Herbs, spices and other flavorful ingredients inspire this summer’s culinary cocktails.
Section by Michelle Franzen Martin
For Jenny Buchhagen, walking into the kitchen of Stonehill Tavern at The St. Regis Monarch Beach is inspiring. Certainly, that can be credited to Executive Chef Raj Dixit’s one-of-a-kind culinary creations, as his fresh ingredients often give Buchhagen countless new ideas for savory summertime cocktails.
“Chef Raj is really embracing the local market when it comes to herbs and produce,” explains Buchhagen, who is Stonehill Tavern’s lead mixologist. “It’s always fresh, local and brought in the day of service.”
This excitement translates to her work behind the bar, where she mixes cocktails with ingredients such as locally grown bell peppers, farm-fresh eggs and a variety of herbs and spices. These savory culinary cocktails are the season’s hottest drink trend, making their way onto bar menus across the country.
“I believe the increased popularity of savory cocktails is in large part due to the rise in popularity of anti-‘sweet’ cocktails,” says Moses Laboy, mixologist and director of libations at Le Colonial, a French-Vietnamese restaurant and lounge in New York City. “Flavored drinking vinegars, dill, basil and flavored salts are all on the top of my must-have list for summer.”
Laboy, who created the restaurant’s Dillio cocktail—a combination of peanut-infused Maker’s Mark bourbon, ginger liqueur, lime juice, fresh dill and bitters—will continue to craft a variety of new exciting drinks this summer.
Greg Henry, author of the new book “Savory Cocktails,” notes that many mixologists are making herbs a key ingredient in summer drinks. “I think herbs define summer savory cocktails,” says Henry, who lives in Los Angeles. “They lend a botanical bit that enhances the culinary aspect behind some of my favorite savory cocktails.”
Henry adds that spicy cocktails are also a summer favorite. “While spice may not be your first thought in cooling down, hot chilies such as Thai chili pepper, habanero, ghost chili powder and serrano chilies can actually bring down the body temperature,” he explains.
Todd Griffith, a mixologist with New York City-based Jacques Restaurant Group, says customers are coming into the bars more interested than ever in cocktail ingredients. “Just as top chefs herald the local farmer, cocktail menus increasingly single out house-made bitters, syrups and juices with the freshest of ingredients,” he says, adding that combining sweet ingredients with savory elements, like simmered peach puree with Thai chilies, is also popular.
When it comes to crafting the ultimate summer drink, balance is the key. “You need to balance the flavor elements and follow a culinary path as you begin building your cocktail,” Henry says. “What I like about this trend towards savory cocktails is how deliciously it illustrates … that demand for all things fresh, seasonal and local.”
From Garden to Glass
These cocktails redefine the meaning of the word “refreshing,” featuring flavorful ingredients that come straight from the farm.
The combination of fresh lemon and pomegranate juices, simple syrup, kaffir lime leaves, Angostura bitters and egg whites mixed with Tanqueray No. Ten makes the Fiji Mermaid at Stonehill Tavern in The St. Regis Monarch Beach a seasonal favorite.
“The Tanqueray [No.] Ten is very citrus-driven, with the juniper berries and botanical notes taking a back seat,” explains Jenny Buchhagen, Stonehill Tavern’s lead mixologist. “The citrus in the gin complements the pomegranate and lemon juice very well.”
Likewise, the kaffir lime gives the cocktail a unique flavor, while the egg white offers body and texture. “The egg white gives the cocktail almost a velvet-like texture to the tongue, which gives the cocktail that much more character when you’re enjoying it,” she says.
Salad Bowl Gin and Tonic
Greg Henry’s Salad Bowl Gin and Tonic doesn’t just have healthy ingredients—it’s also all about the season. “This drink feels like summer,” says the author of the new book “Savory Cocktails.”
His take on the classic drink combines fresh herbs with English cucumber, heirloom tomatoes and London dry gin. Muddled herbs and vegetables play off the botanicals in the gin, giving it just the right balance. “The balance comes from garden-fresh tomatoes and their sweetly acidic bite. Even a savory cocktail needs the right hint of sweet in its structure,” he adds.
The key is also using summer-fresh ingredients: Henry recommends choosing tomatoes carefully, as they need to have a bright taste to stand up to the “herbaceousness” in the cocktail that drinks like a meal.
Latina Dancing in Asia
The Peruvian spirit Pisco Portón takes center stage in mixologist Moses Laboy’s Latina Dancing in Asia, a cocktail served at Le Colonial in New York City.
The drink combines tamarind-flavored drinking vinegar, fresh lime juice, bitters and a touch of sugar, topped with dry sparkling wine and a kaffir lime leaf for garnish.
“The elegance of Portón combined with the savory taste of the acidic tamarind vinegar are all brought together with a touch of sugar and the effervescent sparkling wine,” he says. “I really think I hit it out of the park with this cocktail—all of the ingredients dance so well together in the glass.”