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Farm to Cocktail: Garden-inspired drinks for the patio or a picnic


Benjamin Newby

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Updated: July 17, 2014 11:08AM

Forget farm to table. It’s farm to cocktail this summer. Just in time for Chicago’s long-awaited warm weather, garden-inspired cocktails are cropping up all about town in the city’s trendiest bars and lounges.

With the freshest ingredients at your patio doorstep, (for those with proverbial green thumbs) it’s the perfect time to test your at-home cocktail mixing skills.

“Summer is the most beautiful time for the home bartender,” says Benjamin Newby, an award-winning mixologist whose impressive client list includes Jaguar, Vosges Chocolates and the Public Hotel. “With a well-stocked garden, you will be able to emulate Chicago’s most innovative restaurants and their commitment to the quality and sustainability of farm to table, farm to glass concoctions.”

Before you embark on your garden concoctions, Newby suggests keeping the focus on the fresh — much like the drink’s source inspiration, fresh herbs and vegetables growing in your garden.

“You are about to become the purveyor of the freshest of cocktails, so don’t skimp on the other bits and pieces,” he says. “Make sure you always use freshly squeezed juice, nothing pasteurized if possible, especially your citrus. Keep the peels. The peels of citrus contain wonderfully intense oils and act as a perfect finishing garnish for your drinks. A quick spritz of lemon oil on top and rim of a martini makes the world of difference.”

Make your own syrups, waters and infusions at home, like the professionals, Newby says. “You can infuse your herbs, fruits and vegetables with any number of base liquors. You can also create syrups by adding your chosen ingredients to a batch of simple syrup,” he says.

“Just add a cup of sugar to a cup of boiled water, stir to dissolve and then once you’ve added your flavor bring to a simmer. The length of the simmer all depends on the consistency of your flavoring,” Newby says. “If it is light, floral or porous like mint or lavender you will only need to simmer for 5 minutes. If it’s something dense like ginger or peppercorns, a good 20-minute simmer should do the trick. Then strain out the ingredients and you’ve just added to your cocktail ingredient arsenal for the next week.”

Alex Renshaw, beverage manager at Drumbar, the Raffaello Hotel’s swanky lounge known for its extensive and ever-changing cocktail menu, says making cocktails is no different than cooking. “It’s not going to be great unless you use quality, fresh ingredients,” he says.

Renshaw recommends starting off with the classics like the daiquiri, Manhattan and Old Fashioned. “Once you master these, you can start to understand what creates balance, mouth feel, spice, finish and other delicious nuances in a cocktail,” he says. “Most modern cocktails work within a general classic structure.”

The other key? Knowing when to shake and stir, and for how long, he says.

“You should generally just shake a cocktail when citrus is involved and only stir when it is not involved,” Renshaw says. “This has to do with texture and properly mixing specific ingredients together. If a cocktail is under-diluted, it will be too strong or the flavors won’t open up enough, and if you over-dilute it, you are stuck with a watery, disappointing tipple.”

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