Now that the farm-to-table movement has firmly established residency on our dinner plates, it’s not surprising that farm-fresh ingredients are making their way to our stemware. “We only use fresh fruits and produce in our cocktails, simply because it makes everything taste so much better,” says Stacey Kammerman, co-owner of Sirens Bar and Grill at Kammerman’s Marina in Atlantic City, along with her husband, Chris.
Only in their first full season of operation, Sirens began placing a strong emphasis on only using the freshest ingredients, even in their cocktails. “We grow our own mint for our drinks and plan to grow more herbs like basil soon,” says Kammerman, adding that by next summer they hope to have a full garden.
Recently, Sirens’ “City Beets” cocktail was a forerunner at the Atlantic City Cocktail Challenge sponsored by Little Water Distillery, Atlantic City’s only distillery. City Beets is a mix of Little Water’s 48 Blocks Vodka, St-Germain, lime juice and a homemade beet puree that includes beets, lime and homegrown mint, then garnished with a fresh mint sprig. “A lot of people said it was like the new Bloody Mary,” Kammerman says.
At the forefront of the “farm-to-cocktail” wave, Little Water Distillery showcases the power that fresh herbs bring to a well-crafted cocktail. They currently grow over 15 different vegetal varieties including herbs such as thyme, basil, rosemary, sage, lemongrass and mint to jalapenos, edible marigolds and more. “Putting an indigenous stamp on what we do is very important to us,” says Mark Ganter, CEO of Little Water Distillery, explaining that as residents of the Garden State, New Jerseyans have a bounty of fresh local ingredients at their fingertips. “Our garden just explodes; this area is so fertile. And with the eco-soil from the ACUA that we used, our garden is incredibly bountiful,” Ganter says.
With fresh herbs, the floral and vegetal notes in a spirit can be subtlety accentuated in both sweet and dry cocktails, Ganter explains. “When you muddle freshly picked herbs, it releases very aromatic oils and adds a flavor dimension that you won’t get any other way,” Ganter says.
Rigo Jaramillo, mixologist at Little Water Distillery, explains that in cocktails, the liquor is often overpowered by sugar. “Fragrant aromatics can naturally bring out flavors within the spirit,” Jaramillo says. When spirits are paired well with an herb or aromatic, it will bring out the individual flavor profile of the liquor in a much more organic way. “It’s like cooking. Take apple pie, you know it pairs well with cinnamon. Liquors are the same, you need to know what flavors pair together,” Jaramillo says. Vegetal combinations to consider include: cucumber/rosemary, basil/lime, raspberry/thyme, mint/lemon and much more.
If you’d like to start making your own farm-fresh aromatic drinks, Jaramillo recommends starting with vodka. “Vodka has a very neutral flavor. You can really pair whatever you want with it and as long as the flavors blend, you will have a decent drink,” Jaramillo says.
Whereas, if you were to make an herbal-based cocktail with whiskey, explains Jaramillo, you have to be much more mindful of the particular whiskey’s flavor undertones and choose your mix accordingly. For example, White Cap, Little Water’s whiskey, pairs well with citrus notes.
When you’re making farm-to-table craft cocktails, you also need to be seasonal. “Right now, one of our most popular drinks is our blueberry mojito,” Ganter says. With fresh mint and summer blueberries, it’s a very seasonal and local cocktail. It’s perfect for a summer at the Jersey shore.
For another summery drink, when you’re ready to wade into less-neutral waters, Jaramillo recommends incorporating blackberries. “I really like working with blackberries, they’re sweet but also a little bitter,” Jaramillo says. Blackberries muddled with simple syrup and basil pair well with many whiskies. “It’s along the lines of an old-fashioned,” Jaramillo says.
Ultimately, when it comes to farm-to-cocktail drinks, there is a great opportunity to get creative and capitalize on all that is available in this area, explains Ganter. “It’s great that we have access to such a variety of local, seasonal ingredients. And, when the season is over, we can jump into another cocktail,” Ganter says.
For another take on the farm-to-cocktail experience, check out the District Bar at the Exchange in Linwood, where you can enjoy mimosas made with Greens and Grains’ local, cold-pressed juice. Their drink menu also includes an assortment of cocktails that incorporate their fresh-pressed juice and organic kombucha. And when in Atlantic City, grab a pomegranate mojito or basil-infused Bloody Mary at either Cielo or Bar One at Resorts Casino Hotel, which has its own huge rooftop garden from which they utilize fresh basil and mint for these drinks.