The Spirited Gardener: Cocktail Recipes

You may be asking yourselves, OverPlanters, why a website ostensibly devoted to gardening would have a section on cocktails. Well, for one thing, I like cocktails very, very much. Not only are they the perfect reward at the end of a long, hot day of weeding or mulch-spreading, they are a solace during those dark nights of the soul that every gardener experiences when, say, borers attack the irises or the neighbor’s Labrador chooses to take a nap on top of the emerging peony shoots. Or when—and this is of course a purely hypothetical case—one’s co-gardener and helpmeet has pulled up a large and thriving patch of Spigelia marilandica because it “looked like a weed.”

But cocktails can serve as more than balm for the gardener’s bruised spirit: they can also play a key role in garden design. My friend Mary Jane Baker, a superb garden designer from North Carolina, judges any garden a failure that doesn’t have multiple areas for the enjoyment of cocktails. (OK, so maybe you call them “garden rooms”—potato, potahto.)

So here are some of my favorites. Many are adaptations from a wonderful book called The Joy of Mixology, by Gary Regan. I suggest you buy a copy and cherish it forever. In a just and rational universe, they’d give Mr. Regan a Nobel Prize. But no, they keep on giving it to physicists and writers and people who work for world peace. Go figure. By the way, I like all my cocktails shaken rather than stirred, but some purists insist that you should shake only those cocktails that have fruit juice or an egg white in them.

You, dear OverPlanters, are encouraged to send in your favorite cocktail recipes. If they’re not too sweet, or too complicated, I’ll add them here. (You get extra points if they include St. Germain liqueur.)

Bee’s Knees

This was invented by Ryan Magarian, mixologist extraordinaire, of Liquid Relations. It has honey in it, so it’s, like, natural! Aviation gin is produced by House Spirits Distillery in Portland. As gins go, it’s rather soft and subtle, so perhaps not the best choice for a martini; however it’s great in mixed drinks. Definitely worth seeking out.

  • 2 ounces Aviation gin
  • 1/2 ounce honey syrup (2 parts of your favorite honey to 1 part water)
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with twist.

Bronx Cocktail

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/4 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1 ounce orange juice (preferably fresh squeezed)
  • dash of orange bitters
  • 1 orange twist, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with twist.

Caipirinha

Thank you, Brazil.

  • 4 to 6 lime wedges (about 1 medium lime)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 ounces cachaça

Muddle the lime wedges and sugar in a heavy old-fashioned glass. Add crushed ice and the cachaça and stir.

El Floridita

Good-quality maraschino liqueur is light-years away from those horrid cherries that bear its name, and is actually a subtle and delightful addition to many mixed drinks. I recommend Maraska brand, if you can find it.

  • 2 ounces light rum
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Flying Hemingway

This is about as complicated as a cocktail should get, but it is nectar of the gods. Another Ryan Magarian creation.

  • 2 ounces Aviation gin
  • 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • disk of grapefruit peel and an amarena preserved cherry, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the grapefruit peel and cherry on a pick.

Gimlet

Divine simplicity. I think it has more character when made with gin.

  • 2-1/2 ounces gin or vodka
  • 3/4 ounce Rose’s lime juice
  • 1 lime wedge, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

Hemingway Daiquiri

Very similar to a Flying Hemingway, but made with rum rather than gin. Compare and contrast!

  • 3 ounces light rum
  • 1½ ounces fresh lime juice
  • 1½ ounces fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 ounce maraschino liqueur

House Special

This is a variant of a cocktail I had at Portland’s wonderful Tabla Mediterranean Bistro. Their version, the Rue Vingt-huit, is a little sweeter, and has a dash of Angostura bitters. Feel free to experiment. The key ingredient is St. Germain liqueur, which is made from elder flowers. Trust me, you need to get this. It’s a little too sweet on its own, but, in a mixed drink, it’s pure gold.

  • 1-1/2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce St. Germain liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Lemon Thyme Vodka Lemonade

This is why we have herb gardens.

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ice
  • 3 lemon wedges
  • 1/4 cup lemon thyme syrup (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • splash of club soda
  • 1 lemon thyme sprig, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the lemon wedges with the lemon thyme syrup. Add 1 cup of ice and the vodka and shake well. Strain the vodka mixture into the highball glass and top with club soda. Garnish with the thyme sprig and serve.

Lemon Thyme Syrup (makes about 2-1/4 cups)

  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 ounce lemon thyme sprigs
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the thyme, cover. and let stand for at least 2 hours or overnight. Add the lemon juice and strain the syrup. The syrup can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Manhattan

One of Tom’s rules for living: never mess with the classics. If you’re in an extravagant mood, however, you can garnish it with three cherries.

  • 2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Angostura bitters to taste
  • 1 preserved amarena cherry, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

Margarita

Observe the proportions exactly. And use decent tequila, for God’s sake. If you do, don’t ruin it with some crappy brand of triple sec—use Cointreau. You wouldn’t dream of putting it in the blender with ice cubes, would you?

  • 1-1/2 ounces white tequila
  • 1 ounce triple sec or Cointreau
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Salted rim optional for some, de rigueur for others.

Martinez

My, this is tasty. And a very pretty color.

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • Angostura bitters, to taste
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Martini

I think a 5-to-1 proportion of gin (or vodka) to vermouth is just about right.

  • 2-1/2 ounces gin or vodka
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1 olive, or lemon twist, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

Mojito

Another good reason for having an herb garden. If you want to be insufferably authentic, use Mentha ×villosa, which is what they use in Cuba. It’s a bit sharper than spearmint.

  • 4 lime wedges
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 8 to 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 2 ounces light rum
  • club soda
  • mint sprig, for garnish

Muddle the lime wedges, sugar, and mint leaves in a mixing glass until the sugar is dissolved and all the juice is extracted from the limes. Add ice and rum to the mixing glass, shake, then strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Top with club soda and garnish with the mint sprig.

Negroni

The classic proportions for a Negroni are equal parts Campari, vermouth, and gin, but I like mine a bit drier. The orange twist is essential.

  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2½ ounces gin
  • 1 orange twist, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze the orange twist over the surface of the drink before you drop it in.

Sangria

This version of sangria is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated magazine. It’s easy, smooth, and dangerously drinkable, and it’s the one instance I can think of where cheap wine and triple sec actually give a superior result. Do try to let the sangria chill for about 8 hours before serving—that’s what makes it smooth.

  • 2 large oranges, 1 sliced, 1 juiced
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup triple sec (the cheaper, the better)
  • 1 750-milliliter bottle of inexpensive, fruity red wine

Put the slice orange and lemon in a large pitcher along with the sugar. Muddle until the fruit releases some juice and the sugar dissolves. Don’t overdo it. Stir in the orange juice, triple sec, and wine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and preferably 8. Before serving, add ice cubes and stir briskly.

Sazerac

I don’t like my Sazeracs too sweet, but if you like, you can increase the simple syrup to 3/4 ounce.

  • 3 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Peychaud’s bitters to taste
  • absinthe to rinse the glass
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Shake with ice and strain into an absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass. Squeeze the lemon twist over the surface of the drink before you drop it in.