Stopping to smell the roses—along with the whiskey—adds beauty and flavor to cocktail programs. Always a preferred centerpiece or plating accessory, flowers have become a bartender’s new best friend. At Bonefish Grill, which has more than 200 locations around the U.S., the Wild Orchid Hawaiian Martini was introduced in late February. The rum-coconut water punch features a float of an orchid in full bloom. Leigh Merritt, director of product marketing, food & beverage, says, “This drink was really inspired by all things tropical: coconut, desert pear, pineapple, guava, and the lush landscapes of islands. With this in mind, the edible purple orchid was the perfect way to top it off.”
Similarly, at the chef-driven Gracias Madre in West Hollywood, California, known for its Mexican cuisine and vegan offerings, beverage director Jason Eisner derives his own syrups and tinctures from flowers, such as the organic rose syrup he pairs with blanco tequila in his Jalisco Kiss. Diana Hossfeld, the restaurant’s spokeswoman, says the bar also garnishes the Sorry Ms. Jamson cocktail—a concoction that combines apricot jam, habanero bitters, lemon, mezcal, and a float of tempranillo—with an edible bud. Frequently, the drink is topped with a daisy, but essentially the selection is based on what’s available. The purpose of the bloom, Hossfeld says, is “entirely for aesthetics.”
Still, managers and mixologists have realized there are more benefits in using blooms to beautify beverages than just the opportunity for the customer to snap an image for Instagram. For one thing, edible blossoms such as nasturtiums, orchids, roses, and hibiscus add nutrition to beverages that are often seen as empty-calorie indulgences. Additionally, they deliver taste and texture. And at the Chandelier Bar in the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, the floral garnish on The Verbena Cocktail even offers a buzz of its own. In fact, the Szechuan, or sansha, button is sometimes called a “buzz button,” because the chemical compound, spilanthol, that is released when it is crushed by teeth, quite literally shocks the palate with a sensation akin to electricity.
Initially targeting Champagne drinkers, the Wild Hibiscus Flower Company, launched by Australians Lee and Jocelyn Etherington, provides fragrant and tasty syrup-preserved blooms. The founders were pleasantly surprised when mixologists discovered infinite possibilities in the blooms as both garnishes and beverage ingredients.
“People eat with their eyes first, so being served a cocktail with a unique or pretty accent adds to the experience,” says Chris Muir, North American manager of the company. “Our hibiscus flowers are easy to use and can be turned inside out, or each individual petal can be used separately.” A bar or restaurant receives its Wild Hibiscus Flowers in a 50-flower jar, which has just three ingredients: hibiscus flowers, Grade A cane sugar, and water. As an added value, restaurants will have around 21 ounces of natural hibiscus syrup left after the flowers have been used, and that syrup can go into cocktails, vinaigrettes, or desserts. Recently, the company expanded its line to include a butterfly pea extract, called b’Lure, which brings a gorgeous blue hue to beverages but has the ability to change color according to the pH of other ingredients.
Muir says the reaction of guests watching such a cocktail chemistry demonstration is fun for the house and good for business. “Picture a beverage with, say, vodka and b’Lure already in the glass [giving the drink] a blue effect, and then a [bartender] pours the mixer in for an instant color change to royal purple,” he enthuses. “Another idea is to create blue ice: Just add [cubes] to a tall glass and then the cocktail content. As the ice melts, the cocktail slowly changes color. [Bar managers] love seeing affordable, new, and exciting ways to be creative and, in turn, get their customers talking.”