How to use herbs in cocktails

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
26 November, 2015

We spoke to Jeremy Pascal, head mixologist at London’s Tonic and Remedy, about the easiest way to make herb-based cocktails at home.


What herbs work best in cocktails?

Obviously, the options are endless, but here are my top four:


Mint. 

A Mojito is a classic for a reason: the sour lime and refreshing mint come together with the kick of the rum. The citric acid of the lime opens up the flavour of the mint.


Rosemary.  

It was first used in the Middle East and North Africa to perfume desserts. Rosemary works well with many fruits - including dried ones - where the perfume of the rosemary gives a subtle scent.


Thyme. 

Thyme works well with certain spices, like cinnamon… it is commonly used in the Deep South to flavour fried chicken.


Sage. 

Sage is used in soft drinks in the Caribbean mixed with fresh pineapple. Sage has got an amazing flavour profile that works well with apple, too.


What spirits lend themselves to herbal concoctions?

White spirits like gin or vodka are the ones to use as they have more of a light but complex scent and flavour profile, making it easier to marry them with herbs. Dark spirits are much richer, which makes the pairing more difficult. Certain high ABV liqueurs are quite interesting, as well as vermouth too. Try Benedictine DOM, a honeyed herbal liqueur, or leave a bunch of rosemary into a bottle of Noilly Prat for a week - it will accentuate the herbal flavour of the vermouth.


Do you always have to make a sugar syrup to distill the flavour of the herb?

There are many ways to infuse herbs! At the bar, I make a simple syrup with one part sugar and one part water, then drop the herbs in, vac pack it and let it cook slowly into a bain marie around 60C for 45 minutes, but you can just as easily make it on the hob at home by putting the herbs into the syrup for a couple of hours to infuse. If you just want to infuse a spirit, then different herbs will take different amounts of time. Rosemary, for example, is pretty strong, while something like apple mint will take a little longer. Generally, though, 1-2 days should do it. 


Are there any tricks that you have to make the flavour more interesting?

Roasting certain herbs works really well. Also, don't underestimate the power of crushing herbs such as mint and sage, it really helps to get the scent out.


Is there a way of using herbs in a sweeter drink?

Yes, but it depends on the herb as acidity helps to cut through certain flavours. Basil definitely works for sweeter drinks, though; we use it at Tonic and Remedy with a pomegranate jam for a twist on a julep.


What's the most popular herb used in drinks?

Mint is the most common one by far, but rosemary, basil and sage are getting there for some twisted classics and experimental bars.


Is it hard to pair cocktails with food?

Not particularly; we can find elements in cocktails that are similar to wines. Think sweetness, tannins, acidity… Here at Tonic and Remedy every cocktail has been tried by Head Chef Paul Welburn to make sure it will sit well with our dishes even before being put on the list.


Are there any classic cocktails that people would be surprised work well with food?

Not a long time ago, one of my regulars ordered sirloin steak, and now always gets a Bloody Remedy (a twist on a Bloody Mary) to go with it. He told me that the combination was great. Otherwise, you can serve citrus cocktails, such as a White Lady, with certain fish, or sweet cocktails with desserts - think espresso martini and tiramisu.


Tonic and Remedy are now taking reservations for their Victorian-inspired festive menu. Find out more about it here


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