Interview: Paul Abercrombie - Organic, Shaken and Stirred

Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

"I'll have mine straight up - and green."

Times have changed and the choices keep growing. With all the newly available organic spirits on the market, the eco-conscious drinker now has plenty of sustainably sourced, pesticide-free cocktail options.Inspired by this fresh trend, Tampa-based author Paul Abercrombie set out to gather some of the lushest, tastiest all-organic cocktail recipes he could find. He put several dozen of them together for Organic, Shaken and Stirred (The Harvard Common Press, 2009; $19.95).

Earlier this week I attended the NYC launch party for the book at the East Village restaurant Counter, sampled a couple of organic drinks, and later sat down with Paul to discuss this toast-worthy project.

Choosing the Recipes
The recipes featured in Organic, Shaken and Stirred are plucked from bars and restaurants all over the U.S., and also include a few from Canada and Europe. Temporarily transforming his family's kitchen "into kind of a weird bar" with bottles and tools stashed everywhere (Paul is quick to praise the patience of his wife and son in this project), he systematically test-drove several hundred recipes. He eventually narrowed things down to 84 fresh and delicious cocktails.

The criteria for his choices? Taste was tantamount, but Paul also made sure that each would be easy for the home mixologist to prepare, and that the fresh fruits, vegetables and sweeteners called for would readily available at national grocery chains such as Whole Foods.

When asked if there were any unexpected discoveries along the way, Paul said "definitely the Jessica Rabbit [a concoction containing crystallized ginger, carrot juice, vodka, sweet vermouth, basil, and simple syrup]. Just reading the recipe, I was a little doubtful because of the carrot juice, but it turned out to be great."

Stocking the Organic Bar
As new brands continue to hit the market, the organic spirit world continues to expand. Right now fully organic options are available for gin, vodka, rum, cachaça and tequila. Whiskey choices are more limited, with a few companies offering organic scotch, and distillers such as Maker's Mark making sustainably produced although not 100 percent organic bourbon. Other eco-friendly, though not certified organic options include VeeV açaí, a spirit made from a healthful berry native to the Amazon rain forest and produced by a certified carbon-neutral company.

The Future of Cocktails
This new fresh fruit and vegetable-laden generation of cocktails is a far cry from the stiff Mad Men-era kind that many modern, health-conscious drinkers often steer away from. Paul points out that for someone put off by the "sinful" and old-fashioned "throwback" image of mixed drinks, the organic kind can be the "gateway drug" to enjoying cocktails in general. But he's quick to add that such a drink "needs to be a little sinful. Otherwise it's not really a cocktail."

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Milk of Millennia makes one drink

3 thin slices peeled organic fresh ginger
6 organic mint leaves
1/2 ounce organic agave nectar
1 1/2 ounces cachaça (Paul used Cuca Fresca)
3/4 ounce açaí spirit (Paul used VeeV)
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
organic orange twist

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the ginger and mint with the agave nectar until roughly mashed. Add the cachaca, acai spirit, and lemon juice, and fill the shaker with ice cubes. Shake vigorously, then strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass. Garnish by floating the orange twist on the surface of the drink.

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Snap-Pea-Irinha makes one drink

1/4 cup organic snap peas, ends trimmed
1 organic lime, cut into 8 wedges
1 ounce organic simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces organic gin (Paul used Bluecoat)
Coarsely ground organic black pepper

In a cocktail shaker or tall glass, combine the snap peas, lime wedges, and simple syrup and muddle thoroughly. Add the gin and a handful of crushed ice and stir, then pour the mixture, unstrained, into a rocks glass. Garnish lightly with pepper (one crank of the pepper mill is plenty).

"Milk of Millennia" and "Snap-Pea-Irinha" recipes excerpted from Organic, Shaken and Stirred, by Paul Abercrombie. © 2009, used with permission from The Harvard Common Press.

Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.

Related: Slow Spirits: Mixing Drinks the "Slow Food" Way

(Images: Nora Maynard)

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