A mint julep and a rosemary Greyhound. Photo by Angie Bryan

This spring many of you baked bread. Many of you embarked on extensive home renovation projects. And many of you planted victory gardens.

Those of you in that last group are likely now desperately calling friends with the fervor of someone who got involved in a pyramid scheme: “Are you sure you don’t want some fresh sage?  I really need to unload some of mine.  I’ll even drop it off at your place. I can throw in some fresh mint, too. I have three different kinds!”

Never fear, help is here.

Back when I lived in the Washington, D.C., metro area, I had what I liked to call a “booze garden” – a garden bursting at the seams with fresh herbs that could be used in cocktails. It was also just a really nice place to sit and drink.

There are four main ways to incorporate fresh herbs into cocktails: you can infuse them into liquors (see last week’s column for instructions), infuse them into simple syrup, muddle them and garnish with them.

As you may already know, simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water stirred together over low heat until dissolved.  You can make honey syrup by stirring together equal parts honey and water over low heat. It takes only a few minutes.

The makings of a blackberry basil mojito. Photo by Angie Bryan

Opinions differ over the best way to infuse fresh herbs into one of these syrups. Some prefer adding the fresh herbs (pro tip: use a lot of fresh herbs in order for the flavor to come through in the final product) while the mixture is dissolving and then letting it steep for 5 to 15 minutes; others prefer pouring the still-warm simple syrup over the fresh herbs in a heat-proof container and then letting it sit for about 15 minutes. Either way, strain out the fresh herbs and make sure the syrup is either room temperature or (my preference) chilled before you add it to a cocktail. Herb-infused simple syrups are a wonderful way to incorporate herbs that you wouldn’t just sit around eating plain, such as thyme, rosemary and sage.

Muddling is the technique used to release the oils (and thus the flavor and the aroma) of herbs such as mint and basil.  You can purchase an actual muddler, a long tool with a wide end that you stick directly in a container when making drinks like mojitos and mint juleps, or you can just use the handle of a wooden spoon.  If you’re new to the muddling game, muddle in a cocktail shaker instead of the glass; safety first!

Garnishing might seem like an afterthought or merely a way to make a cocktail look fancier, but when it comes to fresh herbs, it’s a way to taste the cocktail with your nose before you ever take a sip. Have you ever seen a bartender spank a spring of mint leaves before tucking them into a pile of crushed ice in a cocktail? They aren’t doing that because the mint has been naughty – they’re doing it to release the oils and the aroma to make the cocktail more inviting, setting the mood, so to speak.

Two of my favorite cocktails using fresh herbs are a blackberry basil mojito (muddle blackberries, fresh basil instead of mint and sugar, then add light rum and soda water) and the Sage Bee’s Knees (1 part sage-infused honey syrup, 1 part fresh lemon juice, 3 parts gin). Both are light, refreshing summery cocktails that might make you think twice about giving away your extra herbs.

I would provide more specific cocktail examples but I ran out of thyme.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

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