It’s -1°F outside. Steam is rising in thick clouds off of the lake outside my window because the frigid water is so much warmer than the frigid air. I have very substantial wooly socks pulled over my regular socks and jeans. I’m considering making stew. I should probably not be thinking about a gin and tonic, right?
When the weather shifts to nippy (or, here in Northern Minnesota, arctic) our cocktail preferences tend to change, too: to sweet vermouth and whiskey and rich and strong, not light and fizzy. But this change in mood doesn’t mean we have to entirely give up on our G&Ts, margaritas, and Collinses. The colder season is abundant with evergreen herbs and winter citrus to help you winterize your drink (and warm you from the inside).
There are two easy ways to use wintery herbs—rosemary, sage, and thyme, for example—in cocktails. You can muddle a handful of herbs in the bottom of your shaker mixing your drink, or you can infuse a simple syrup with them. Both techniques work well, and both add aromas redolent of forests and ski hills. Here are a few herbs that can be used to winterize classic summery cocktails—and how to do it:
As most cooks know, rosemary is gorgeous with citrus. It adds depth and dimension to lemon, orange, or grapefruit.
For a winterized gin and tonic, muddle a sprig of rosemary with a splash of grapefruit juice in a tall glass. Add your gin and tonic and stir. Add ice and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
You could also take your margarita in a cool weather direction by muddling a sprig of rosemary in your shaker. Shake this with 2 oz. of tequila, 1/2 oz. Cointreau, 3/4 oz. blood orange juice, and 1/4 oz. lime juice before straining into a salt-rimmed rocks glass.
Even the effervescent Collins tastes holiday party ready with a bit of rosemary. Combine 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of water, and a couple of rosemary sprigs in a small pan. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes before straining. Combine 1 1/2 oz. gin (try an Old Tom-style gin for an even sweeter, richer drink), 1 oz. lemon juice, and 3/4 oz. rosemary syrup in a tall glass. Add ice and top with soda water.
A French 75 is already an excellent cocktail for the holidays because of the champagne. However, you can make it extra festive by using thyme-infused simple syrup instead of regular syrup. Just bring 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, and about 4 thyme sprigs to a boil, then allow to cool to room temperature and strain. To make the Thyme 75, shake 1 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. thyme syrup, and 1/2 oz. lemon with ice. Strain into a champagne flute or coupe and top with champagne (or another dry sparkling wine). Thyme syrup is also yummy in a Collins.
Sage is about as wintery and moody as it gets when it comes to herbs. It’s also smashing when muddled with grapefruit juice (as well as pineapple juice!), making it a good candidate for playing with in cocktails.
The Paloma, the margarita’s grapefruity cousin, feels very wintery if you add some sage and a splash of smoky mezcal. Make a grapefruit-sage syrup by stirring together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup grapefruit juice, and a small handful of sage leaves until the sugar dissolves. Allow to infuse in the refrigerator overnight. Then, stir together 3/4 oz. of the grapefruit-sage syrup, 1 1/4 oz. tequila, 1/4 oz. mezcal (optional, you can also just use tequila), and a squeeze of lime in a tall glass. Add ice and top with soda water. Garnish with a sage leaf.
You can also use the grapefruit-sage syrup to make a cold weather twist on a Hemmingway daiquiri. Shake 2 oz. aged rum (try Appleton Estate) with 3/4 oz. lime juice, 3/4 oz. of the grapefruit-sage syrup, and ice. Strain into a cocktail coupe and garnish with a sage leaf.
For winterizing your cocktails and, really, all other cocktails:
What summery cocktail would you like winterized? Let us know in the comments!