SPIRITS: Younger than Springtime

Story and Photograph by Tony Cross

It’s safe to say that pollen is here. Having a big nose allows me to inhale all the lovely kinds, so believe me when I say that after my sinuses get back to normal, I can start enjoying my favorite time of the year. Springtime in the Carolinas means longer days, flowers in bloom, and a variety of delicious produce from local farmers markets. So when it comes to making drinks this time of the year, it’s easy to draw inspiration from my surroundings. Even if you don’t have your own garden, there are plenty of markets around that have many herbs and fruits that you can incorporate into your cocktails. Below, a few of my favorites.

Strawberry-Basil Smash

I was lucky enough to have access to a garden at a restaurant I ran during the U.S. Open in the Sandhills a few years back. We had weekly deliveries from a local farmer when both basil and strawberries were abundant. Using North Carolina’s own Cardinal Gin, it was easy to put together a bright and flavorful concoction. Cardinal Gin is slightly floral, which makes it ideal for pairing with any number of herbs. In general, gin is my go-to spirit for springtime cocktails. Since distillers usually use multiple varieties of herbs and citrus peels when creating gin, bartenders love the challenge of finding complementary flavors.

In a cocktail shaker:

  • 3 strawberries, diced
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
  • 1/2 ounce Simple syrup (2:1)
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/8 ounce Chartreuse Green Liqueur
  • 1 3/4 ounce Cardinal Gin
  • Ice

Gently muddle strawberries, basil, bitters and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add juice, spirits and ice. Shake like hell for 10 seconds. Double strain into rocks glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with a basil leaf.

* * *

Chamomile-infused Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Blanc

Most of us have forgotten that dry and sweet vermouth are great on their own. If refrigerated after opening, your bottle of fortified wine can last for a few months. I totally stole the idea of infusing chamomile in dry vermouth from bartender Brandon Wise, out of Denver. Mr. Wise’s drink had a few other ingredients in it, but what I decided to do was quite simple: Reverse the martini. You see, the specs for your standard gin martini may vary slightly, but here’s an example: 2 1/2 ounces gin and 3/4 ounce dry vermouth. I prefer using Plymouth Gin, because it is slightly earthy, but soft. I always end up going back to Dolin when it comes to dry vermouths. Made in France, the dry is fresh and extremely clean on the palate. For this infusion, however, I opted for the Dolin Blanc, which is like the dry, but more fl oral with a touch of sweetness. I wanted vermouth to be the star in this low-proof cocktail to prove the naysayers wrong. The Sexyback was born.


Build in a rocks glass:

  • 2 1/2 ounce chamomile-infused Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Blanc (see recipe below)
  • 3/4 ounce Plymouth Gin
  • Add ice and stir for 50 revolutions
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe glass
  • Take a twist of lemon, expressing the oils over the cocktail, and then put the lemon into the drink.
  • Chamomile Infusion
  • 1 750ml bottle Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Blanc
  • 6 Alvita Chamomile Tea bags
  • Steep teabags into vermouth for about 4 minutes, or right after the color starts to turn a straw color.
  • Refrigerate after using.

* * *

Rosemary Syrup

I’ve always loved infusing rosemary into spirits and syrups. I’ve let it sit in cachaça, pineapple syrup, gin and plain ol’ simple syrup. There is nothing to making this concoction, and it’ll allow you to play around with different spirits when you’re playing bartender. I always favor a thicker simple syrup; two parts sugar to one part water is the ratio I stick with. This doesn’t really make the syrup sweeter; it does, however, give the syrup a thicker consistency so your cocktails don’t seem to be “watered down,” so to speak. In a saucepan, put one cup of water over medium-high heat. Before it comes to a boil, slowly add two cups of sugar while stirring. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn off the heat, and add four stalks of washed rosemary. Leave the rosemary in the syrup overnight, or if you’re in a hurry, let it sit until the syrup cools. Adding a healthy splash of vodka will keep this syrup fresh for many months (just make sure you keep it refrigerated). To get you started on a rosemary syrup cocktail, here’s a simple recipe that uses vodka, although I prefer it with gin (try it sometime with Sutler’s Gin out of Winston-Salem).

Ride the Cliché

  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce rosemary syrup
  • 1/2 ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 ounces TOPO Organic Vodka

Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe glass. Garnish with a thin lemon slice with a sprig of rosemary placed through the middle. Cheers! 

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs a cocktail catering company, Reverie Cocktails, in Southern Pines.

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