Cilantro Martini © Lauren Feighery
Across the country, bartenders are moving away from heavy, earthy cocktails and replacing them with bright and bracing drinks made with fresh herbs. At Austin’s Drink.Well, co-owner Jessica Sanders and her bar staff created three tinctures (rosemary, cilantro and basil) to star in off-the-menu herbal gin martinis. Each tincture—made with quality vodka infused in a jar packed with herbs—complements a specific gin and vermouth.
Sanders’s favorite is the cilantro martini. She pairs the house-made tincture with Death’s Door gin from Wisconsin. “It has three primary botanicals: juniper, coriander and fennel,” Sanders says. “We saw the coriander and thought cilantro was the natural way to go.”(Coriander often refers to the seeds of the cilantro plant.) Inspired by the classic Latin combination of cilantro and orange flavors, Sanders chose Cocchi Americano, an aperitif flavored with orange peel, to use in place of vermouth in the cocktail. “It’s a little on the sweeter side of a dry martini,” Sanders says. “But it still has that nice cold brightness that people are going to expect from a martini.” Here, more tasty seasonal cocktails made with herbs.
Barmini; Washington, DC
José Andrés’s new cocktail lab serves a Lavender Rickey as an homage to the city’s signature drink, the Rickey, which was first made in the late 1800s, according to David Wondrich’s cocktail guide Imbibe! At Barmini, bartenders stir Bombay Sapphire gin with fresh lime juice, then strain it into a highball glass filled with ice and top it with house-made, ginger-tinged lavender soda. The fizzy, floral cocktail is served garnished with a lime wheel and a sprig of lavender.
Clarkson; New York City
Vibrantly violet-hued, lavender- and herb-infused, the Provencale cocktail stars on the menu at this new retro American restaurant. Bartenders infuse Fords gin with lavender, and dry vermouth with herbes de Provence, then stir in Cointreau. After it’s strained into a chilled cocktail glass, the crisp, floral drink is garnished with an orange twist.
Michael Solomonov’s high-end take on an Israeli street food spot serves a springtime whiskey sour called the Lemonnana. “Think mint-lemonade spiked with bourbon,” says sommelier Brian Kane. Bartenders muddle mint with Jim Beam bourbon, then pour in fresh lemon juice and a house-made verbena simple syrup, give it a shake and serve it over ice in a highball glass.
Squeaky Bean; Denver
This recently renovated Denver standby offers a produce-packed tequila cocktail on its new spring menu. The Beet Street combines Ocho Plata blanco tequila, fresh basil, sorrel, beet juice (pressed daily) and egg white. The herbal, lightly sweet drink is shaken, then double-strained into a cocktail glass.