Quick Tip: For Aromatic Garnishes, "Spank" Your Herbs

Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

Mint. Lemon verbena. Rosemary. Basil. Cilantro. Lavender. Want to make your fresh herb cocktail garnishes behave beautifully? You gotta spank 'em.We saw this playfully punitive technique at work with a sprig of lavender in one of the botanically accented Gin and Tonics we took a look at last week. Since this very same method can be applied to so many more herbs in so many other cocktails, I figured it was worth revisiting in a little more depth today.

Let's start with the aromatic nature of the herbs themselves.

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If, while walking through a garden, you've ever trailed your fingers over the tiny leaves on the wiry stem of a thyme plant - or maybe over the soft, silvery foliage on a stalk of sage - you'll notice that these herbs' lovely aromas release at the slightest touch.

Now try upping the pressure by clapping the leaves between your two hands, essentially "spanking" them. Not crushing them or bruising them, mind you - just by giving them a quick, firm slap. If you're too rough, and tear them, you're liable to release the chlorophyll, making things taste bitter and grassy. So go easy. Strike them just hard enough to activate all those gorgeous essential oils.

Wow. Welcome to fragrance country. Now put your herb sprig in a cocktail, and witness the drink transformed. This kind of garnish goes far beyond being just a pretty decoration. So much flavor comes from aroma - from that fragrant waft you get as you tip the glass to your lips. Your cocktail will now have it in spades.

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Looking for a way to use some "spanked" herbs in a drink tonight? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • In a Gimlet. I recently attended a seminar, "Drink Like You Eat," co-presented by chef Francesco Lafranconi and mixologist Adam Seger as part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. We were all served Gimlets made with fresh lime juice and were then presented with an array of fresh herbs with which to garnish them: rosemary, mint, and lemon verbena. I tried a sip with one herb, and then with another. Delicious variations on a theme.
  • In your Gin and Tonic. We as we saw last week, this patio-season classic can get a lovely lift from lavender.
  • Get minty. That sprig of mint garnishing your Mint Julep or Mai Tai will be just that much more fragrant if you give it a little spank.
  • Hold the alcohol. No need to limit this technique to just boozy libations. Try it with non-alcoholic refreshers such iced tea, lemonade, or in Emily's Rosemary Citrus Spritzer from earlier this week.

Have you been drinking your fresh herbs this summer?

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: Recipe Roundup: 20 Summer Cocktails with Fresh Herbs

(Images: Nora Maynard)

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