Harvest-to-Glass: Planning and Planting Your Own Cocktail Garden

The farm-to-table movement has transformed the way we think about and consume food in this country, both at home and in restaurants. Now this terrior (originally a French term in wine to describe the grape's "sense of place or earth") approach has created an extreme locavore movement - not just farm-to-table but garden-to-table - where many restaurants are planting their own gardens on site. You can't get more local then that! A few years later and garden-to-table is no longer just the chef's territory. Bartenders want some of the agronomy action too! That's right - garden-to-glass.

This trend, which hit the mixology world over the last year, continues as bartenders around the country are foraging for local, seasonal ingredients and even growing them in their own gardens as we do at mar'sel restaurant at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes in order ensure the most local and fresh botanicals to fuel their cocktail creativity.

The Home Grown Edible Cocktail with Blake Donaldson of TheDrinkChef.com and Geri Miller of Home Grown Edible Landscapes

Mixology is becoming closer to the food world. Just as restaurants design their gardens with their menus in mind, mixologists are thinking more like chefs creating drinks based on the garden's seasonal bounty and even pairing them with dishes. These bartenders speak with as much pride as their chefs do about the origin of the ingredients in their concoctions. "I go out every afternoon, to pick the freshest herbs, vegetables and whatever else the garden is offering that day. It changes every day...and I love it! It feeds my creativity." says Blake Donaldson, mixologist at mar'sel and creator of TheDrinkChef.com, an online 'how-to' for the rest of us striving for cocktail nirvana.

This rather 'down-to-earth' approach was in reaction to "molecular mixology," a more extreme bartending trend that took hold in the earlier part of this decade and turned bartenders into rocket scientists of sorts. "Things became tricky, so many ingredients, so overly intellectual," Heather John, wine and spirits columnist for Bon Appetite said in an interview with Megan Finnerty of the Arizona Republic. "When at the end of the day, cocktails and pleasure are about simplicity and balance rather than theatricality and stunts."

It is the homegrown simplicity of this newest trend in cocktail making that is so appealing to the home 'mixologist.' Just as the home gardening craze swept the country recently - increasing after the start of the recession - our search for more home-centric, artisanal entertaining has intensified as well. We have had some success in growing more of what we put on our own table so, we wonder, why not also grow what goes into our celebratory glass? The wonderful surprise is that many times, those ingredients are plants we're already growing in our yards! But, if your starting with a blank slate, an empty spot in your yard, the obvious question is "where do I begin"?

Where to Begin? - Breaking down your plan
Think about your favorite cocktails
What are the most requested concoctions at your gatherings? Martinis? Margaritas?
Use your sense of taste to break down the essence of the flavor of your favorite liquor:
Gin - botanical, pine, berry
Vodka - spice, fruit, cream, wheat
Whisky - flowers, peat, smoke, grass, vanilla, toffee, honey, malt, bread

Once you understand the taste of your foundation liquors, you'll be better able to select edibles that will compliment and enhance them... think the way chefs approach their culinary creations. Think umame (a fifth taste sense that translates as "savory" or "flavorful". It's that rich, deeply satisfying, sensual taste). For instance, sage (an aromatic herb) goes well with both gin and vodka. Fennel having that distinct anise flavor also pairs well with gin's botanical undertones.

Think about your favorite edibles
After doing some research, spend a few minutes thinking about what you'd like to include in your planting list. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
• lemon verbena: lemonade, gin cocktails, infusions
• mint (spearmint, peppermint, chocolate, orange): juleps, lemonade, mojitos, infusions
• rosemary: great with gin
• sage (purple and pineapple): tequila, margaritas, infusions
• tarragon: good with peach flavors and vodka
• thyme (use flowers too): martinis, peach-flavored cocktails like a Bellini
• basil (Genovese, Thai, Purple, Cinnamon, Greek - use flowers too)
• fennel (Florence -for bulb & green fronds, bronze for beautiful bronze-tinged green fronds)
• lavender
• cardamom (seed pod): gin
• cilantro (slow bolting varieties): gin
• peppers (sweet, hot- Bells, Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeno, Habanero, Serrano): infusions, martinis
• Calendula (flowers)
• Chive blossom
• nasturtium - spicy flower
• Johnny-Jump-up
• hibiscus flowers
• Citrus: Mexican lime, meyer lemon, blood orange, Buddha's hand, juice oranges (Valencia or Murcia)
• blueberries
• raspberries
• blackberries
• grapes
• cucumbers
• beets
• heirloom tomatoes (red and yellow): Bloody Marys
• chervil (anise flavor): gin
• Sorrel (tangy, leafy herb)
• Anise Hyssop (anise-flavored herb)
• Borage (cucumber-flavored flower)
• any many, many more...use your imagination!

Go ahead...type in any of the edibles listed here into your search engine, add the words 'cocktail recipe' and hit GO! You'll see tons of recipes pop up!
Be inspired by online resources like
o thedrinkchef.com
o imbibemagazine.com
o themodernmixologist.com
o bevx.com
o barnonedrinks.com

Think about your available garden site
Site: Consider the conditions within the site of your planned garden:
- Wind: Understand that edibles can be very vulnerable to drying winds. If you are considering a windy site, provide some kind of windbreak; either a physical barrier (fence), trees or shrubs
- Exposure: Sun or Shade or in between. Many (but not all!) fruits and vegetables do best where they receive at least 6 hrs and as much as 8 hrs of full sunlight a day. Remember to consider the sun's seasonal position in the sky and your location when judging sun intensity
- Water: Is there a way to irrigate your garden
- Soil: Feeding your soil, not your plants
- Adding organic matter (compost/humus) - Soil organic matter is the storehouse for the energy and nutrients used by plants and other organisms. Bacteria, fungi, and other soil food web dwellers transform and release nutrients from organic matter therefore replenishing soil with organic matter periodically is essential for a vital soil food web.
- Avoiding the use of pesticides (even organics) Pesticides, which include plant killers (herbicides), bug killers (insecticides), fungi killers (fungicides) and bacteria killers (bactericides) also kill related and often beneficial organisms. While each application may impact only a few species, the cumulative effect repeated pesticide applications is a reduction in the numbers and diversity of soil organisms.
- MULCH - Letting litter accumulate on the soil's surface or by adding low-nitrogen fibrous organic materials like mulch, straw, brown leaves, etc can maintain fungi.
- Do not apply synthetic fertilizers - Synthetic fertilizers break the relationship between plants and soil organisms.
Climate: Becoming aware of your area's climate is an essential part of being successful in growing anything. What are the high and low annual temperatures?
USDA Hardiness Zones and Sunset Climate Zones - http://www.backyardgardener.com/zone/index.html
When (if at all) does your area get its first and last frost? How much natural rainfall can you expect?

All these details will paint an overall picture of the climate conditions in your area that will dictate when and if you can grow the plants on your list.

In addition to knowing your surrounding area's climate, you'll need to get to know your planting sites microclimates. A microclimate is the climate of a small area that is different from the area around it. It may be warmer or colder, wetter or drier, or more or less prone to frosts - a protected courtyard next to a building, for example, that is warmer than an exposed field nearby.

o Budget
Ok, so now you've done the thinking and dreaming about the potential of your cocktail paradise. Now it's time for the dose of reality - what is your budget?
Buzz kill, right? Remember, you can grow a lot out of a little space so, no worries. Your garden, big or small, will get you to the same place - cocktail nirvana! Here's were you decide if it's a whole potager garden, a single 4x6 raised bed or containers on your balcony. Whatever size it is, if it gets you out there digging in the dirt - it's the grandest garden anywhere! Visit garden centers with your planting & supply list and get pricing information on these items. Google online sources for containers, raised bed kits and seed catalogs.
Here are some links that you might find helpful:
HGEL's "How to build a Raised Bed": http://www.groedibles.com/2010/03/how-to-build-a-raised-bed/

And now all that's left to be done, is DOING IT! Go Ahead, in most areas of Los Angeles County you can plant just about anything on your list now - herbs and cool season veggies - and be enjoying your home grown artisanal cocktail in no time! Here are a few recipes to get your home mixology off to a great holiday start courtesy of Blake Donaldson of mar'sel and TheDrinkChef.com:

2 oz Absolut 'Pears' Vodka
¾ oz Fresh Lime Juice
¾ oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Pomegranate Juice
Shake in a shaker and serve in a sugar-rimmed chilled martini glass with a slice of pear as a garnish

Orange, Cucumber, Mint, Purple Sage, Fennel - Gin Infusion
1 Infusion jar, or Iced tea jar
5 fresh oranges (3 sliced, 2 juiced)
2 small cucumbers
12 purple sage leaves, 3 fennel stalks
750ml. gin, 375 ml. Triple Sec
Cut and arrange your fruit carefully
Add the gin and triple sec slowly
Let steep in your refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours
Pour into a cocktail shaker, shake until cold and serve in a martini glass with any garnish you like!