Herbs and spices have been used to flavor beverage alcohol for centuries—see Benedictine, Chartreuse, vermouth and others. And with today’s emphasis on crafted cocktails, more restaurants and bars are including these kitchen staples in their drinks.
Spices and herbs add complexity and also “look great, smell delicious, and bring a freshness to drinks,” says Maxime Belfand, head bartender at Saxon + Parole in New York. “Customers also know the bartender really cares about the drink” when he or she uses unique, fresh and quality ingredients.
As with food, “people judge what they order long before they even take the first sip. And in that way, herbs and spices are approachable and inviting,” says Damian Arms, bartender at the JW Marriott Chicago.
The Marriott serves three cocktails in its lobby lounge developed through the hotel chain’s Cocktails with Purpose program—appealing libations created with fresh juices and herbs to have a healthier edge.
Green Mountain Dynamite is the most popular cocktail. It mixes Absolut Citron vodka, lemon juice and grade B maple syrup, “which has a robust, almost smoky flavor to it,” Arms says, plus a shake of cayenne pepper. The drink is finished with a few dashes of Urban Moonshine maple digestive bitters, which contains dandelion, burdock, fennel, dock, angelica, ginger and gentian.
Barrel Spice is Marriott’s version of the Old Fashioned, made with tequila instead of whiskey. It also contains Amontillado sherry for its nutty flavor, Fernet Branca, crème de cassis, two dashes of mole bitters and a dried chili de arbol.
“You pick up the heat immediately, then you get the fruit, tequila and the nuttiness. Then [the heat] comes back at the end but is faded because everything else is there,” Arms says. “After that first sip, it’s all mellowed out; you’ve almost reset your palate. Everything’s more in harmony in the second and third sips.”
The Amaro Sour is made with muddled strabwberries, Averna Amaro, Myers’s dark rum, lemon juice, honey syrup, Fernet Branca, and a healthy dash of turmeric. “It’s a very complex drink,” Arms says.