Diy Herbal Cocktails From Wine Country
A farm-to-bar, class-to-glass, off -road adventure with wine country’s most creative cocktail makers and shakers
Hidden under the shade of wine country lies a farm-to-bar cocktail scene, brimming with fresh herbs and commanded by a group of six “magic makers.” Summer is intoxicating on its own, and when you pair that with some lively local spirits and the bountiful and diverse fresh herbs at their peak this season, you have a highly potent mix.
Follow our trail to imbibe your way into mad herbal-cocktail mixing skills, whether joining in shrub-making classes or sensory garden tours, or just sipping your way through a special drink you’d like to recreate at home. In the gorgeous setting of wine country, your teachers are some of the most skilled and passionate farm-to-bar cocktail experts around.
ARTHUR HARTUNIAN, NAPA VALLEY DISTILLERY
Favorite Summer Herb: Mint
Favorite Summer Herb Pairing: Strawberries and mint
My Take-Away Lessons: “There are no creative boundaries; opposites attract.”
The Napa Valley Distillery’s Distillery & Tasting Salon on Stockton Street in Napa, with a full bar and kitchen, is the new addition to one of Napa’s most creative and aromatic endeavors. Doing it differently is a way of life for Hartunian, who holds in his hand a rare 1840 edition of The French Wine & Liquor Manufacturer—”a practical guide and receipt book, with comprehensive recipes and techniques on making liqueurs, punch, essences, bitters syrups” and more. He says he uses the antique text to continually breathe new life into his creations.
The bar—ironically housed in an old addiction recovery center—overlooks the distilling operation. The bird’s-eye view allows guests to experience the magic happening in Hartunian’s direct fire copper mash. The caramelization and depth of flavor are things you simply can’t get from steam distillation.
“Everything is small-batched so we can get kooky crazy creative in what we do,” says Hartunian. His “bath-tub style” Hollywood Gin uses a slew of botanicals, with juniper and bergamot essences taking center stage. This summer’s highlight is a new line of rums bottled under the Rumslinger label. An eastern-spiced dark rum, inspired by the flavors of China, is a personal favorite.
The Distillery bar offers tastings of Hartunian’s seasonal spirits, bitters, tonics, syrups, shrubs and mixers, some of them limited releases. All are for sale on site, as well as at their original location inside Oxbow Public Market. The Napa Valley Distillery’s Bar Shop at Oxbow also sells a wide range of bar tools such as shakers and muddlers, strainers and bar spoons.
For a real education, sign up for one of Hartunian’s cocktail classes at the Distillery where you’ll learn techniques and tips and definitely leave inspired to craft your own creations using these vintage essences that are so thoroughly of the moment right now.
SCOTT BEATTIE, MEADOWOOD NAPA VALLEY
Favorite Summer Herb: Green shiso leaf
Favorite Summer Herb Pairing: Basil and tomato water
My Take-Away Lessons: “Precision of measurement; straining is your best friend.”
Summer’s bountiful and fragrant herbal essences lure us to the bar at St. Helena’s Meadowood Napa Valley, and to Scott Beattie, whom some would call “The Godfather” of artisanal cocktails in our area.
Beattie is currently the Beverage Director for Estate Events at Meadowood, a position in which he is charged with creating original, seasonal, artisanal cocktails for events such as weddings, corporate gatherings and family reunions. I can’t think of anyone more up to the task.
Beattie first made a name for himself at the bar of Healdsburg’s nowshuttered Michelin-starred Cyrus. His use of fresh local herbs, fruits and vegetables was unprecedented in the area’s cocktail scene. It wasn’t long before he was recognized as one of the leading farm-to-bar experts in the country. In 2008, he published Artisanal Cocktails (Ten Speed Press), a master collection of classic and creative recipes, tips and techniques for crafting your own home cocktails. His proteges at Healdsburg’s Spoonbar, where he popped up after Cyrus, describe him as a creative purist who creates “drinkable works of art, with perfection in his recipe measurements, capturing the peak essence of the garden goods.”
Experimentation and a deep knowledge of nature are the keys to his success, according to Beattie. “The more I begin to understand the life cycle of the plants and when each generates, the more I can anticipate the perfect buds, leaves, flowers and seeds for my cocktails,” he explains.
In addition to creating innovative cocktails for party-goers, Beattie also offers private and small group cocktail classes overlooking Meadowood’s croquet greens, where creativity is encouraged. There is no better teacher in cocktail technique and no more opulent place in which to learn.
KIRSTI HARLEY, ALEXANDER VALLEY BAR
Favorite Summer Herb: Lemongrass
Favorite Summer Herb Pairing: Cilantro and peppers
My Take-Away Lessons: “Don’t be afraid of the wacky or the weird; use well-crafted spirits.”
Medlock Ames is a 100% certified organic vineyard and eco-ranch producing fine, voluptuous wines. The actual winery or estate ranch, as they call it, sits atop Bell Mountain.
The winery’s tasting room is seven miles from downtown Healdsburg in Alexander Valley, in a century-old landmark building that was once the general store, gas station and local watering hole. Lush organic raised bed gardens adorn the grounds and produce herbs, fruits and vegetables that are consciously chosen to be paired with and to enhance Medlock-Ames’ wines.
Also on the property, in what was the old walk-in cooler for the general store, lies the Alexander Valley Bar. This renovated speakeasy opens at 5pm, when the winery’s tasting room closes. The vibe is cozy, with vintage- style inside and garden bounty outside. Tables with benches and grassy space invite you to linger, surrounded by miles and miles of the valley’s vigorous grapevines. This kid- and dog-friendly spot includes lots of grass, a bocci court and picnic tables with ice buckets.
Harley encourages her patrons, or their kids, to pick their own herbs for their cocktails, then she and her staff get to work whipping up herb and fruit shrubs, syrups and mixers for their creative garden cocktails.
There is a “genuine interest in what we are doing from the locals” she says. “They inspire us every day. They are connected to the land and they are just as excited as we are about what comes out of the gardens.”
The top of the ancient oak bar is brimming with fresh herbs and edible flowers. Behind the bar, Sebastopol’s Spirit Works Distillery vodka and gins, Alameda’s St. George Distillery California Agricole rum and the new NOLA Coffee Liqueur with Chicory (a must try), and Sonoma County Distilling Co.’s Sonoma Rye whiskey are some of the local artisanally crafted spirits that share space with an exceptional selection of Japanese whiskies. Harley says she is definitely a bourbon gal herself, and she not afraid to use it in cocktails, paired with summer berries and herbs.
Go for Medlock Ames’ stellar wines, but if you are lucky enough to be there when the clock strikes 5, grab a seat at this little gem of a bar. You won’t be the only one.
TARA HEFFERNON, DUKE’S SPIRITED COCKTAILS
L-R: Tara Heffernon, Steven Maduro and Laura Sanfilippo
Favorite Summer Herb: Rao ram (Vietnamese coriander)
Favorite Summer Herb Pairing: Red shiso and cherries
My Take-Away Lessons: “Keep the integrity of the cocktail local, but don’t be afraid to journey for treats.”
In Healdsburg we meet Heffernon and her two partners, Laura Sanfilippo and Steven Maduro, at the just opened Duke’s Spirited Cocktails. All three are long-time locals in the community, as well as the farm-to-bar cocktail scene. These self-proclaimed cocktail geeks and herb nerds (also all Spoonbar alums and Scott Beattie disciples) opened Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in an old historic space that’s been watering up hardworking locals since 1933. Their intent is to provide an accessible gathering place where locals and tourists alike are made to feel welcome.
Their allegiance to fresh herbs is displayed in their seasonally directed cocktail menu, showcasing creative combinations of herbs paired with luscious peak-season fruits and vegetables, all pillaged from two rather large home gardens as well as neighboring farms.
“We are carbonation freaks,” says Heffernon. Instead of buying standard mixers that can be too sweet or too flat, this crafty threesome makes their own ginger brew, tonic and seltzers, all flowing on tap. House-made syrups, shrubs and natural sodas are just part of the creativity. They even encourage off-menu behavior, rolling drinks right out of your own imagination.
In addition to serving up stellar drinks, Duke’s Spirited Cocktails offers hands-on cocktail classes with an emphasis on both technique and creativity, and tasting sessions of local liquors, wines or craft beers.
GILLIAN M. TYRNAUER, HEALDSBURG SHED & RAMEN GAIJIN
Favorite Summer Herb: Lemon verbena and savory
Favorite Summer Herb Pairing: Plum and red shiso
My Take-Away Lesson: “Preservation should be sustainable.” No journey through Healdsburg is complete without a stop at the uniquely wonderful Healdsburg SHED. This “modern grange,” part market and café and part community gathering and education center, is arguably the hottest sustainable foodie haven around, thanks to proprietors Cindy Daniels and Doug Lipton’s commitment to local and organic communities, as well as their eye for quality and attention to detail.
SHED’s Fermentation Bar is led by Gillian Tyrnauer. A classically trained chef hailing from such kitchens as Quince and Olivetto, Tyrnauer brings cultivated kitchen technique to the craft of making fermented beverages including shrubs, refreshing additions to summer cocktails.
The craft of shrub making is a relatively simple one, says Tyrnauer. “The final product will always be, at its best, a reflection of the quality and flavor of the ingredients.” The basic recipe consists of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Fresh herbs and spices add enhancement and depth. Her best recipe advice: “What grows together goes together!” Bay leaves and huckleberries or peaches and lemon verbena are great examples of seasonal complements.
“I love that shrub recipes taste different every time, as the nuances of the fruit and even herbs’ flavor change from year to year and season to season, depending on weather, soil and temperatures,” she notes.
After you have aced Trynauer’s Summer Shrub class offered through SHED’s Grange Events, pick up some bar tools, handcrafted local vinegars, unprocessed sugars and even a large Mason jar perfect for maceration, along with all the local organic fresh herbs you can carry.
Then whip down to Sebastopol and taste Tyrnauer’s shrubs in action at Ramen Gaijin, where she has partnered with Scott Beattie to design the noodle shop’s shrub- and herb-centric cocktail menu. Their herbs come from farmer Tucker Taylor at Jackson Family Gardens, who happens to be next up on our tour.
TUCKER TAYLOR, DIRECTOR OF CULINARY GARDENS AT KENDALL-JACKSON WINE ESTATE AND GARDENS
Favorite Summer Herb: Lemon verbena
Favorite Summer Herb Pairing: Mint, strawberries and lime (also con tequila!)
My Take-Away Lesson: “It all starts with the soil.”
My last stop takes us a bit off track, to an unexpected yet inviting place where the herbs burst from the soil, ready to be plucked and added directly into our glasses. Jackson Family Gardens is on the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate in Fulton (Sonoma County), under the care of renowned soil farmer Tucker Taylor. Taylor was previously the farmer for Thomas Keller’s the French Laundry, and he currently produces a good portion of the herbs destined for the wine country’s farm-to-bar cocktail scene, so Jackson Family Gardens is the perfect place for us to learn about the agricultural side of cocktail herbs.
Taylor’s realm, a 2½-acre plot of lush plants and trees, was born from the sensory garden concept offered by many wineries all over the world. Designed to provide experiential educations in taste, sensory gardens encourage participants to develop their vocabulary, flavor profiles and memory recall. Daily (weather permitting) Sensory Tours of the Jackson Family Gardens, oft en guided by Taylor himself, provide a wealth of information about rare plant varieties, cover crops, composting, crop rotation and, yes, herbs. Picking and tasting is a must!
The partnership between Tucker and Kendall-Jackson has led to an exciting array of offerings coming out of Jackson Family Gardens, as evidenced by the “out of the box” cocktail creations on Gillian Tyrnauer and Scott Beattie’s cocktail menu at Ramen Gaijin. “Through the years we have all evolved and grown together in our passion for great craft [herbal] cocktails,” says Tucker. “We are all excited to share this knowledge.”
Monthly farm dinners offered at Kendall-Jackson are also a great opportunity to sample the collaborative efforts of Taylor and Jackson Family Estate’s executive chef Justin Wagner.
INTOXICATING TIPS & TRICKS
BOOZE, ACID, SUGAR
These are the three basic components for any cocktail. Optimal levels of each will vary according to the palate of the imbiber.
For me, the addition of fresh herbs with their subtle variances and essences adds multiple layers of flavor that elevate a simple drink into an experience.
Here are a some great tips and tricks for incorporating fresh herbs into your cocktail repertoire this summer that are sure to please:
HERBAL-INFUSED BOOZE WITH ARTHUR HARTUNIAN
“Don’t be afraid to experiment, even take opposite flavors and make them work.”
Basic recipe for infusing spirits: There isn’t one - you just need your favorite liquor, fresh herbs, seasonal produce and time!
Combine your favorite spirit (use a mid-range quality) with a large handful of fresh herbs, using flowers, stems and seeds, or a combination, in a large glass jar or bottle.
Add in slices or whole pieces of ripe, peak of season fruits and/or vegetables. Think fresh fennel fronds and cucumber in gin and mint and peaches in bourbon.
Place your concoction in a cool, dark place to rest and infuse.
Shake the jar or bottle every few days for 2 -3 weeks, continually smelling and tasting for desired level of infusion.
HERBAL SALTS AND SUGARS WITH SCOTT BEATTIE
“A salted orsugared rim wakes up the palate for the sip to come.”
Basic recipe for salt or sugar rims: 5 parts salt or sugar to 1 part fresh herbs.
Flash dry fresh herbs by popping in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. Finely chop or crush herbs and mix with salt or sugar.
Play with various parts of the herbs to alter salt/sugar flavor essences.
Use minimally processed organic sugars, like turbinado or raw.
Liven it up by using vibrantly-colored salts like black lava or pink Himalayan.
Balance by adding citrus zest.
HERBAL SYRUPS WITH KIRSTI HARLEY
“Be creative with pairings. Don’t be afraid of the wacky and the weird.”
Basic recipe for cocktail syrup: 1 part sweetener to 1 part water.
Bring the water to just under a boil. Remove from heat and mix in your sweetener of choice, stirring until dissolved.
Add a handful of fresh herbs and allow to steep for a few hours.
Strain and discard solids.
Chill syrup until ready to use.
Experiment with sweeteners like agave, honey, turbinado and brown sugars, maple syrup and coconut sugar.
SHRUBS WITH GILLIAN TYRNAUER
“Preservation should be sustainable. Enjoy guilt-free peach shrub in January.”
The basic recipe for a raw shrub: equal parts sugar, fruit and vinegar.
Shrub making is very creative and contingent upon each taster’s palate. Use windfall or excess fruits, if you are lucky enough to have them.
Combine 1 cup chopped fruit with 1 cup sugar and a handful of chopped herbs and any spices you want to add in a quart-sized Mason jar.
Shake vigorously and place in the refrigerator to macerate for 3 -5 days, shaking again every so often.
Strain the macerated fruit.
Mix 1 cup vinegar into the strained fruit liquid.
Chill shrub until ready to use. Shrubs will keep for up to six months in the refrigerator.
Use in cocktails or add to sparkling or still water for a non-alcoholic treat.
CREATIVE GLASSES AND ICE WITH TARA HEFFERNON
“Be particular about glasses. The increased pleasure from the glass is vast.”
Glassware. With just three types of bar glassware-coupe, rocks/tumbler and Collins-style-you can properly execute nearly all cocktail styles. Vintage styles found in local antique shops add an extra special touch.
Ice. It makes a difference, and “fancy” cocktail ice is relatively easy and cheap to execute at home. Incorporate widely-available silicone ice molds into your home cocktail repertoire. Store-bought ice is the enemy, but when the party gets big enough, make friends with it.
GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL HERB GARDEN WITH TUCKER TAYLOR
“Nothing beats using hyper fresh herbs in your drinks.”
Grow what you like to eat and use in cocktails. It doesn’t matter if you have a farm, a raised bed garden, or only have room for small containers or pots. Start with good organic soil. Trial and error is the only way to learn.
Choose a variety of common, as well as more exotic specialty herbs.
Add a few edible flowers to your garden. They attract beneficial insects while growing and provide bold color to your cocktails.
HERBAL SCRAPS WITH NISSA PIERSON
“Herbal odds and ends in cocktails make for a sustainable and waste free summer.”
Use every b it of fresh herbs to make cocktail ingredients - stems, flowers, leaves, even the roots.
Be creative, test, play and don’t be afraid to “Google it!”
Nissa Pierson spends the majority of her time in farm-to-fork organic fruit and vegetable consulting for small growers around the world. In addition to traveling the world seeking fresh herbs and organic conversation, she is a noted cooking instructor and recipe developer, specializing in fresh herbs and sustainable, organic, fair-trade and local produce. Find her at UnderTheMangoTree.