I've always loved to make drinks. I started about 20 years ago, concocting different combinations, and — second to cooking ...
I’ve always loved to make drinks. I started about 20 years ago, concocting different combinations, and — second to cooking — mixology is a total passion for me.
Now, since my background is as a chef and since I have never been one to stick to the “rules” of anything, the kitchen has migrated quickly into my bar creations. Today the trendy term for what I have been doing for years is “bar chef.” Hmmm … I think I might just be the first to get that title.
Over the years, I have incorporated into my creative potions everything from vodka infused with honeycomb (garnishing the drink with bee pollen) or beets (serving the martini with a caviar-topped blini on the side) to muddled cucumbers to tropical fruit (in abundance) to my favorite ingredient category, herbs, which have finally moved into a multitude of upscale bars.
First, let’s consider what is pretty common these days in most high-end bars: fresh mint. Mmm — the fragrance is so uplifting! For many decades, we’ve loved it in libations from mint juleps in frosted silver cups to mojitos — currently enjoying a major resurgence. Nothing says refreshing like fresh mint — shaken, hand-pressed or added in some other way to a cocktail.
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I’ve exercised some creative liberty and mixed up several new cocktails utilizing the aromatic herb in various exciting combinations. From a cucumber-vodka-and-sake-based drink to a Thai cooler made with a spicy mint-coconut-and-cilantro-infused syrup, these drinks are sure to shake, swizzle and stir up the bar chef in you.
Next is fresh thyme; its vibrant but dusty scent does well in cocktails, especially with pear. Pear is a hot flavor right now, and its crisp taste is perfect with thyme, particularly when the glass is finished off with a splash of soda water or sparkling wine for a lovely effervescence. The drink is so pretty garnished with a sprig picked fresh from the garden.
Also in the sparkling realm is my French Peach Fizz. Made with high-quality peach vodka shaken with a little lemon, simple syrup and — the star ingredient — fresh tarragon, this cocktail is a super aperitif. It’s topped with a splash of chilled Champagne. I love the interplay of peach and tarragon!
And last, but not least, let’s take fresh sage. This herb does well with darker-flavored liquors, especially tequila, with its dusky taste, and is excellent shaken in your favorite margarita. I also like sage with the brown-sugar, charred-oak character of bourbon. The velvety gray-green leaf marries well with touches of hazelnut-flavored Frangelico liqueur, Italian Tuaca with vanilla and caramel essences, lemon juice, orange and bourbon in my Sage Fall Sidecar. Typically, sidecars are made with brandy, but I’ve taken artistic license to make this version with bourbon.
So come try your hand at bar-chef mixology and shake up some herb-inspired cocktails!
Chef Kathy Casey is a food, beverage and restaurant concept consultant and food writer. She owns Kathy Casey Food Studios. Her “Dishing” column appears the first Wednesday of the month in The Seattle Times Food section.