I love mixing cocktails. I also enjoy drinking them. However, if I'm at one of those cheesy get-a-date bars, I order beer, because bottom-shelf liquor and sour mix aren't worth my six dollars.
Luckily, plenty of places in Atlanta serve delicious, creative drinks made with fresh herbs and juices. A good mixed drink is definitely worth paying for every once in a while, but they're fun - and much cheaper - to mix at home.
I get almost all my drink recipes from Jeffrey Morgenthaler's great website. The drink in the picture above is his sangria recipe, but I substituted white wine for red (and upped the bitters to 1 1/2 or 2 teaspoons).
The first recipe I made of his was the tonic water. Allen and I had a G&T made with homemade T at a restaurant in Charleston, and I came home determined to make my own. It's a completely different taste than the sharp, acerbic taste of store-bought tonic - but the cinchona bark (the quinine) is hard to track down. I got mine at takeherb.com, but it's not currently available there - just Google around. (Cinchona bark is used medicinally and can counteract with drugs like blood thinners, so check all warnings and counterindications!) A pound of cinchona bark will last you forever - we often bottle batches of tonic and give them as gifts.
The easiest way to infuse a cocktail with unusual flavors is with simple syrups. To make a quart of infused simple syrup, simply combine one pound sugar with one pound water, add a used (seeded) vanilla bean, or two cups of of fresh mint or basil, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and allow mixture to cool. Strain the syrup, pressing on the solids, and then refrigerate - it will keep for a couple of weeks. A vanilla bean can stay in the jar, and that syrup will keep indefinitely. It's a great way to take full advantage of expensive vanilla beans, or to prolong the herbaceous flavors of your garden.
Lastly, here's a great cocktail to use that simple syrup!
2 ounces basil-mint simple syrup
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 ounces vodka
Shake all ingredients with ice, then pour into an old-fashioned glass with more ice. Add a sprig of mint or basil if desired.
(This is my preferred drink for long Chattahoochee-tubing days, so sometimes I thin this out by adding club soda. Also a good idea if you want to be a cheap - but still gourmet (right?) - party host.)
Happy Labor Day weekend! I'll be drinking basil-mint lemonade at the beach, and I hope you'll be doing something just as good.