Happy Hour: In the Spirit of Spring

photo by: katewrightson Spring is finally making a bit of an appearance, and everywhere I go I see evidence of its much needed arrival. The groundhog's cruel joke this year has pushed New Yorkers to their limits, and the icy winds that still remain seem to be a direct correlation with the way people respond to one another.

That is precisely why its about time to pump up our spirits with a little homemade sunshine, and coax spring out of hiding. So take a deep breath, and take time to sip these flowery cocktails.

I start off with a pop of purple in the above cocktail better known as the Aviation. It consists of 1-1/2 oz of gin, 3/4 oz lemon juice, 2 dashes of maraschino liqueur, 2 dashes crème de violette, and garnished with either a maraschino cherry or lemon twist. It will have you saying, " Spring may refuse to arrive, but I don't mind, I've got a cup full of luscious violet blossoms to perk me up!"

photos by: KatySheCooks,  kelly bone

Another way to taste spring is by adding beautifully fragrant lavender into the mix. The best way to do so is by infusing dried flower buds into a simple syrup. I like to use honey or agave nectar instead of sugar, as it is not only a bit better for you, their flavors go great with the subtleness of the lavender.

For Lavender sweetener: Combine 1 cup hot water with ½ cup honey (or agave nectar) and ¼ cup lavender buds. Let mixture steep as it cools; strain before use. Keep remainder refrigerated.

Try 2 tsp. of the sweetener with 1-1/2 oz  gin, 4 cucumber slices and 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice, or your favorite refreshing citrus aquavit cocktail, or even put a splash of it in your bubbly to give it a sweet n' floral kick, and a lovely light purple color.

And lastly, the most popular flower in the bouquet, elderflower. Elderflower presse,  cordial or liqueur has a delicate flavor reminiscent of the physicality of the flower itself. It's sweet at first, like a light Muscato and honeysuckle, but then finishes with a tart grapefruit like taste, which is why it is a great spring compliment for a cucumber margarita or even the traditional side car. Check out these other great cocktails made with St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur.

With all of these lovely botanical flavors, Spring is only a a sip away!

Grow Your Own Cocktail Herbs!

At the hottest bars around the country, mixologists are reaching for fresh herbs to make their cocktails exceptionally flavorful. Between travelling mixologists, fancy ice cubes, and specialty ingredients cocktails in the 21st century are an art. Join in the fun and elevate your cocktails with your own herb garden. Cultivating your own selection of cocktail herbs gives your personal touch to the final drink. Although most grocery stores carry herbs in the produce section, growing your own in a window planter or small garden is more rewarding, and nice to look at! Start out with these three easy and delicious choices:

1. Mint: A classic cocktail garnish, a sprig of mint doesn't add much to a drink other than visual appeal. But some cocktails, like the mint julep and the mojito, do depend on this herb for flavor. Using homegrown stuff makes the drink more powerful and more delicious. Fortunately, mint is incredibly simple to grow-it propagates via runners, or shoots that extend out into the soil. Be careful, or your entire garden will be taken over by a patch of mint! Try planting unusual varieties like chocolate mint or orange mint to tweak your cocktail flavors.

2. Anise Hyssop: With a licorice taste and a slight medicinal undertone, anise hyssop makes a wonderful addition to your favorite drinks. A member of the mint family, anise hyssop is easy to grow, too. While it doesn't stand up well to ferocious summer heat, it only needs sporadic watering. Cones of pink flowers erupt from the top of the plant, which make a nice garnish and attract butterflies to your garden.

3. Lavender: In Provence, fields of purple lavender blanket the countryside, filling the air with heady perfume. Floral cocktails are enjoying a surge in popularity, so lavender's sweet, musky flavor is a home bartending essential. Lavender needs lots of sun and a relatively dry environment; pick a hardier varietal like English or Munstead lavender if you're worried about temperature fluctuations.

Gardening is great exercise, and it's a rewarding activity that will improve your drinks. Muddle some mint, anise hyssop, or lavender into this great gin and tonic for an herbal touch. For more information on starting an herb garden, click here.