My first farm share delivery arrived the other day. Along with the asparagus, radishes, and spring onions came an enormous bag of fresh mint. As I washed and sorted items to put away for the week, I also discovered a few limes I’d bought last week; they were starting to look questionable. If this quarantine and its one-per-week grocery runs has taught us anything, it’s that a) celebrating the cocktail hour is a nice way to end the day and b) fresh fruits and veggies don’t last forever. My solution? Make sure I’m using things up while also ensuring I have a well-stocked refrigerator with bar basics.
When it comes to dealing with fresh citrus, drinking an entire pitcher of margaritas might not be the most practical solution. Keeping a bottle of fresh lime (or lemon) juice in the fridge probably is. Juice those babies, strain, and bottle.
Now to your other refrigerator staple: simple syrup. You already have a bottle of plain simple syrup in the fridge because you make it in batches, right? (There it is, right next to the jar of Luxardo cherries.) Want to up your game? Try utilizing fresh herbs for every home barkeep’s secret weapon, the infused simple syrup.
The basic recipe is, well, simple: Equal parts sugar to water. Heat, if needed, to dissolve the sugar. You can use white sugar or brown, but New Orleans bartending legend Chris McMillan uses turbinado; it produces a richer, darker, more flavorful simple syrup. (He makes his by filling a pint glass 50 percent full of sugar, topping it off with hot water from behind the bar, and giving it a stir.)
Once you add your sugar, you can infuse any number of flavors into your simple syrup by steeping fresh herbs for a few minutes to a few hours, then straining. Tarragon yields that distinct black liquorice flavor. Mint is essential for juleps and summer spritzes. Lavender adds a floral fragrance that combines beautifully with lemon, and Earl Grey loose tea brings spectacular dark notes that love orange compliments.
Don’t be afraid to make up your own with rosemary, basil, or even hibiscus, especially if, like me, you’re swimming in those cute little bottles from gifts of limoncello.
Here are some ideas:
Infused simple syrup
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (like tarragon, basil, rosemary, lavender, or even thyme) or two tablespoons of Earl Grey tea leaves or crushed hibiscus flowers
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let steep for 1-2 hours. The longer you steep, the more intense the flavor. Strain into a bottle. Refrigerate.
Where to start with your new concoctions? A mint simple syrup really juices up a Ginger Mule. And the basil syrup gives your Basil Gin Smash a real pop. Even better, try that tea infused syrup with rum or bourbon.
Ginger Mint Mule
1 ½ oz London Dry gin
1 oz mint-infused simple syrup
¾ oz lime juice
Add the gin, simple syrup and lime juice to a shaker with ice. Shake until cold, strain into an ice-filled highball glass (or copper mule mug), and top off with the ginger beer.