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Turn Your Garden into a Cocktail

by Jason Barrett

Black-Button_Cocktails-2016_Stephen-S-Reardon-Photography_02275(1)As the temperature begins to rise, I’m eager to get outside. I know many upstate New Yorkers are also eagerly planting away and awaiting the first vegetables of the season.

You might be getting excited for those fresh tomatoes, carrots, or lettuce, but I can’t wait for the lavender, lilac, juniper, basil, rosemary and thyme and the array of other herbs, flowers, and fruits I can use to make, garnish or even distill spirits for my favorite cocktails.

As the president and head distiller at Black Button Distilling, I’ve done a lot of experimenting with herbs, flowers and fruits to craft our grain to glass sprits. There is nothing better than fresh from the garden.

As you plan and plant your garden, consider adding some of your favorite herbs and flowers to use in your next cocktail. Not only do they taste great, but growing your own fresh herbs, flowers and fruits can also save you a lot of money and extra trips to the store. Why buy when you can grow your own?

Here are some suggestions for herbs, flowers and fruits that you can plant in order to turn your garden into a cocktail.

Muddle them, infuse them or garnish with them—herbs are essential to any cocktail. Whether you keep perennial herbs in a container or plant them in a garden, here are a few to consider
for your next cocktail:

Basil works great with gin. Try adding basil to our barrel aged gin with some tomato.
Cilantro works best as a garnish, but is also a great way to spice up a margarita.
Dill is a natural fit with the corn and oak driven sweetness of bourbon.
Mint is great with everything! Make yourself a mint julep, and don’t feel limited to bourbon. Brandy, rum, and gin also make a great julep.
Rosemary is great for a garnish. Gently roast some with a match, extinguish and place on top of a cocktail for an aromatic garnish that can’t be beat.
Sage works best when paired with a lighter spirit like Vodka or Gin. Add something sweet to balance it out. Sparkling wine would be a great addition here as well.
Thyme: Put a sprig in a refreshing highball cocktail like a gin and tonic for some inviting aromatics.



Whiskey Smash

2 oz. Black Button Distilling’s Four Grain Bourbon
.5 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
5-10 leaves of mint
3 large basil leaves

Combine all ingredients and shake hard with ice for 20 seconds, dump into a large glass, and garnish with fresh basil and mint.


While you’re planning your flowerbeds, think not only about what will look beautiful, but what you might be able to use. Some flowers make for great garnishes or even additions to your next cocktail.

Elderflower (the flowers of elderberry plants) can be very bitter, but there are lots of great elderflower liqueurs out there, and it can make a lovely garnish.
Honeysuckle is great with bourbon, honey and lemon, but beware: the berries can be poisonous!
Jasmine is delicious with gin and green tea.
Lavender is a great way to add a pleasant floral element to any cocktail. Dry some leaves to keep year round and add to a drink anytime.
Lilacs are very bitter, but as we know in Rochester, they smell amazing. Garnish a drink with some lilac petals to make it smell and look pretty!

Black-Button-Distilling-Lilac-GinIn honor of the rich floral tradition that Rochester—“the Flower/Flour City”—has cultivated throughout its history, Black Button Distilling has created a lilac gin. Made once a year in a small batch, each flower petal is steeped, distilled, and recombined to create a light, delicate flavor. Rose, hibiscus, lavender and lilac as well as juniper, coriander and a myriad of other botanical components make this one of a kind spirit highly sought after. (Our lilac gin release date for this year is May 12, 2017.)


Bee’s Knees

2 oz. Black Button Distilling’s Lilac Gin
.5 oz. honey syrup (honey and hot water 1:1)
.5 oz. lemon
Small pinch of dried lavender

Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a coupe or martini glass, then garnish with fresh edible flowers.


While citrus is great, we have an abundance of fruits in Western New York that also make for great cocktail ingredients. Consider:

Apples, apricots, peaches and pears all work well muddled into a drink or as a lovely garnish.
Plums are great infused into gin for a sort of homemade sloe gin.
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, sour cherries, sweet cherries, strawberries can all be muddled with vodka, gin or rum for a fruity and refreshing cocktail. And don’t forget to stick a couple on top as a garnish!
Grapes are delicious when muddled into a sparkling wine cocktail. This is a great way to enjoy grapes two ways.
-Instead of putting watermelon into a cocktail, put the cocktail into a watermelon! Cut a small hole in the top and dig out some room, then drain off any water inside. Pour in your
spirit of choice and you have watermelon infused spirit, and spirit infused watermelon.
-If you have an abundance of tomatoes, make your own Bloody Mary mix! Or you can smash up a couple of cherry tomatoes in the bottom of a glass and top with a bourbon or gin cocktail to add a little zing.



2 oz. Black Button Distilling’s Citrus Forward Gin or Four Grain Bourbon
.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
.25 oz. simple syrup (or a half oz. fruit syrup)

Muddle a handful of berries into the shaker (skip if you used fruit syrup).

Shake with ice and dump into large glass and garnish with fresh berries.


Almost any botanical ingredient can be infused to make a syrup to use in your next cocktail.

Infused Syrup

½ cup herbs, flowers or fruit
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

When making herb syrups, remember to blanche the herbs first by dipping them in boiling water for 30 seconds. This will prevent the herbs from turning black as they break down over time, and will prevent tannins from precipitating and turning your syrup bitter.

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring well until the sugar dissolves. Let cool, then pour through a mesh strainer. Keep refrigerated. It will last two to three weeks, longer if in the freezer. You can also skip the stovetop by mixing fruit or herbs with simple syrup in a blender, just strain out the solids after blending.

When muddling fruit, all we’re really doing is smashing it up so that the fruit will mix into the other ingredients more completely.

Herbs, however, are much more sensitive, particularly mint. All of the sweet, sweet oils that make mint such a popular ingredient reside on the exterior, while bitter oils are released when it is shredded or smashed apart. So, when muddling herbs, just coax out the oils with a few gentle presses of the muddler, and when garnishing with mint or other herbs, simply give them a little slap between your hands and place them on top of the drink. This will release a great scent without lending bitterness to your drink.

At Black Button Distilling, our tagline is “live large in small batches.” It’s a nod to our craft distilling, grain to glass philosophy. This spring, we hope you’ll also apply that idea to your own garden!


We hope our ideas and tips help you get off to a great start with making garden fresh cocktails at home. But at the end of the day (or beginning—no judgment) this is your garden, and your bar. So play around, experiment, and make something wholly yours.

Jason Barrett is president and head distiller, Black Button Distilling.

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