By David Alan
Photography by Jenna Noel
If farm-to-table is the mantra of the Slow Food movement, then let’s consider garden-to-glass the M.O. of the “slow drink” movement. There is no time better than spring to put your garden where your mouth is. Mint, basil and cilantro grow like weeds and are an easy way to spice up a standard cocktail. Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries add sweetness and tanginess, striking color and make for great edible, seasonal garnishes.
Cucumbers are a light and refreshing addition to the mixologist’s repertoire. Muddle a few chunks in the bottom of a mixing glass before making your favorite margarita or mojito. Cucumber slices are a nice garnish, as are long strips of peel or cucumber spears.
And now is a good time to anoint gin as the official spirit of spring. With its bright, clean, herbal profile, gin works especially well with the fruits and herbs abundant in the spring garden. Once the king of all spirits (factoring as it did into the Martini, the once-and-future king of all cocktails), gin has assumed a less-prominent role in the mixological pantry ever since vodka began weaseling its way into cocktails during the ’60s. But noble gin is making a comeback, alongside the classic cocktail itself. If traditional gin leaves you feeling like you’ve been slapped by a Christmas tree, modern gins like Hendrick’s are changing up the botanical mix to include flavors like rose and cucumber. Or consider the revivalist efforts of Anchor Distilling, whose Junípero and Genevieve seek to reproduce the historic spirit blends of the 19th century.
As the chill of winter recedes, you may find the need to lighten up your cocktails with a spritz of seltzer water, sparkling wine or tonic water. Be careful to choose an all-natural tonic such as Q Tonic or Fever-Tree, as many commercial varieties are flavored artificially and sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup which is cloyingly unpleasant and overwhelms the spirits with which it’s mixed. Many people who think they don’t like gin might simply have an aversion to low-quality tonic water.
Lastly, don’t forget that floral notes are appropriate accents for spring cocktails. A few drops of rose water or orange flower water give cocktails an elegant perfume. St-Germain elderflower liqueur adds suppleness and subtlety to any cocktail, and edible flowers such as pansies and nasturtiums are excellent garnishes, as are organic rose petals from your garden.
The season is bursting with energy and a sense of rebirth—let your cocktails be as vibrant as the garden itself.
Anvil’s Heugel Hammers a Win
As part of Edible Austin’s Eat Local Week, a group of cocktail enthusiasts gathered at the Monarch building downtown at the end of 2008 to celebrate Drink Local Night. During the event, participants were treated to a “taste-around” of locally produced spirits (organized by Austin’s cheerleader of liquid refreshment, Paula Angerstein) and to a little glass-to-glass competition called the Drink Local Cocktail Contest (organized by myself on behalf of TipsyTexan.com ). About a dozen Texas mixologists submitted recipes for the contest; the top five convened on this night to compete. Their challenge was to create a cocktail recipe featuring a Texas-made spirit and local, seasonal ingredients.
First prize went to Bobby Heugel of Houston, whose new bar, Anvil, in the Montrose neighborhood, was an instant hit among the city’s adventurous imbibers. Before Anvil’s opening, Bobby was known as the experimental mixologist at Beaver’s—an icehouse/BBQ joint owned by renowned Houston chef Monica Pope—where he shook and stirred everything from the classics to his own modern creations, including such esoteric ingredients as a rye whiskey that had been “smoked” using a fish tank aerator hooked up to the restaurant’s smoker.
At Anvil, Bobby has upped the ante. For the location, he selected a former tire shop that had spent the last decade as a daiquiri bar à la Bourbon Street: banks of frozen drink machines cranking out cheap thrills at the expense of mixological authenticity. The Slurpee machines are long gone—replaced by a spectacular assortment of spirits and a rotating selection of beers on tap. House-made bitters, syrups and infusions reflect a culinary mentality that permeates Bobby’s bartending philosophy. Vintage glassware rounds out the mix.
Enjoy Bobby’s award-winning cocktail , which will also be available at the Driskill Bar from March–May.