H. Joseph Ehrmann on Organic Cocktails in the Colder Months
H. Joseph Ehrmann is the proprietor of Elixir, San Francisco's first certified green bar, and founder of CocktailAmbassadors.com. He travels as a consultant to teach and demonstrate mixology, green bar, and organic cocktail lessons around the country. His "green goal" for 2008 is to help the rest of San Francisco's bars make green business decisions and delicious organic drinks. Visit www.ElixirSF.com/greendrinks.htm and www.CocktailAmbassadors.com for more info.
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to making organic cocktails in the colder months is the decrease in access to fresh, ripe produce. Our beautifully sweet watermelons, peaches and tomatoes are no longer overflowing from the market shelves, but fear not! Organic cocktails in the coming months can be simple when you plan for them.
Let's look at some potential ingredients, keeping in mind that because times are cold, we must sometimes find cocktail ingredients in unique places during the winter chill.
Fall fruits: Apples, pears, persimmons, dates, figs, grapes, plums, and pomegranates are all plentiful into the end of the year. Some of these may not seem like cocktail ingredients to you, but try subbing them into your traditional recipes and you'll find great variations. (Try an organic fig margarita with 4 Copas Organic Reposado.) Make purees with a touch of lemon or limejuice as a preservative, put them in a squeeze bottle in the fridge and you can use them all week. Remember: A cocktail a day keeps the flu away.
Nuts: Almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts are all beautiful fall and winter flavors that you can bring into your cocktails by grinding them and using them as a rim garnish, cooking them into simple syrups, or incorporating them with nut liqueurs, like nocino or amaretto. (Try a Square One Organic Vodka martini using amaretto instead of vermouth and garnish with an organic chocolate-covered almond.)
Spices: Nothing screams fall and winter flavors like warm spices. Cinnamon, cardamom and, of course, nutmeg are great cocktail ingredients. Nutmeg is such a classic cocktail ingredient that the earliest cocktailians of the mid 19th century used to carry silver nutmeg cases that had a grater on the top half so they could add nutmeg to a drink whenever they pleased!
Preserves, Sauces and Dried Fruits: These ingredients will be around all winter long and are packed with flavor. Organic preserves, jellies, and jams are simple to keep behind the bar and easy to find in most markets. Use a spoonful instead of fresh fruit and adjust the sugar level by balancing with an acid, like citrus. By using dried fruits to infuse a bottle of organic vodka, you'll not only get the real essence of the fruit amplified by the effect of a high quality distillate, you'll have some built-in sweetness.
Remember: Only use organic dried fruit with their natural residual sugars, no added sugars whatsoever. For something really different, try apple, almond or pumpkin butter or even applesauce in your recipes.
Teas: Talk about a world of possibilities. Master tea blenders are like mixologists in the way they combine numerous flavors to create beverage profiles that dazzle your palate. Teas are actually designed to infuse, so when you use tea blends to infuse a high quality spirit, you create something totally new and different to play with.
I recommend tasting the teas you think you might like to use and then try infusing just 4.25 oz. of organic vodka with one tea bag in a teacup. Use that to see if you can come up with potential cocktails. Some teas can remain steeping for hours or days, while others will get more tannic or bitter, so you'll have to experiment.
Coffee: Like tea, there is a wide array of flavors to be found in coffees, so don't just settle on "coffee" as a cocktail ingredient. Look for the bean and the roast that you want. And don't be confined to a hot coffee drink. Try using just an ounce or two as a modifier to a more complex recipe, hot or cold.
Sugar: Organic agave nectar can vary from producer to producer. The darker ones have more maple/honey notes while the lighter ones can be more neutral in flavor. Try several and find the one you like. Organic sugar can easily be made into simple syrup by adding water on a one to one ratio and shaking it up. It will be brown because it is not processed like normal white sugar, so don't be freaked out by that.
In closing, remember that we humans have known how to survive through the winter for as long as we have known how to feed ourselves. We have ways of preserving flavors and foods that are all organic and natural. By being creative in how you incorporate those items into a cocktail, you'll surprise yourself with how inventive you can be. Push the envelope and you may just come up with the next organic cosmopolitan.