If you get out as much as we do, first of all no judgment and second: You may have noticed that fresh herbs are cropping up on cocktail menus throughout the city. What brings about this wave of greenery in our drinks, and how does it enhance spirit flavors? We spoke with mixologist Jen Gordon, who designs cocktails for Altamarea Group’s Ai Fiori (400 Fifth Ave.) in collaboration with director of bar operations Eben Freeman. Here’s what she has to tell us about this exciting trend.
Why are herbs in drinks making an appearance on cocktail menus?
Herbs are popping up in cocktails because, like in food, they add an element of freshness to drinks. They can be used in a variety of ways, from just shaking straight into a cocktail to infusing into syrups or the spirits themselves.
What kinds of drinks are best to support herb flavors?
This feels like a cop-out of an answer, but herbs are so versatile that they can go in any direction. Savory, sweet, classic, innovative, etc. However, if the goal is to highlight the flavor of the herb, simple is usually best. If you get too complex, it is easy to lose sight of the main ingredient.
What inspired the flavors in your cocktail (recipe below)?
All aspects of the Green Vespa are meant to scream fall. The base flavors are pear and sage. The color of the drink is balancing between green, yellow and burnt orange from the cayenne pepper. It is meant to be reminiscent of autumn leaves. That point is driven a little further by the garnish of a small sage leaf. It sits on top of the rock so that it is right in your nose when you take a sip. It’s autumn in a glass.
Are fresh herbs necessary?
Fresh herbs are usually preferred, but it really depends on what flavor you want in the drink. Dried herbs are typically used when fresh aren't available, but in drying them, they can take on new flavor profiles of their own. In some cases, those subtle differences can benefit a drink. That said, I tend to lean toward fresh.
Is it typical for a bar to have fresh herbs on hand?
Serious cocktail bars and restaurants always seem to have fresh herbs available. I am fortunate to work in a restaurant with a very well-stocked kitchen so fresh herbs are always available to us. Unfortunately, your average dive-bar isn't going to be garnishing your gin and tonic with a basil floret — yet.
Is this something our readers can do at home?
Absolutely! My favorite way to do it is through flavored simple syrups. Use 50/50 sugar to hot water, stirring until fully dissolved. While still hot, drop a bunch of whatever herb you have on hand — my favorites are thyme or lemon verbena. Let it steep for a couple of hours and you're ready.
Herb cocktails around NYC
Green Vespa Created by Jen Gordon, Ai Fiori
½ oz. Fresh lemon juice ½ oz. Simple syrup ¾ oz. Pear puree 1 Pinch cayenne pepper 2 Large sage leaves, torn 1½ oz. Grey Goose Poire pear vodka
Combine all ingredients in a cobbler shaker. Shake and double strain into a chilled rocks glass over a large ice cube. Place a single small sage leaf in the center of the ice cube.
Shiso Gimlet Created by Camille Austin, Hakkasan
1.5 oz. NOLET’s Silver Dry Gin 3 Shiso leaves .75 oz. Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao 1 oz. Fresh lime juice .5 oz. Lychee juice 1 Bar spoon Yuzu Marmalade
Shake, strain into a martini glass and garnish with a shiso leaf.
Tequila Mockingbird Pachanga Patterson
2 oz. Tequila 1 oz. Simple syrup 1 oz. Fresh lime juice 2-3 Slices of cucumber Fresh mint, to taste
Muddle cucumber and mint in cocktail shaker. Add tequila, simple syrup and lime juice. Shake; serve on ice.
Kentucky Ginger Campbell Apartment
2 oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon 1 oz. ginger liqueur 1 tsp. agave nectar 1 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice 1 spring muddled rosemary