AT THE BAR veggie-tails
We taste with our eyes and
minds before our taste buds,
so vegetables add an element
of surprise for many imbibers.
According to Treadway, patrons’
reactions run the gamut from
fear to enthusiasm. “If they see
me muddling arugula into their
gimlet, they’re going to form an
opinion of the drink—positive
or negative—before it even hits
the glass,” he says.
“Arugula is a flavor that not
a lot of people are familiar with
on its own, beyond a colorful
addition to a salad or gourmet
pizza. But when you single out
the flavor, it has a bright, peppery kick that goes really nicely with the juniper spice in the gin.”
According to Alan Walter, creative director at New Orleans’ Loa, when you approach
ingredients by analyzing flavor, the craft of cocktail-making is more akin to the art of cooking.
Bartenders turn to their local farmers markets, backyard gardens and gourmet kitchens for
inspiration. “It’s really about experimenting with flavor profiles,” Walter says.
Crafty mixologists are playing with different peppers—not just the hot ones that we
typically see in a bloody mary. They’re juicing green peppers, making onion infusions and
muddling with cilantro. Even more exotic ingredients, ranging from radishes and stinging
nettles to shiitakes and morels, are finding their way into cocktails.
“Whatever is in the kitchen is fair game,” says Treadway, who makes a tequila old
fashioned that features reposado tequila infused with dried mushrooms. He adds a little
mescal, a little cinnamon syrup and whatever morel he has on hand to create a drink that’s a
little bitter, a little sweet and a little smoky, and possesses a cool, sort of savory, tequila note.
In fact, Treadway is known to go scouring the kitchen for scraps. “If you were to eat
the pulp after juicing a fruit or vegetable, it wouldn’t be the best experience,” he says. “So,
instead, we make infusions by taking the pulp of whatever we’re juicing. When we work with
fresh pineapple juice, for example, we use the leftover pulp to make an infusion. The same
rule applies to ginger. If we’re grinding ginger to make ginger syrup, we use the leftover
pulp as an infusion.
“That approach can be a lot of fun for the more adventurous palate. It’s like composting
behind the bar.”
Bartenders use myriad methods to incorporate veggies into drinks, from shaking and
stirring to roasting and juicing. The entry point for many mixologists is visiting the local
farmers market. Restaurant chefs have learned to capitalize on the idea that the people who
“That’s true behind the bar, too,” says Albert. The key, she says, is to taste everything on
its own first and identify complementary flavors.
Beets, carrots and other root vegetables have an inherent sweetness to them, so you
might think about how you can use them as a sweetener. Make a beet syrup, or select
a spirit that complements beets’ sweetness. Take a bite of arugula and think about the
Incorporating vegetables into cocktails is
surprisingly simple. You don’t need any high-tech
gadgets or expensive apparatus. The trick, says
Bridget Albert, national director of education,
Beam Suntory, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits,
Miami, is to treat veggies as just another way to
add flavor to the glass.
Not sure where to start? Dissect your favorite
salad. A lot of popular salads feature both fruits
and vegetables, so it’s a good starting point.
Strawberries and mint, watermelon and arugula,
mango and onion—each flavor combination
makes an excellent cocktail base.
• Juice. From carrots to celery to cilantro,
juicing veggies packs a heavy hit of flavor.
• Muddle. Just as you might muddle herbs
such as basil and mint, consider muddling
veggies such as cucumber, jalapeños and
• Infuse. Whether you make bitters or craft a
simple syrup, infusions are a great way to
add produce to the glass. Simply combine
liquor with your vegetable of choice and let
it sit for a week.
• Shake. Put herbs in a shaker with crushed
ice and shake.
• Puree. While purees typically have more
girth than you’d like to sip in a cocktail,
they work well in heftier drinks.
• Concentrate. Concentrate the juice first
by freezing it and letting the water melt
off. It’s a super-simple technique, but it
produces a brighter, more intense flavor.