Thursday, September 1, 2011

Shi-Shi Barkeeping

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, 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!

Basil-Mint Lemonade

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.


  1. I had no idea you could make tonic water - how exciting!

  2. Indeed you can! And you can lend whatever kind of flavor profile you like - I like it citrusy and with a little honey in lieu of some of the agave syrup. You will crave gin and tonics once you've tried it this way! (And you avoid all the extra sugar and sodium that's hidden in the commercial stuff.)

    If you start to think of all sodas as a combination of flavored syrup and soda water, you realize you can make it all. Ginger beer is fun to make, too - although I've never had luck getting it to carbonate with yeast. I just mix the syrup with soda water, or you can use a soda siphon.

  3. A $6 mixed drink!? I wanna meet that.

  4. 'Basil Mint Lemonade' sounds very good to me... I'm adding that to my recipes!