Wildcrafted Cocktails

by Ellen Zachos
field garlic pickles
Ellen Zachos Field garlic pickles

What do you get when you combine foraged flavors with the craft cocktail movement? A wildcrafted cocktail!

There are many ways to get foraged flavors into cocktails, using syrups, pickles, ground spices, fruit purées, and infused spirits. These are unbuyable flavors; you won’t find them in a store or at your local bar. Wildcrafted cocktails capture the essence of a place and a moment in time in a single glass. Here are two recipes that serve up the flavors of spring.

the g3 cocktail
Ellen Zachos The g3 cocktail

The g3

The g3 is a savory cocktail that builds layers of flavor by infusing the spirit and adding a foraged pickle. It combines the flavors of field garlic (a true garlic, Allium vineale) with garlic mustard, (Alliaria petiolara), a mustard leaf with a strong garlicky flavor. This is not a cocktail for the faint of heart (it’s almost 100% booze) but if you’re a garlic lover, it’ll be right up your alley. It can be made with vodka or gin. This is a foraged twist on a classic Gibson cocktail and that’s where it gets its name. G is for Gibson, garlic mustard, and field garlic.

To Make the Pickle

The small bulbs of field garlic are the perfect size for a cocktail garnish. They’re also sturdy enough to stand up to pickling and if you leave a little bit of stem on the bulb, each pickle comes with its own handle.

Pulverizing the garlic mustard in vodka (or gin) prior to infusion
Ellen Zachos Pulverizing the garlic mustard in vodka (or gin) prior to infusion.

Ingredients

473 ml (2 cups) field garlic bulbs, cleaned and trimmed
16 whole, dried juniper berries
2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) dried wild ginger rhizomes

For the brine:
237 ml (1 cup) water
118 ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
60 ml (1/4 cup) sugar
22.5 ml (3/4 tablespoon) kosher salt

Combine the brine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the brine simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking to dissolve the sugar and salt.

Divide the garlic bulbs evenly among four sterilized 118 ml (4-ounce) canning jars. To each jar add four juniper berries and .75 ml (1/8 teaspoon) wild ginger rhizomes. Pour the brine into the jars, leaving 1.25 cm (1/2 inch) of headspace, and screw the canning lids in place. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Wait 2 weeks before tasting these pickles to let the flavors develop fully. Canned field garlic pickles will last for a year on the shelf. They’re also tasty in salads and served with cheese.

To Infuse the Spirit

Place one cup of loosely packed, washed garlic mustard leaves in a blender and add a 750 ml bottle of either gin or vodka. Pulverize the mixture on high until the leaves make a slurry. Pour the mixture into a closed container and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Strain the infused spirit through a coffee filter and throw away the solids. Refrigerate the liquid again for 24 hours. You’ll probably notice a small layer of fine sediment on the bottom of the container. Filter this one more time to produce a clear, infused spirit, then move the liquid to the freezer.

To Make the Cocktail

Finding the perfect balance for any cocktail is a personal thing. The proportions below are perfect for me, and I encourage you to find your own personal best.

In a cocktail shaker full of ice, combine 89 ml (3 ounces) of ice cold, garlic mustard infused vodka or gin with 15 ml (1/2 ounce) of dry vermouth. Stir (sorry, 007!) for 30 seconds, then strain into a martini glass or coupe. Garnish with three pickled field garlic bulbs.

the Stinger in the Rye
Ellen Zachos The Stinger in the Rye

The Stinger in the Rye

Stinging nettles are a nutritious spring green, beloved by foragers everywhere. When you blanch them (to disarm the stingers), you’re left with a nutritious cooking liquid which can be used to make a very tasty cordial. Enjoy it plain, or as a unique cocktail ingredient.

To Make the Cordial

To blanch your nettles, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and using a pair of tongs, add 946 ml (4 cups) of raw nettles to the boiling water. Let them boil for a minute, then strain off the solids and save the water. (Save the nettles, too, they’re delicious!)

I like to blanch several batches of nettles in a single pot of water, straining out the greens and saving the water to cook the next batch. This is a good idea for several reasons: it saves water, the cooking liquid is already hot (so it speeds up the blanching process), and it yields an extra-strong nettle tea, which makes a lovely cordial.

To make the cordial, strain the cooled cooking liquid through several layers of cheesecloth to catch the pieces of nettle leaf. For every quart of nettle pot liquor, add 15 ml (1 tablespoon) fresh wild ginger rhizomes (or 5 ml/1 teaspoon dried rhizomes) and 60 ml (1/4 cup) agave nectar. Bring the liquid to a boil, then remove from the heat and add three or four slices of lemon. Cover the pot and let it sit for 24 hours. The following day, strain off the solids, bottle the liquid, and refrigerate. It will keep, chilled, for several weeks.

Run the nettle cordial through a soda siphon to carbonate the liquid. Now, you’re ready to make your cocktail. This one uses rye, an underappreciated spirit. It’s a wonderful whiskey, less sweet than bourbon and spicier than scotch. This cocktail may make a rye drinker of you.

To Make the Cocktail

Pour two ounces of rye whiskey over several large ice cubes in a double old-fashioned glass. Top with 59 ml (2 ounces) of carbonated nettle cordial (or more, according to your personal taste) and stir.

There are foraged flavors at their peak in every season. Once you start combining them with your favorite spirits, you’ll be drinking wildcrafted cocktails all year ‘round.