Americans are demanding organic more than ever. And naturally, that quest for pesticide-free fare is spilling over into the cocktail glass, too. Organic cocktails are becoming commonplace at holiday parties. "With more people wanting in their glass what's on their plates, it's getting easier all the time to find all sorts of organic fruits, veggies, herbs—and even booze—for making 100 percent organic cocktails," explains Paul Abercrombie, author of Organic, Shaken and Stirred: Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis, and Other Totally Green Cocktails (Harvard Common Press, 2009).
"Hardly a month goes by that I don't hear of some new organic gin, rum, or vodka; I'm even seeing more exotic liqueurs go organic. Most cities or towns with decent wine or liquor stores will carry at least some organic hooch. And if you can't find it on local shelves, just about anything you want can be ordered online." (You can make your own simple syrup by simply stirring sugar in boiling water, and then setting aside to thicken.)
If you do drink during the holidays, why not try incorporating some organic elements into the mix? And, of course, be careful not to overindulge. Overdoing it can erase the heart-healthy benefits of alcohol, and could even lead to holiday heart syndrome, an abnormal heart rhythm caused by binge drinking that often occurs during holiday festivities.
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Avoid Organic-Cocktail Pitfalls
Yes, at this point in the game, you're sick of shopping and the thought of standing shoulder-to-shoulder among the mobs of people trying to score holiday hooch at the liquor store is not appealing. So here's a simple way to avoid buying cocktail mixes that likely contain nasty ingredients like fake food dye, linked to ADHD and brain tumors, and the high-fructose corn syrup that's busting American belt lines and could be contaminated with mercury.
"A good rule of thumb is that if it's in a bottle or can and contains more than one ingredient, it'll likely have some other nasty gunk like artificial flavors, coloring, and preservatives," says Abercrombie. "Mixers are especially bad this way. But even bottled juices can be full of such crap. And those cherries don't get that Day-Glo coloring from nature. Even seemingly simple products like, well, simple syrup are usually made with corn syrup."
If you don’t have the time to make your own mixes, look for certified-organic bar mixes from Nature's Flavors. The company also sells organic, plant-based food coloring. For organic and wild-harvested botanicals that are relatively hard to find, such as gentian and quassia, the main bittering agents used to make cocktails bitters and other bar creations, search Mountain Rose Herbs.
If you're not about to be bending over backwards to craft organic bitters, and if you're looking for a lower-maintenance organic cocktail, Abercrombie says the easiest ones to make 100 percent organic tend to be those that make the most use of fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs. The toughest involve holiday cocktail recipes calling for very specific liqueurs such as maraschino liqueur, Benedictine, or Chartreuse. "Still, I figure a drink that's 90 percent organic is still a pretty amazing accomplishment," he says.
Bartending expert Alex Smith has whipped up organic cocktails at bars like Gather and Gitane in California. He says creating a 100-percent organic bar is tough, but that doesn't mean you can't give your holiday cocktails an organic twist. The easiest find you'll make in the organic department will likely be vodka, gin, or tequilas, and Smith likes the aged brandy from Marion Farms. But beyond that, it's tough to find high-quality organic, or any type of organic, when you get into the other spirits.
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Abercromie says the delicate floral qualities of the elderflower get a perfect uplift from the toasty fizz of the champagne in this organic cocktail. "And what would this drink be without the vivid touch of lime softened by the sweetness of agave? But what really makes this drink so heavenly are the devilishly diminutive leaves of a single sprig of organic thyme, alluring as the trace of perfume from a passing girl," he says.
½ ounce organic vodka
½ ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur
1 ounce organic lime sour
Splash of organic agave nectar
Several ounces organic champagne
1 sprig organic thyme
Pour the vodka, elderflower liqueur, lime sour, and agave nectar over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, then strain the mixture into a champagne flute or old-fashioned glass. Top off with the champagne. Spank the sprig of thyme once between your hands to release its oils, drop it into the drink, then stir the cocktail once or twice before serving. Makes 1 drink.
Bank Exchange Punch
This updated take on pisco punch may be better than the original, explains Abercrombie. Pisco punch's popularity surge in late-1800s San Francisco rivaled the nation's recent obsession with the Cosmo. This drink's name honors the Bank Exchange, a San Francisco saloon where the first pisco punch was poured. "This punch takes full advantage of the tangy, grapey sweetness of pisco—a grape brandy from South America—and fresh, tart lemons," says Abercrombie. "New to the mix are the luscious sweetness of pineapple and a touch of allspice liqueur, a treat redolent of clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, which wakes up and warms up all of the ingredients."
Makes 6 drinks.
12 ounces pisco
6 ounces pineapple-infused organic simple syrup (recipe follows)
3 ounces freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
1/3 ounce allspice liqueur (St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram is Abercrombie's favorite)
6 small chunks fresh organic pineapple
In a pitcher, combine the pisco, simple syrup, lemon juice, allspice liqueur, and a large handful of ice cubes. Stir until chilled (you want the ice to meal just a bit for the proper dilution). Serve in old-fashioned glasses or punch glasses (wine glasses will do in a pinch) and garnish each drink with a chunk of pineapple.
Pineapple-infused Organic Simple Syrup:
Combine several small chunks of peeled organic pineapple with six ounces of organic simple syrup and let infuse overnight in the refrigerator. Strain and store in an airtight container. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
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Apricot Honeybush Martini
This recipe, provided by The Organic Cocktail Company, features immune-boosting South African honeybush tea (although the alcohol likely negates the benefits). Honeybush tea is often described as tasting similar to, but sweeter than, rooibos tea, a full-bodied tea with a hint of nuttiness from the same region.
1½ ounces Square One Organic Vodka (infused with organic honeybush tea)
(To infuse vodka, place one to two single tea bags in a small vodka bottle, four to five in a large bottle, and let it steep overnight or up to two days. Enjoy!)
2/3 ounce organic apricot juice
1/3 ounce organic pear juice
1/3 ounce organic agave syrup
Organic lemon twist, to garnish
Mix ingredients in a shaker or glass full of ice; shake or stir to chill. Strain out ice and serve in martini glass for a fruity, frosty organic cocktail.
Organic Sweet Vermouth
As mentioned earlier, while it's becoming easier to make truly organic cocktails, it's still next to impossible if your drink of choice involves bourbon or ryes. But in the spirit of organic spirits, Smith shares this organic sweet vermouth recipe that can be used to add an organic element to a holiday Manhattan or Sazerac. Simply use organic versions of all of the ingredients below.
2 750ml bottles fruity red wine
2 750ml bottles white wine
1 heaping Tablespoon wormwood
1 teaspoon orris root
1 teaspoon galangal root
1 teaspoon angelica root
1 heaping Tablespoon dried orange peel
2 heaping Tablespoons dried fruit (such as currants, raisins, cherries, apricots)
½ teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon whole corriander, cracked
½ teaspoon lavender
½ teaspoon fennel seed
1 stick cinnamon
1 star anise pod
½ teaspoon aniseed
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon coffee beans, whole
6 to 8 ounces agave nectar (depending on dilution, so, to taste)
6 ounces brandy
Toast spices and roots. Boil one bottle (750ml) wine with aromatics for 10 minutes. Mix with the brandy, agave, and the rest of wine and let steep for one to two days, shaking or stirring occasionally. Strain solids. Keep refrigerated. Use within one month.
Published on: December 22, 2010