October 26, 2019
Last month we explored some of the myriad herb teas and drinks in the non-alcoholic category. This time around we will consider alcoholic drinks that can be enhanced by adding herbs and spices. Using herbs in alcoholic drinks should not be a surprise to anyone. Many liqueurs such as Chartreuse, Benedictine, Drambuie, and Amaro originated in Italy and France during the 1800s. Chartreuse was created by monks who never shared the recipe which included 130 herbs. Benedictine in its original had 27 herbs blended in the alcohol mix.
They all began as medicinal liqueurs many centuries ago. In the 18th century they made it to the dinner table as pleasurable but maintaining their therapeutic capacity. This is due to the many healthful constituents in herbs. You may recall from previous columns that many herbs have combinations of elements that affect the human body in positive ways.
In those early years a variety of spices and herbs were combined to calm the stomach and make it ready to enjoy a meal. These were and are still called aperitifs. They tend to be bitter in order to wake up the palate and digestive tract. A martini, Manhattan and many others fill this bill. Herbs that are used in these drinks would be classified as herby and might include thyme, sage, rosemary or savory. These herbs are very pungent and used in moderation in the mix as well as a garnish.
A digestif is an alcoholic drink served after a meal. It is meant to aid in the digestion of food. Many of these contain herbs and spices that assist in this purpose. It makes sense that these are sweeter than the before dinner drinks. Two of my favorites are limoncello and fruit liqueurs. The herbs used in this instance would be fruity or minty. For a citrus tang try lemon grass, lemon balm, basil, bee balm, lemon verbena, rose hips and coriander. For a tropical verve use pineapple sage, rose petals, fennel, chamomile and scented geraniums.
I have included directions for herb soda because it is a rare and intriguing taste treat! The "short" method requires club soda or carbonated water to be added to the basic herb and juice blend, while with the "long" process you have to add a little yeast. My favorite is a minted soda that I make with a variety of mints so it is a little different each time. Sometimes I add fruit juice and some recipe adjustments have to be made. More sugar must be added if you use sour fruit juices as from lemons or limes. I add about a third of a cup to the basic recipe but you may have to experiment to get the sweetness you prefer. If you add sweet juices you will want to decrease the sugar by about the same amount. This can be the liquid you add to any cocktail that calls for sparkling water.
Sweet woodruff was the first herb I experimented with because of its history of use in many wine blends. My hope was that this herb added to a cheap white wine might improve its flavor. It certainly did and has saved me a pretty penny over the years. I find that lemon balm and lemon thyme add citrus verve to inexpensive red wine as well. The key is to bruise a couple of herb sprigs with a fork and let them blend in a decanter of wine for an hour.
Fruited herb liqueurs are easy to make and the variations are endless. The fruits I have used are peaches, plums, apricots and citrus rind. The basic recipe combines the fruit or rind of ten large pieces of the fruit used, two cups of sugar and 1.75 liters of vodka. Some herbs that enhance fruit liqueurs are the many varieties of mint, coriander seed and lemon balm. Add a cup of the fresh herb of your choice or two tablespoons of coriander seeds to each batch. Put all the ingredients in a large tightly covered jar to sit at room temperature for five weeks. Turn or shake it well every couple of days. Strain out the herbs and put the liquid into sterilized bottles.
The Hotel Villagio in Yountville, Calif. impressed me in every way. The beautiful accommodations, delicious food and amazing setting would have been enough. Their herb garden was the icing on the cake! They use the herbs in their cooking and deck drinks. I enjoyed the lavender lemonade and fennel martini. The manager has kindly allowed me to share some of their recipes. Please note their recipes call for shrubs and syrups. These can be purchased online and in stores. They make their own at the Hotel Villagio and their recipes will be included in my next column when we will explore drink shrubs. These are defined as a combination of fruit, vinegar, sugar, herbs and spices.
Allow your curiosity to lead you down the herb path to delicious herb drinks. Concoct blends that you enjoy and let them make a social splash at your gatherings. That is part of the fun you can have when using herbs. Are you a member of the martini craze? The plants from the herby category will suit for the dry martinis while the fruity and minty will do for the sweet ones.
Don't neglect to add some of these delightful plants to sangria and punch as well. Refer to last month's column for the list of drink accessories. They work for alcoholic drinks as well as the non. You and your guests will be surprised by the aroma, flavor, color and variety of the beverages you can create with herbs.
The Loop is going to print a series on YOUR favorite holiday drinks. They can be alcoholic or non alcoholic. Please include a paragraph about your use of the recipe. Send them to me via email by November 1 at email@example.com. Enjoy your holiday drink quest. If your drink does not include an herb I will suggest some you might want to try.
• London Dry Gin 1.75 oz • Dry Vermouth 0.5 oz • Pernod 0.5 oz • Fennel syrup 1 oz
Garnish or side:
• Fennel sprig
• Citrus Vodka 1.75 oz • Lavender/Lemon shrub 1 oz • Lemon juice 0.5 oz
• Simple syrup 0.5 oz • Lemon wedges 2 each • Mint sprig 1 each
Garnish or side:
• Lavender sprig • Lemon wheels • Mint sprig
The LONG and SHORT of Minted Soda
• Two quarts of quality water • One cup of sugar • Eight tablespoons of fresh mint
• Granulated yeast (1/8 tsp.) in • 1/4 cup of warm water
1. Simmer one quart of water, sugar and herb for fifteen minutes.
2. Cool, strain and discard plant material.
3. Mix the liquid with the second quart of water.
4. Mix yeast with one 1/4 cup of water and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Stir and add to the brew.
5. Stir ingredients together and let the blend sit for 10 minutes.
6. Pour into sterilized plastic bottles.
7. Squeeze bottles every few hours until they no longer “give” and carbonation is complete.
8. Store in the refrigerator.
Follow above directions to step 2. Skip steps 3 to 8. Add one qt. of club soda instead. Put the liquid in sterilized bottles and refrigerate.