The idea of using fresh, local ingredients to sustain our culinary culture and enrich our dining experiences has generated a lot of buzz over the past few years. On a recent getaway to Northern California, my girlfriend and I made a stop at Mustards Grill. Located on the outskirts of Napa Valley, Mustards takes the farm-to-table cooking philosophy to new heights. Cindy Pawlcyn, Owner and Executive Chef, used organic and seasonal inspiration in her cooking long before it became trendy. And while the food (seared ahi and wild mushroom tamales – if you were curious) was spectacular, it was the cocktail list that gave me goo-goo eyes. Fresh fruit and herbs were intertwined into every drink description. It was then I realized the farm-to-table method of cooking had made its way behind the bar – and I love it! After enjoying a mojito (had to start with a familiar friend) and then a ‘bartender special’ (vodka-based with muddled lemon and a flurry of fresh blackberries), I couldn’t wait to incorporate this idea into my own cocktails.
With more and more bartenders blurring the line between the bar and kitchen, it’s exciting to recognize the endless possibilites in using fresh produce to create new, flavorful drinks. Whether it’s a margarita sweetened with lemon thyme syrup, or muddled raspberries adding flair to a classic mint julep, I’m beginning to see many bars combine seasonal flavors to make their drinks new and enticing. One of the ways many craft bars across the country are putting their unique “shake” of approval on a cocktail is through infusions. Infusing herbs and fruit in spirits lead to exciting flavors, all while using very little effort. Uncap a bottle of your choice, add simple or exotic fresh ingredients, shake and steep. There you have it – infusion!
Keeping with the infusion theme, Seattle cocktail enthusiast Paul Clarke wrote a tantalizing article today for serious eats about preserving your summer fruit with liquor – by making Bachelor’s Jam. With simple ingredients (booze, fruit and sugar) and a forgetful mind (must let it sit for six weeks to several months) your finished product will be a powerfully sweet and delicious companion for your next dessert.
Do you have any ideas for updating a favorite cocktail with some seasonal flair? Have you tried any do-it-yourself infusion experiments at home? Let me know about your farm to shaker thoughts and your favorite infusions!