Every time of year brings its own bounty to ignite the imagination behind the bar, and spring—with its ramps, Meyer lemons and an array of delicate herbs and botanicals—is no exception. As seasonally minded drinking has become the norm, methods for preserving flavors at their peak have also become crucial tools in the bartender’s arsenal.
That desire to capture the essence of a season and a place is similarly embodied by terroir-driven spirits like The Botanist, an Islay gin made with 22 botanicals foraged on the Scottish maritime island, including meadowsweet, heather, elderflower and apple mint, among others. The brand’s professional forager sustainably hand-picks the range of seasonal botanicals in small volumes from March to October; a combination of drying and distillation captures the aromatic essence of each one at the peak of its maturation cycle. The result is a spirit that exudes a clear sense of both terroir and time—the Platonic ideal for a seasonal drink.
There are a number of at-home methods that can, similarly, preserve the essence of an ingredient at its peak flavor and freshness, from cordials to infusions to tinctures. Step one is to know when an ingredient is at its most flavorful; a resource such as the Seasonal Food Guide app is a good reference. Another key step is to be intentional with how you treat different types of foods in order to yield your desired result. For example, many delicate herbs and berries don’t respond well to heat because it mutes their freshness, so cooking these components may not be the best technical application. On the other hand, heartier barks, spices, and root vegetables (carrots, for example), need heat or alcohol to pull substantial flavor from them.
Once you’ve nailed down your ingredients and the parameters for treating them, you’re ready to pick your method.
Infusions are an easy way to add seasonal flavor to the ingredients in a cocktail. The base spirit can be infused, or an infused syrup can be added to the drink. With multi-faceted spirits, a tried-and-true approach is to look at the botanical profile of the spirit and highlight one of those ingredients. For example, the floral character of The Botanist gin is driven by an array of herbs and flowers that includes chamomile, wild thyme and elderflower. These flavors come through in the spirit as it is, but bartenders interested in emphasizing a particular note could amplify it by infusing the gin with that ingredient. Keep in mind that these delicate items require shorter infusion times than heftier ones, such as cinnamon. Pay heed to the strength of the alcohol you’re working with: the higher the ABV, the quicker and more potent the infusion.
Tinctures, another type of infusion, use high-proof grain alcohol to extract a concentration of flavor from ingredients. Herbs and flowers such as sage, cilantro, bay leaf and chamomile are ideal for this, as are dried citrus peels. Because of their potency, tinctures are best used in dashes to season cocktails. They can be applied in a range of drinks, from spirit-forward numbers like the Martinez to sours such as the Bee’s Knees. Made with The Botanist, a few dashes of a citrus peel and chamomile tincture would lift the floral-citrus profile of the latter cocktail, turning the simple sour into something slightly more contemplative.
Then there’s the sweet-sour cordial, which is unmatched as a way to preserve seasonal ingredients for use in drinks along the full ABV spectrum. At their most basic, cordials require sugar, acid, and water or juice, as well as some botanical element, and they can be used in place of most sweet-sour components. The Gimlet is a classic gin cocktail that traditionally calls for lime cordial, made from lime peels macerated in sugar (for an aromatic lime flavor profile), acid powders (to mimic the acidity of the absent lime juice and balance the cocktail) and water. Other spring flavor pairings that may serve as muse for your own creations are cucumber-lime, or meadowsweet and lemon thyme—both combinations inspired by The Botanist’s robust botanical profile and excellent vehicles for the gin’s depth and complexity in a sour-style cocktail.
Lastly, don’t forget the beauty of the seasonal garnish, an elegant way to elevate your cocktails and serve as a visual nod to the season. Ramps, the most elusive of spring’s vegetables, can be preserved by pickling the bulbs for use in a savory Gibson variation or Fitty-Fitty made with The Botanist. Elderflower and chamomile can make for lovely garnishes that call on flavors found in The Botanist; they can be used fresh, or be frozen into ice cubes to keep them intact and easy to reach for throughout the season.
The possibilities are virtually limitless for how to preserve the hit list of spring’s offerings; narrowing your options comes down to determining the flavors you prize most, the best method for capturing their essence, and the drinks you want to use them in. With these boxes checked, crafting a cocktail with a sense of time and place is but a stop at the market away.