Cocktails are the currency of summer, but what makes them even better is the bounty of fresh fruits and herbs that add depth and a bit of mystery to the glass. To help celebrate the summer season, local bartenders have shared how fresh fruits and herbs create the best cocktails.
“When considering herbs for cocktails, I think it’s first important to consider the versatility and functionality of herbs,” explains Matt Giarratano, bar manager at Bluebird Distilling in Phoenixville. “One of my favorite herbs to work with is rosemary, because of its versatility.”
Giarratano uses this fragrant, woodsy herb in a drink called The Good Life, which is fashioned from a rosemary-infused vodka base, fresh pineapple juice, fresh lime juice and honey syrup.
“The rosemary plays twice, first as a slightly bitter infusion into the vodka, and second as an aromatic garnish, expressed into the glass,” he says. “The bittersweet and citrusy taste, combined with the savory aroma create a cocktail experience that is centered around the herb, but fleshed out by the body of the fresh juices.”
“My three favorite herbs to use in cocktails are mint, sage and basil,” he notes. “While mint is classically used for mojitos, there are other good combinations you can use to make a refreshing summer drink.”
For instance, DiBonaventure currently offers a Cucumber Mint Martini made with Plymouth Gin and muddled cucumbers and mint with a dash of simple syrup at The Fenix.
“The mint and the cucumbers complement the botanicals in the gin and make a very refreshing summertime martini,” he says.
Picking the right batch of herbs and fruit for your homemade summertime cocktails is as simple as going to your local supermarket or farmers market. It pays to be very observant when choosing your berries, as raspberries and blackberries can begin to go bad without any outward signs. With most berries there’s a refrigerated shelf life of between 48 and 72 hours.
DiBonaventure suggests buying berries in small quantities and using them shortly after purchasing. “You do have some leeway depending on the type of berry and whether they are currently in season, so you want to keep a close eye on them for spoilage,” DiBonaventure notes.
Herbs are much easier to check for freshness, as they will show their age on the outside. You can easily pick up your necessary herbs at the supermarket, but if you find a local grower in your area, the herbs tend to be fresher and have a longer lifespan. Plus, their taste tends to be a little more potent and distinct. Storage methods are important for fresh herbs. For instance, basil should never be kept in the refrigerator as it will quickly begin to wilt and go bad. Your best bet with basil is to treat it much like you would cut flowers. Trim the stems and then place the bunch in a glass of water, covered lightly with a plastic bag and then left at room temperature. Doing this will give you the most bang for your buck.
Mint should be refrigerated: Moisten paper towels and place the mint sprigs between two damp sheets and then place the mint in your fridge, away from other products. The damp towels will help lock in the moisture so that the mint doesn’t dry out quickly and the towels will help keep the flavor at its highest level for when you are ready to use the mint as an ingredient. Sage is similar to mint. But, instead of using damp paper towels, you want to wrap sage in dry paper towels and then place the sage in an airtight resealable plastic bag. Give the sage leaves a good rinse first and then let them dry thoroughly before refrigerating. This will keep the leaves fresh for about five days.
DiBonaventure particularly loves sage in cocktails with blackberries. “[The combo] hits both the sweet and savory taste buds,” he says. “Muddling the blackberries and the sage together with a splash of simple syrup really brings out the individual flavors, and they all work well together to create a drink that is perfect for your summertime cookouts, sitting outside in the sun, or sipping by a bonfire.”
That sounds like it’s exactly what we want, doesn’t it? A refreshing libation that compliments good times, warm sun and fresh summer breezes. Try your hand at making a garden-fresh cocktail and make the Strawberry Basil Martini, shared from Patrick J. Byrne, proprietor of The General Warren.
Strawberry Basil Martini
- 1.5 ounces Stateside Urbancraft Philadelphia Vodka
- 1/8 ounce Strawberry Schnapps
- 1 strawberry (preferably locally-grown), hulled, then cut or diced
- 1 large or 2 medium fresh basil leaves, stems removed
- Muddle the strawberry and chopped fresh basil leaves in a mixing glass.
- Add the vodka and lots of chopped ice.
- Shake vigorously to “work” the drink.
- Strain into chilled martini glass and garnish with basil and slice of strawberry.
So, get creative this summer. Find your favorite fruits and herbs and experiment with flavors and textures that you enjoy. Just add ice and a smile!
Find Bluebird Distilling at 100 Bridge St. in Phoenixville; phone: (610) 933-7827.
Find The Fenix Bar at 193 Bridge St. in Phoenixville; phone: (484) 924-8264.
Find The General Warren at 9 Old Lancaster Rd. in Malvern; phone: (610) 296-3637.
- Feature photo: Harrison Brink Photography
- Bluebird Mojito photo: Matthew Giarratano
- Frozen cocktail and berries photo: Pexels
- Herbs photo: Dish Works
- Strawberry Basil Martini photo: The General Warren