Intoxicating Herbs

By Ty James Largo | September 15, 2011
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herb garden cocktail guide

To all you avid Edible Phoenix readers who walk the walk when it comes to DIY backyard gardens and urban farms: I have to say I'm green with envy.

I can see it now. Your recent harvest of beautiful heirloom tomatoes could've made the cover of this very magazine. And your summer squash is looking prize-worthy thanks to the chicken poop fertilizer supplied by your cage-free hens. Crack a few of those hens' eggs, slice up those tomatoes and squash, and you're on your way to a fantastic quiche. Sprinkle some homegrown parsley on top, and boy, aren't you the epitome of farm-to-table perfection?

Well, I'm not quite there yet, but I'm working on it–well, at least I've got the parsley. It grows in an old wooden barrel outside my living room window, along with basil, cilantro, lavender, mint and the other standard herbs any respectable home cook should carry.

But my herbs are not just for cooking, they do double duty. Whether muddled, steeped in syrups or infused into a spirit, the brightness and aromatics herbs bring to a plate can also provide a kick to my glass.

This is my cocktail herb garden.

Alas, I was not blessed with the verdant virtues of a master gardener. But thankfully, my one-pot cocktail herb garden is quite manageable and easy to maintain, even in the summer heat. My greedy greens demand constant watering, and I share their insatiable thirst, so let's drink!


Boring bellinis become brilliant again with a sprig of savory lemon thyme. Muddle a pinch of earthy sage in your rum and Coke. The fragrant freshness of herbs can stimulate the spirits in your drink.

"I love fresh rosemary in my gin and tonic," suggests mixologist Travis Nass. He's the barkeep who brandishes a bolo tie and handlebar mustache at Rancho Pinot. He's right. The pine-y nose of the rosemary amplifies the juniper in the gin.

Nass has a knack for pairing fresh herbs with spirits. Every time I visit Rancho, he's eager to share his latest herby cocktail creation using his everything-from-scratch approach. He even makes his own tonic water for that rosemary gin and tonic mentioned above.

For the home mixologist, he offers simple advice that should ring true with Edible Phoenix readers. "What grows together, goes together," he says.

Pair up sage and agave tequila, for example. Both desert-dwelling ingredients make a killer "Mexican mai tai" as he calls it. Nass's invention gets fancy with mezcal and stool replacing the traditional rum, while sage and damiana, a Mexican herb-based liqueur, take the place of fresh mint and orange syrup. Perhaps just a sage margarita may be an easier first step for the home bartender.

Sweet and Savory

Cocktail nirvana requires balance. I'm sure you're familiar with the sugary and minty rum mojito, brightened with acidic lime juice.

Try muddling fresh strawberries, shake with vodka and ice and top with chopped threads of fresh basil. It's a sweet and peppery sipper, perfect for the patio.

And how about that parsley? Of course, it's a natural fit for veggie-heavy BloodyMarys, but I adore the refined variation at Quiessence Restaurant, where fresh parsley is served atop a nearly-clear tomato water martini.

A classic julep becomes deliciously grassy by swapping mint for lemony parsley. Imagine a sip of that followed by a fresh oyster. Yes, please!

Become a Grower and a Shower

It's time to show off those glorious greens at your next outdoor affair–you're ready for the cocktail herb garden party.

A shaded summer patio gathering becomes infinitely cooler and more charming with fresh-squeezed lemonade, vodka and a perky stem of lavender served in a tall glass. The purple blossom peeks out of the yellow drink, kissing your nose with every sip.

A boozy brunch gets interesting with a make-your-own-cocktail bar. Prepare three or more simple syrups steeped with herbs, and let guests experiment with vodkas, gins, juices and fresh herbs. A prize goes to the preferred potion!

For an a.m. get together, my favorite breakfast cocktail (yes, breakfast) is a classic Negroni: equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and campari. Smack a sprig of thyme in your palm to release the oils, and drop it into the glass. It's citrusy, bitter, sweet and savory.

In fact, it might go well with a quiche. If you cook, I'll concoct. Deal?

Find it

Hermosa Inn 5532 N Palo Cristi Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85253
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