Step aside, smoothies—green cocktails are in the spotlight now

// Tarquin Melnyk
// Tarquin Melnyk

Green cocktails are hot right now. Bars around the world are bringing more local, foraged and green flavours to their menus. I frequently make hundreds of craft cocktails in a week and have learned the preferences of the general populace; cucumber, mint and, surprisingly, floral elements are popular with the vast majority of people, regardless of age or gender.

If you are going to do a maceration of cucumber, even though it seems quite watery, a little goes a long way and the peels can be intensely bitter. For mint, note that there are dozens of types and some work better than others in specific drinks. Try asking the next person who makes you a mojito if they are using Mentha x villosa (Cuban or mojito mint) and see if they get excited, or puzzled.

Green chartreuse—which Quentin Tarantino described as “the drink so good, they named a colour after it”—is frequently used as a shooter by dumb people looking to get dumber due to its high alcohol content (55 percent). But chartreuse also has an intensely herbaceous flavour from the 133 botanicals used to craft it, along with a rich honey sweetness. If used correctly in a fresh green drink, it can blow minds—in a good way.

The trend right now is towards more tartness in drinks, which is a good thing after the dark age of sugary, poorly concocted drinks (1970s – 2000s). That said, to find the balance with intensely herbaceous (or smoky) drinks, some sweetness is often needed. My go-to ratio for a minty cocktail, like a Southside, is: two ounces of gin, one ounce of fresh lemon juice and three-quarters of an ounce of simple syrup with a handful of mojito mint, shaken and finely strained.

There’s a whole range of edible flowers, such as borage and violet, that can be incorporated into summery drinks. I would always suggest ensuring that the plants you put in a garnish are edible. If you are making a home infusion, heed the words of Amy Stewart, author of the bestselling book The Drunken Botanist: “plants do not exist to serve us.” Be aware that alcohol acts as a perfect solution for extracting good things like flavour, as well as bad things like plant-based toxins.

Beets aren’t green, but this vegetable can be successfully used in a veggie cocktail. Beets are high in sugar, have an interesting acidity, produce stunning natural colour and an unmistakable flavour. Rogers, one of the largest sugar production facilities in Canada, uses sugar beets. Resourceful bartenders can harness this property of beets for substitution in their recipes: grenadine is easy to make and, frankly, the larger commercial brands taste like trashy cough syrup, so it’s a good thing to learn to make yourself. The following recipe for beet grenadine can be used in a wide range of classic drinks, both as a straight substitute for regular grenadine as well as an alternative to simple syrup or other forms of sweetness in drinks.

Beet Grenadine
Peel two large organic beets and slice them thinly. In a pot, start simmering pomegranate juice with beet sugar, two parts sugar (1000 ml) to one part liquid (500 ml). Place in your raw beet slices and the pithless peels of one lemon (keep the lemon pulp/juice for the cocktail).

Simmer on low heat, stirring often, for 25 minutes. Strain and allow to cool. You should yield about 1000 ml of tart and rich syrup. Take strained beet slices and place them on a greased baking sheet. Bake for five minutes per side, on high heat.

Beet Old Fashioned
2 oz Alberta Premium rye

1/2 oz beet grenadine

1/4 oz fresh lemon juice

1 dash Angostura aromatic bitters

Combine ingredients in stirring vessel, modify syrup and lemon to taste. Add ice and stir. Strain over cube ice in a rocks glass and garnish with beet chips. V

Tarquin Melnyk is an Edmonton native who has been tending bar in numerous cities for the past six years. Named bartender of the year at the 2013 Alberta Cup, he is a published cocktail writer and photographer, and a partner in 

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