Now brewing - herbal cocktails

Enjoy a mix of gin and herbs at the Holborn Dining Room in London.
Enjoy a mix of gin and herbs at the Holborn Dining Room in London.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/HOLBORNDININGROOM

It is time to re-think everything you know about herbal tonics.

Botanical bars are popping up all over the world, turning herbs, plants and flowers into show-stopping cocktail mix-ins. But do not mistake this nascent trend as a simple extension of the farm-to-table movement.

Botanical cocktails are about broadening the flavour wheel for bartenders, without leaning on sweet, sugary or artificial ingredients.

According to mixologist Miguel Aranda, who helped kick off the trend at his three-year-old bar Botanic Lab on Manhattan's Lower East Side, the benefits go beyond taste.

"Nowadays everyone wants to eat and drink healthier," he said, and cocktails are no exception. These are as natural and organic as they come.

Plus, with artisanal gin distillers using everything from sumac to seaweed in their recipes, bartenders have plenty of new sources for inspiration. "The ideas keep on coming," says Mr Julien Foussadier, general manager of London's Holborn Dining Room, where the gin and tonic gets infused with thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and lavender.

Here are four bars that are planting evidence for the new drink trend.

1. Le Bar Botaniste, Paris

Prince Roland Bonaparte, Napoleon's great-nephew, was such an avid botanist that he laid claim to the largest private plant collection of his time. Now his former home is the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris' 16th arrondissement - and the property's new hot spot, Le Bar Botaniste, pays homage to his green thumb.

Drink This: Rare spirits such as Genepi by Les Peres Chartreux - made from a piney plant that flourishes only in the high altitudes of the French Alps - are a highlight of this menu. Try it in the Genesis, a refreshing twist on the Moscow Mule that is infused with kaffir leaves, lemongrass, eucalyptus and Lebanese cucumber.


2. Botanic Lab, New York

This artsy, retro-looking bar prepares all its infusions and juices in-house. Bartenders can get creative with their concoctions - think, transforming a Julep with Japanese yuzu or adding saffron to a gin and tonic.

Drink This: Inspired by the colours and aromas of the New York Botanical Garden, the Bed of Roses is one of the bar's most popular, thanks to its super floral profile. It is made with rose-infused gin and Iranian rose syrup and balanced out with lime juice and gingery Domaine de Canton.


3. Holborn Dining Room, London

The months-old Gin Bar inside the restaurant has the city's largest gin collection, with roughly 400 labels. Add to that an extensive pantry of herbs, flowers, and spices - many grown on a rooftop garden - and the bar staff can create more than 14,035 different gin and tonics.

With so many options, the bartenders must act like sommeliers. For each drink, they purposefully pair artisanal tonics and garnishes with small-batch spirits. 

Drink This: The London No. 1 is anchored by a gin distilled with 12 different botanicals, including iris blossoms that give the drink a light, ethereal blue tint. A subtle Double Dutch tonic lets you appreciate all those complex flavours and a dehydrated lemon topper gives emphasis to the gin's floral characteristics. 


4. Sauvage, Brooklyn

The bar programme at this French countryside-inspired spot in Greenpoint is overseen by Maison Premiere alumnus Will Elliott, whose cocktails orbit around botanical aperitifs such as mildly sweet Aveze Gentian and herbaceous Argala Pastis. He describes his drinks as untamed and unprocessed - no doubt a nod to the flavorful wild plants and pungent herbs that can be found in the artisanal liqueurs he favours.

Drink This: Bitter Storm Over Ulm combines Aveze - made from flowers that grow in France's Volcans d'Auvergne national park - with minty absinthe and Borsci San Marzano Elisir Italian Liqueur, which gently recalls the bittersweet flavour of coffee beans to create a drink that is vegetal and slightly bitter with just a hint of spice.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2016, with the headline 'Now brewing - herbal cocktails'. Print Edition | Subscribe