It was inevitable. With virtually every restaurant working hand-in-garden glove with local farmers, farm-to-table cocktails had to be the next big thing. Since you'll be at the farmers market anyway, look at the seasonal produce as potential drink, as well as dinner, material.
Where to begin? To find out, I recently went to the Santa Monica Farmers Market with Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in that southern California city, and a fierce defender of local cooking. He is such a fixture at the Santa Monica Farmers Market that we could barely make it a few steps without a vendor or shopper stopping him to say hello.
Citrin has been coming to this market since his mother brought him as a child. "Don't just buy the first bunch of produce you see at the market. Walk around; ask for samples. Find what tastes best to you," he says.
Don't be afraid to ask for a taste, he says. "You'll find that these farmers are not only willing to let you try their products," he says, "but they're proud of what they're offering."
Then imagine these fruits, vegetables and herbs in your cocktail glass.
Brandyn Tepper, bartender at Hinoki and the Bird in Los Angeles, says he likes "the transparency" of using fresh ingredients.
"People are familiar with raspberries, strawberries, grapes, blackberries. They know what they taste like," he says. "Not a lot of people are that familiar with obscure cordials or liqueurs. You might be willing to try some things that you weren't familiar with before."
Tepper says that with some classic drinks, he'll just float a few fresh berries in the drink to add an unexpected twist. "I've never had anyone complain over having some fresh fruit in their drink."
The first step in farm-to-table cocktails is to toss the bottled and canned juices and replace them with fresh. Fresh-squeezed orange juice tastes nothing like bottled. Craft cocktail bars also use fresh herbs in their drinks.
So leave the vodka tonics and Jell-O shots in college; keep the bourbon and colas for tailgating. Once you've tasted a Bloody Mary with farm-fresh tomatoes or a mimosa with freshly squeezed orange juice, you'll begin to savor and appreciate your drink more. And you'll know the farmer who grew the ingredients.
While this recipe is simple, it showcases just how much a drink can be improved by using fresh juice over bottled or canned. Add a few fresh raspberries to the drink to further enhance your cocktail.
Makes 1 cocktail
Juice from 1 fresh orange (about 2 ounces)
4 ounces chilled champagne, sparkling wine, cava, Prosecco or whatever bubbly you prefer
2 or 3 fresh raspberries (optional)
To juice the orange, cut it in half. Use a citrus reamer or just squeeze the juice from the orange into a medium-sized bowl. If you like pulp, you're all set. If you like your juice without pulp, strain the juice to remove solids.
Pour the juice into a champagne glass. Top off with the champagne. Float a few raspberries on top and serve.
A good Bloody Mary is the ultimate farm-to-table cocktail. It's a garden patch in a glass. Tomatoes, fresh herbs, seasonings and fresh fruit juice are all at home in a good Bloody mix. Plus, farm-fresh garnishes such as celery, okra and other vegetables can gild the lily on this classic drink. Most recipes will call for canned tomato juice, but fresh tastes much better with minimal effort.
Makes a large pitcher (14 drinks)
5 pounds ripe (or slightly overripe) tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 large shallot
4 large garlic cloves, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh horseradish root, peeled and finely grated
3 teaspoons hot sauce (more if you like heat)
Juice from 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
Juice from 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the branch
Salt and pepper to taste
Ice, for serving
Cold vodka (however much you like)
Put tomatoes and shallot into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Once liquefied, push the mixture through a medium mesh strainer into a medium-sized bowl. This will take some time to ensure you get rid of all of the tomato solids. At this point, you can refrigerate the juice until you're ready to serve.
When ready to serve, add garlic, horseradish, hot sauce, lemon juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir thoroughly. Divide vodka among serving glasses. (A standard serving is 1 ounce, or 2 tablespoons, but you may add more or less.) Pour tomato mixture into the glasses and stir to combine. Garnish with celery and whatever else you like. I like pickled okra and pickled peppers.
This is the ultimate "nice weather" drink. It's easy to make ahead and great for making in large batches. Who doesn't love lemonade and strawberries? The basil adds a floral note to the drink that makes it unusual.
Makes 12 to 16 servings
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves (with several leaves reserved for garnish)
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 15 lemons)
Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Remove this simple syrup from the heat and add basil. Let basil steep in the syrup until cool, then strain out. Reserve basil syrup until ready to assemble the drink.
In a large pitcher, combine strawberries and lemon juice. Using an immersion blender (or stand blender), liquefy the strawberries with the juice. Add the basil simple syrup and stir to combine.
When ready to serve, fill a highball glass with ice. Put in 2 ounces of vodka. Top off with lemonade and stir to combine. Garnish with some fresh basil leaves, and serve immediately.
I recently asked a bartender what I should order if I liked gin and tonic but wanted something more complex. He recommended this drink, which has the citrusy sweetness of a gin and tonic but is much different. Think gin and tonic, but with cucumber and a touch of salt to make the flavors pop.
Makes 1 cocktail
1/2 small lime, cut into 6 wedges
2 thick slices of peeled cucumber
2 ounces gin
1 1/2 tablespoons simple syrup
Enough ice to fill an old-fashioned glass
Pinch sea salt
In a cocktail shaker, add lime and cucumber. Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon, pulverize the lime and cucumber. Get as much juice from the lime as possible. Once it's thoroughly juiced and the cucumber is mashed, add gin, simple syrup and ice. Shake vigorously until well mixed. Fill old-fashioned glass with ice, pour in all of the contents, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.
Perhaps no drink has been as badly mistreated as the daiquiri. A proper daiquiri is not a slushy, syrupy drink jacked up with alcohol for spring breakers to chug. It's a simple, refreshing drink with fresh juice and rum. A standard recipe calls for lime juice, but the addition of fresh berries works extremely well. I like to serve this over ice and in a Mason jar.
Makes 1 cocktail
4 fresh blackberries
1 ounce fresh lime juice
3 or 4 leaves fresh mint
2 ounces white rum
1/2 ounce simple syrup
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the berries, lime juice and mint until the berries have been thoroughly crushed. Add rum, simple syrup and ice. Shake extremely well. Pour into a glass. Garnish with lime slices and a few fresh berries, if you'd like.