I have found a new creative outlet, and it’s cocktails. When I tell you that this is my subway reading:
and that this is my tome at home:
you get an idea of how immersed I have become! My Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of frosty glasses of my latest experiments, prompting one concerned friend to ask after the health of my liver. (Totally fine.)
The buzz I get is less from the alcohol than it is from the fun of making syrups and teas and tinctures and finding flavours that complement each other. I’m finding inspiration everywhere, and it has really just been a joy to experiment.
The basic formula is simple:
spirit + mixer + bitters (if called for) + sweetener (if needed) = your excellent new cocktail.
Begin with what inspires you, and build from there. Winners/Home Sense is a great place to look for inspiration from mixers; they often have fun and unusual drinks. Read up on your favourite spirits and find out where they’re made and what’s in them and what’s in the tasting notes; get inspiration from your research. Raid your pantry: do you have any weird and wonderful syrups in there? Raid your fridge: my son and I used a handful of just-past-their-prime strawberries to make a strawberry and basil syrup, which we mixed with soda water, and then he was inspired to use the solids left after straining the syrup to make a dip for corn chips. Brilliant! I later mixed the syrup with Sloe Gin. Even More Brilliant!
Below are a few of my recipes for the best of the experiments, as well as a couple of classics.
Cheers to summer sipping!
The Shade of Trees
This drink was inspired by a trip to my local farmer’s market, where I met Angie Fong of Angie’s Juicery. She had a black juice on offer, and I just knew I had to create something with it. I am all about the florals and the botanicals this summer, so I played the sweet rose of the gin off the tart rhubarb in the juice, and gave it depth with the nine florals in the bitters. I love that all that flowery goodness is black in this drink. Charcoal is appearing in everything from ice cream to toothpaste, and now, you can have it in a cocktail. I make no claims for its health benefits, but it makes one hell of a delicious cocktail.
2 oz. Dillon’s Rose GIn
4 oz. Black Lotus cold pressed raw juice (rhubarb, strawberry, lemon, agave, charcoal)
1/2 oz. of agave syrup
dash of Love Potion #9 bitters by El Guapo (rose, lavender, jasmine, chamomile, hibiscus, heather, citrus blossoms, spices)
Shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain and serve into a coupe or a Nick and Nora.
The Peppered Rose
This drink was inspired by a walk down Queen West and a visit to The Spice Trader, where I tasted and had to buy their pink peppercorns and Szechaun peppercorns. I also bought a rose and hibiscus syrup that day, and the pepper and the flowers were destined for each other. Rose Lemonade lends it all a rosy hue, and Love Potion #9 bitters star again. The peppercorns add a wonderful aroma to the drink and a sharp (and crunchy!) contrast to the sweet rose. We were fishing out the peppercorns to munch on them as we sipped, so it might be worth finding another spoon-like garnish!
2 oz. vodka
1 dropper-full of Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. rose and hibiscus syrup (you can buy just the syrup or the hibiscus flowers in syrup, which provides a gorgeous garnish)
dash of Love Potion #9 bitters
Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade
pinch of Szechaun peppercorns
Stir vodka, bitters and syrup in a rocks glass. Add lots of ice, and top up with Rose Lemonade. Sprinkle peppercorns on top.
The Sloe Hibiscus
Reading about gin has become a dangerously expensive habit, as the next two drinks can attest. I read about these gins and had to try them. This gin is sweetened with sloe berries, and it’s a smooth mix of spirit and liqueur. Because it already has a lot of sweetness, I didn’t want a heavily sweetened mixer, so I used an earthy hibiscus tea. Tetley has a new line of bottled herbal iced teas out this summer, and they are great inspiration for cocktails. At only 100 calories a bottle, you get loads of flavour without loading your drink with added sugar. I think you could have a lot of fun lining up their herbal iced teas and experiment by mixing them with the contents of your liquor cabinet.
2 oz Hayman’s Sloe Gin
3 blueberries (I threaded mine onto a sprig of thyme, but you can use a cocktail spear or just toss them in there)
Mix the gin and tea in a short tumbler (4 oz. of tea) or a tall collins glass (8 oz. of tea) and fill with ice. Garnish with blueberries.
Gin and Tonic
Hardly an original, but this has become one of my favourite ways to experiment. I know a lot of people have an aversion to gin. If you are one of their number, as I was until recently, please do try one of the newer craft gins on the market. I don’t like juniper-heavy gins, and when I tasted my first craft floral gin, it opened up a whole new world. Not all gins are as juniper-heavy as the standard London Dry gins; some of them are soft and smooth and floral; some are crisp and citrusy; some are warm and spicy. I have fallen hard for gin, and I am learning to appreciate the many flavours that are out there. I have had a tarragon tonic in my cupboard for a few months, but I was never sure which gin to mix it with until I read about Gin Mare. When I read that it has olive and basil and rosemary in its list of botanicals, I knew I’d found a match for my tarragon tonic.
2 oz. Gin Mare gin
4 oz. tonic
sprig of rosemary or whatever fragrant herb you have on hand (thyme, basil, sage, oregano)
Serve over ice in a rocks glass or tumbler with a sprig of rosemary for garnish.
For a citrusy gin, use a lemon tonic and slice of lime for garnish; for a spicy gin and use plain tonic and garnish with peppercorns.
I did say I was into the gin and the botanicals, right? This is the perfect summer sipper: it’s got the citrusy zing of grapefruit and the heady aroma of thyme. It’s also made with a sugar-free mixer, which helps to control the sugar content. Sparkling Ice makes a huge range of sparkling waters, and, again, much fun to be had experimenting with the contents of the liquor cabinet.
1 1/2 oz. Aperol
1 1/2 oz. of a citrusy gin like Plymouth (orange) or Bloom (pomelo)
dash of Angustora bitters
3 oz Pink Grapefuit Sparkling Ice
Rub the inside and the rim of a martini glass with thyme. Shake Aperol, gin and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and strain into the glass. Top with Pink Grapefuit Sparkling Ice and garnish with a sprig of thyme.
Thanks to this article in Saveur, I learned that there is a drink called The Penicillin, and that it has become a modern classic, and that it turned 10 last week. With its ginger and lemon, it’s a lovely, summery way to drink scotch, which I usually think of as a wintery drink. As luck would have it, I also received a lovely package from Lab Produits Artisaneaux with some ginger syrup and the recipe for the Penicillin.
Their small-batch, all-natural bitters and syrups are all hand-made in Canada, and can be the inspiration for a locavore cocktail. Also, you have to love the apothecary-style labels.
Clearly, the fates were telling me to try it, and who am I to argue? As luck would also have it, the Penicillin was on the menu at a cocktail party I went to, and the deal was sealed. I see now why it has attained the rank of modern classic.