Magazine article Sunset

Garden to Glass

Magazine article Sunset

Garden to Glass

Article excerpt

For author Amy Stewart, a really great cocktail starts in her own backyard.

"THIS IS OUR SECRET BLEND of ingredients/' the distiller says as I peer into a barrel of dried plant matter during a tour of a French distillery renowned for its herbal liqueur. "The recipe is known to only three people in the world."

I look at him, puzzled, then back into the barrel. I see lemon verbena, chamomile, angelica, star anise, lemon peel, sage, and fennel. What's so secret about this blend? Then I realize his mistake: He assumed I'd stare into his barrel of dried herbs, spices, and fruits, and walk away unenlightened. He made a serious miscalculation. My French might not be very good, but my botanical Latin is excellent.

My secret: Gardeners are the ultimate mixologists. It's nothing for us to grow hop vines for a batch of homebrew, infuse vodka with fresh-picked loganberries, or track down a red-striped heirloom sugarcane to stir our mojitos.

That is why - back home in Eureka, California - I turned my narrow side yard into a cocktail garden as I did research for my forthcoming book, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks. Inspired by the bold, sophisticated colors of the liqueur bottles I've seen, I came up with a palette of violet, burgundy, chartreuse, and pale pastis blue-green. I turned a raised planter into a bar, and hung shelves to accommodate bottles and glassware alongside my herbs and fruits. Galvanized tubs tucked here and there hold ice during parties.

What grows in my cocktail garden in redwood country? Sloe (the purplish black fruit of the blackthorn shrub, Prunus spinosa) for making my own sloe gin. Black currants for cassis. I can't get enough of the new container-size 'Raspberry Shortcake' raspberries and 'Peach Sorbet' blueberries. In a warmer climate, I'd track down a 'Chinotto' sour orange tree, whose flavor is suspiciously like that of the top-secret Campari formula, and a dwarf pomegranate to make grenadine.

One more secret to share: a gardenfresh cocktail I call La Vie en Elderflower (far right). Unlike that French distiller, I'm happy to divulge its ingredients.

[Sidebar]

SHAKING UP PARTY

In her cocktail garden, - Stewart (left) is gin and tonics in mason jars garnished with cherry tomatoes and jalapeños. For this impagne mojito ^ht) featured in her new book, Stewart muddles mint sprigs with lime juice, simple syrup, and white rum; strains it into a glass; and adds sparkling wine, berries, and mint. …

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