Mixologists Turn To Homegrown Ingredients For Fresher Cocktails

Bar operators are harvesting their own fruits, vegetables and herbs to use in drinks.

Growing their own produce for cocktails means operators can control freshness. The Dry No More at Nashville’s Husk restaurant features whiskey, bitters, sugar and tansy leaf, garnished with rosemary.
Growing their own produce for cocktails means operators can control freshness. The Dry No More at Nashville’s Husk restaurant features whiskey, bitters, sugar and tansy leaf, garnished with rosemary.

Cocktails can’t get much fresher than the Kiss My Burro at Beachcraft in Miami Beach, Florida. Bartenders at the Crafted Hospitality restaurant, located at the 1 Hotel & Homes South Beach, are often seen heading out to the venue’s outdoor patio, scissors in hand, to clip any variety of homegrown herbs featured in its drinks. The Kiss My Burro uses Italian basil, as well as Olmeca Altos Silver Tequila, fresh lemon juice, and honey and blood orange shrub syrup ($14). “Making cocktails this way is interactive, fun and fresh,” says beverage director Charles Steadman.

Restaurant operators and mixologists around the country have begun to drill down on consumer demand for locally grown ingredients. On-site gardens—which can be located on venues’ grounds, patios or rooftops—are supplying produce that ultimately ends up in guests’ glasses. Restaurants like Fuego Cocina y Tequileria in Arlington, Virginia, and Gracie’s in Providence, Rhode Island, grow seasonal vegetables for use in cocktails, as well as for garnishes. Fuego Cocina offers the Infused Cucumber and Jalapeño Margarita ($10), made with Milagro Blanco Tequila and peppers grown on the venue’s balcony garden, when available. “Customers can tell which Margaritas have the home-grown peppers,” says Scott Clime, wine and beverage director at Passion Food, operator of Fuego Cocina. “They’re really spicy.”

Gracie’s bar manager Kristi Dukoff, meanwhile, grows produce such as cucumbers for syrups and garnishes for cocktails like the Gin-Gerly ($13), made with Farmer’s gin, cardamom water, salad burnet–cucumber syrup, lemon juice, ginger beer and julienned cucumber for garnish. “Our menu is inspired by the seasons, and so are our cocktails,” Dukoff says.

As well as basil, Crafted Hospitality grows its own rosemary and mint, used in the draft Mojito ($14 a glass; $55 a pitcher)—made with Bacardi Superior rum, simple syrup and fresh lime juice—poured at The Sandbox, the poolside bar and restaurant at the 1 Hotel. According to Mike Wolf, bartender at Nashville, Tennessee’s Husk restaurant, the eatery typically grows 15 to 20 different herbs in its garden during the peak summer and fall season for use in infusions and tinctures or as garnishes. The Dry No More ($14) comprises Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel–Aged bitters, superfine sugar and bruised tansy leaf from Husk’s garden.

In addition to growing herbs like lemongrass and rosemary, Houston’s The Durham House produces its own honey for use in cocktails. The Penny Royal ($10) is comprised of Junípero gin, honey, Guillaumette génépi liqueur, Angostura bitters and fresh pennyroyal. “I’ve always worked with people who taught me the importance of using locally sourced products,” explains bar manager James Caronna. “What’s more local than your own backyard at the restaurant?”

Freshness is also a factor. Steadman notes that Beachcraft’s parent company is “serious about sustainability and seeking out locally grown ingredients. You can taste the difference.” Wolf at Husk adds, “It’s difficult to make 20 salads a day from what’s growing in your home garden, but you can make 20 cocktails if all you need is a bit of garnish. The garnish is very important—it’s often the first thing you smell before you taste the drink.”

Guest response to homegrown cocktail ingredients has been strong. “Customers really connect with the romanticism of ingredients growing all around our property,” says Wolf of Husk’s half-dozen raised vegetable and herb beds. “They walk by the rosemary plants near the porch on their way in, and that same rosemary shows up in their cocktails later on.”

Bar operators expect the trend to continue, especially as more concepts focus on fresh, local elements. “We believe it’s important to know where your food and drink come from,” Dukoff says. “What better way than to grow it yourself?”  At Beachcraft, Steadman is in the market for additional planters.  “We hope to harvest even more,” he says. “And I’d love to put a beehive on our rooftop.”