisch Punsch, before ultimately deciding that my four bottle bar really doesn’t need any further company.
All of this to say, I wasn’t expecting myself to really change my thinking much when I attended Star Hodgson’s From Garden to Glass seminar at SoBou. I expected the usual range of obscure liquors complemented by the homemade fresh berry liqueur poured into a delicious, refreshing cocktail that I would never attempt to make although I might keep the recipe list for the next few years, just in case.
Star caught me off guard. First of all, she didn’t approach the seminar from a completely cocktail-oriented point of view. She really wanted to share what she does when she finds herself with an abundance of produce, and she systematically went through a variety of ways, from the simplest (putting fresh fruit in the fridge) to the most complex (insta-freezing with liquid nitrogen) to preserve fruits and herbs from your garden. She showed us how she had made a super easy shrub with sugar, fruit and vinegar that would preserve the fresh fruit flavor and make tasty cocktails as well as non-alcoholic beverages. She delved into making simple liqueurs with fruit, emphasizing the importance of tasting to make sure you got the right booze and the best flavor out of your home-brewed concoction. She discussed how to get fruit to ripen faster (that banana in a brown bag theory really seems to work!) and how great it is to just have some frozen pureed fruit in your freezer to pull out when you need a quick blast of flavor.
Star’s approach was quite practical, passionate about flavor and the benefits of local products, but realistic about the problems of dealing with the variables of fresh fruit. We talked about the pitfalls of out of season fruits, especially the problems with watery California strawberries. She shared a story of showing up to a cocktail event where she had planned on making a bourbon drink with fresh peaches, and discovering that all of the peaches that had been provided were hard and flavorless. Thinking on her feet, she threw them all into the oven for an hour with a bourbon brown sugar glaze, and then pureed them and made a different, but still tasty drink. She and the gardeners who had attended commiserated about the struggles of keeping figs for yourself, and out of the greedy mouths of birds and bugs.
Her drinks were fresh tasting and, for the most part, fairly simple. One of my favorites incorporated arugula leaves, and was surprisingly addictive. Others did make use of her homemade simple syrups and liqueurs, but Star made everything seem so simple I think even I could take the time to do it. As I left, clutching the recipe sheet in my hand, I felt more hopeful than I had in a few cocktail seminars. I haven’t broken out the Mason jars just yet, but I actually feel like I could. Maybe that G&T does need a few liquid nitrogen blueberries to spice it up…
Le Jardin Botanique
- 1.5 oz Blueberry Infused Tanqueray Gin
- 2.5 oz Stirring’s Tonic
- 1 Blueberry Tonic Ice Cube*
- .75 oz Lillet Blanc
- Lime Wedge
*Although Star did use liquid nitrogen to freeze her berries at the seminar, it would also be quite simple to just toss your berries into an ice tray with some tonic and use them up that way.
Stir gin and tonic together with ice. Add blueberry tonic ice cube and Lillet Blanc, squeeze the lime on top.