Earlier this week, the husband and I took part in a wonderful class at the Astor Center. It was an evening devoted to learning about botanical spirits, conducted by master mixologists James Moreland and Jonathan Pogash. And the best part? It was a hands-on experience. We had the opportunity to not only taste a variety of botanicals, but to mix up our own cocktails with them as well. Sweet!
Without getting too technical here, botanicals are any plant or plant parts that are valued for their medicinal properties. A short list includes but is not limited to: juniper berries, cinnamon, chamomile, nutmeg, grains of paradise, anise, licorice, black pepper, etc. Perhaps the most well known botanical spirit is gin.
Botanical oils are used in the distillation of gin to build bridges back to the juniper berries which are the most predominant flavor component of gin. The botanical oils added to premium gins (such as Hendricks, Bombay Sapphire and G'Vine) bounce up and down on the tongue and hit the palate in different locations, giving the gin "stretch" - or a longer, more complex finish. Which is why I must and still insist that gin is far more interesting than vodka!
The following spirits also fall into the botanical category: amaro, vermouth, absinthe, Cherry Heering, and all forms of bitters. In the picture above, you can see my tasting flight, composed of G'Vine Gin, Luxardo Amaro, Luxardo Bitters, Carpano Antica Formula (a white vermouth) and Lucid Absinthe. Each was more delicious than the next, though I particularly enjoyed the Luxardo Amaro, the Caprano Antica vermouth, and the Lucid Absinthe.
After enjoying the presentation and the tastings, we got down to some serious mixing - beginning with a recipe for a classic "sour". Sour cocktails first appeared on the scene sometime back in 1862, and they are among the easiest cocktails to craft. A sour is the perfect way to enjoy almost any spirit because its so beautifully balanced. Feel free to substitute whiskey or vodka for the gin in the following recipe, if you so desire.
Classic Gin Sour:
- 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- 1 1/2 ounce of gin
Pour the lemon juice, simple syrup and gin into a martini shaker and fill it with ice. Close shaker and shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!
You'll note that the shot above shows half of a sour ... because I was so enthralled with this delightful little sipper, I was halfway through before I remembered to take a picture! This drink was made with Bombay Sapphire and it was exquisite.
Following the sour, we shook things up a bit by muddling a variety of fruits and herbs that were placed around our stations for use. In this case, I used some watermelon and fresh mint, while the husband grabbed some watermelon and fresh basil. Both were equally delightful! It may look like something of a mess in the glass, but it was getting late and by this time we were on our third drink! The presentation may have suffered, but I assure you, the drink was magnificent.
Recipe for a Basic Muddled Drink:
- 3 wedges of fresh lemon or lime
- 2 chunks of fresh watermelon
- 10 fresh mint leaves (or 3 to 4 large basil leaves)
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- 2 ounces gin
Place the lemon or lime wedges, watermelon and mint (or basil) into the bottom of a martini shaker and muddle with a muddling tool, pressing up and down 4 to 5 times to extract the lemon juice and crush the watermelon and mint. Add the gin and fill the rest of the shaker with ice. Cover and shake briefly to combine, then pour into a tall glass. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!
Here again, you may substitute vodka for the gin ... though I wouldn't! The fruit may be varied as well. I know that some members of the class used mango, rather than watermelon, and I'm sure that you could use a variety of fresh berries in season too. Experiment and have fun with this recipe!
I can't say enough good things about the Astor Center. The facility is magnificent, the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable, and James and Jonathan were outstanding instructors. There was no shortage of booze on hand, and each station was also provided with tumblers of water and a basket of fresh bread and cheese on which to nibble during the festivities. Plus, each participant was given a lovely little boozy swag bag to take away. Bonus! The Astor Center offers a wide variety of both food and spirits workshops and I recommend them highly if you are in the New York City area. I know I'll be back for another class and soon.
In other news, its come to my attention that there's another food blog offering a Thirsty Thursdays feature out there: Cafe Lynnylu ... so you can party hop. Be sure to stop by and see what Lynnylu is mixing up today and tell her Diva sent you!
I've got pages and pages of notes from the class on botanicals that I'll be sharing with you in the weeks to come. For now, why not give yourself a treat and mix up one of these yummy little sippers? Its Thursday and I know you're thirsty.