During my four years as the cocktail critic at the New York Times, I never became much of a locavore, just a regular at my local bar. But a new generation of cocktail chefs, like Philippe Gouze at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, has changed that.
I recently visited this celebrated farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, New York, where Gouze works as general manager and creates drinks. There, he mixed me a Garden Elixir with gin, vermouth and a healthy amount of cilantro leaves. When I said I was surprised to see ingredients like cilantro in cocktails, he told me about his hobby: cocktail gardening.
Cocktails made with a garden's worth of herbs have become more than a trendthey're a new standard. The next step, Gouze explained, would be a dedicated garden for drink ingredients. With just a few pots on a city terrace or a few square feet of suburban lawn, cultivating the herbs and flowers that are key to a variety of creative drinks is a simple matter. A cocktail garden also makes it easy to get hard-to-find herbs like Thai basil, which adds exotic fragrance to Gouze's Frozen Yellow Marys, made with jalapeños, vodka and cubes of frozen yellow-tomato juice.
Mixologist Julie Reiner on Cocktail Garnishes:
Gouze, a native of Provence, recommends starting with 16 to 20 varieties of plants (although avid gardeners and mixologists could grow twice that amount). Blue Hill's cocktail garden includes lemony herbs such as verbena, sorrel and lemon thyme; sweet ones like chocolate mint; and fruity ones like pineapple mint. Gouze also cultivates his own garnishes: edible flowers like calendula and Johnny-jump-ups.
During my visit, Gouze told me he'd just planted cardamom. "I've been staring at the poor plant, fingering the leaves," he said. "I'm thinking whiskey. Come back in a couple of months."
William L. Hamilton's next book is about the landscape of Philip Johnson's Glass House.