At Christmas my wife gave me a really nice surprise: a book on making Wild Cocktails. For me, the book falls into the category of ‘best surprises’. These are those gifts that you never even knew about or wanted, and she has an uncanny knack of finding exactly the right surprises to put a smile on my face.
So Christmas was spent poring over this fantastic book by Lottie Muir. She’s an accomplished gardener and now also the creator of the Midnight Apothecary, a pop-up cocktail bar set on a roof garden above the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, London. It’s full of imaginative and delicious-sounding concoctions that sit alongside mouth-watering photographs.
Bacon and tea, smoke-infused whisky. Fennel, tarragon and chard Collins. Grilled nectarine smash. It’s enough to inspire you to … well, make your own.
So Saturday afternoon turned out sunny and warm. I spent it foraging in my local wood, tracking down Douglas Fir pine leaves and Gorse flowers, and also foraging in my local Sainsbury’s for ingredients that I couldn’t find either in the wood or my garden.
I set to it to make a few different potions in one go. In my enthusiasm I didn’t pay enough attention to the small print in the instructions, however. It’s only now that I realise that while the alcoholic concoctions last for many months, the various syrups only last for between two and four weeks in my fridge. Oh well, seems I’m going to have to be drinking a lot of cocktails over the next few weeks …
The book contains recipes for a variety of cocktails, including the infusions, liqueurs, bitters and syrups that go into making them. They also contain spices as well as many edible herbs and flowers used as garnishes.
First up was Douglas Fir Vodka, the basis for the Woodland Martini. As Lottie Muir says in her book: “The idea of this cocktail is for it to taste and small like a walk in the woods“.
Yep, that did it for me. I duly found some young fir needles and thin, woody stems, then blended them in the Nutribullet with vodka until I had a bright green mixture. All that’s then required is to allow the mixture to infuse over four days in a cool, dark cupboard, then strain it into a bottle to keep for up to six months.
Next up, I made a fennel-infused gin. This was ridiculously simple: just finely chop a small fennel bulb and mix it with gin. Again, the infusion is ready after five days at most. Both the vodka and gin will be useful starting points for various cocktails described in the book.
Foraging helps introduce us to new flavours and tastes. As Lottie points out, our palates are used to a relatively narrow range of well-known flavours and so if you taste gorse flower syrup for example, you’ll be tasting something new and exciting. Having made and tasted this particular syrup I can say this is quite true. The only way I can describe it is like this. Try to recall the smell of a hillside of gorse on a warm day; now that’s what it tastes like.
I mixed a few handfuls of gorse flowers (carefully removing them and omitting any greenery) then added them to a water/caster sugar syrup at boiling point. I mixed in some lemon juice and orange peel, then left the whole lot to cool before straining it into a Kilner jar.
Raspberry and thyme syrup is used as the basis for the Clover Club cocktail. Now the smell, taste and appearance of this one were fantastic. Once again, it was really simple to make: first make a simple syrup of water and caster sugar, bring this to boiling point, add some raspberries and thyme leaves, then leave to simmer and infuse for about ten minutes.
Rhubarb and ginger syrup is a key ingredient in the cocktail, Rhubarbara Collins. I boiled up some fresh rhubarb with grated ginger until after about twenty minutes it formed a pulp. After cooling slightly I strained it into a sealable jar.
And this is what the three syrups look like: gorse flower on the left, rhubarb and ginger in the middle, and raspberry and thyme on the right. All of them are now safely stored in the fridge until a suitable tasting opportunity.
So making the cocktail elements turned out to be surprisingly easy – and very enjoyable too. If this was the ‘hard’ bit then I really looking forward to sampling some cocktails some time very soon.
Look out for Part 2 of this post where I’ll be letting you know how I got on …………..