Looking down the bar at the Grant Grill Lounge inside The US Grant Hotel in San Diego, you might think you were in a futuristic florist. A bounty of blossoms adds pops of color, floral aromas and unexpected pep to a number of cocktails.
A ruby red rose juts out of the Hibiscus and Rose Sweet Tea Vodka, a bright yellow dandelion floats at the center of the Dandelion Ramos Flip, and the Rooftop Angelica Julep stars delicate white flowers.
Obviously, they look pretty and smell lovely, but are tipplers supposed to consume these natural garnishes or just discard them like paper umbrellas?
“Not only are they edible, they also impart a major flavor characteristic of the cocktail,” says Jeff Josenhans, director of venues and overseer of the beverage program.
“For example, the Angelica is very savory. It’s a darker, herby flavor. We infuse them into the bourbon, which balances out the sweetness of the alcohol.”
Those flowers are grown in the rooftop garden and freshly harvested every morning, while the hotel’s florist and producers from the local farmers market deliver the others daily.
Because of availability, the seasonal sippers are only available from April through July.
No matter which growing region they’re in though, mixologists everywhere are turning to petal purveyors to find floral elements for their craft cocktails.
Across the country in Washington, D.C., at modernist tasting menu destination Rogue 24, chef-tender Bryan Tetorakis uses Thai basil flowers and anise-flavored hyssop blossoms in his play on the classic gin and tonic.
“You can smell the cocktail when you’re passing the table,” he says. “It’s like an herb garden in a glass.” Though you can eat these blooms, they are mostly employed for their aromatic elements.
Tetorakis sources these botanicals from chef-owner R.J. Cooper’s home garden and from selected purveyors, such as Path Valley Farms in nearby Pennsylvania. Since the components are so delicate, the restaurant takes in whole plants to extend their shelf life.
To further maximize freshness, Tetorakis only clips what he’s going to use for a given day, leaving the rest of the plant untouched.
“You have to put in extra love and pamper them,” he says. “It’s like having a baby. You need to make sure the temperature’s right and that there’s a good amount of moisture; some people put an ice cube wrapped in a paper towel underneath them.”
This delicate nature also affects the quantity you’ll have to source if you want to make a real impact on the taste of a cocktail.
“You’re going to need a lot of them,” Josenhans says. “One little flower is going to do nothing for you. So you’re going to have to be able to front the cost to buy them or the labor to grow them.”
There’s another element to take into consideration before mixing blooms and booze: some flowers don’t react well chemically to alcohol or humans.
For example, purple lilacs turn brown in liquor, while calla lilies will make your mouth go numb and wreak havoc on your digestive tract.
By Nevin Martell