Now, this didn’t happen every night, but once or twice a week throughout the spring and summer, herbs, berries, and stone fruits from my CSA boxes found their way into my drinks.
Along with the fruity and sweet cocktails, I experimented with savory cocktails as well – my palate sways that way naturally. This cocktail combines the fresh juices from muddled cucumber and basil with aromatic gin, crisp Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, a little simple syrup, a few dashes of celery bitters, and a pinch of salt for balance.
It’s a refreshing vegetal cocktail for a summer’s day on the porch or a pick me up after a bit of work in the yard. If you like your drinks with a little complexity and not so much sweetness this is the cocktail for you.
Tips for Making Savory Cocktail Recipes
Vegetables and herbs are subject to their own inconsistencies and how you work with them can influence the taste of your drink.
I recommend taking a bite out of the cucumber first before muddling it to see if it’s bitter. If it is, you can go ahead and peel the skin before muddling and that will help offset any bitterness.
First Choice: I like to use Persian cucumbers—they’re about 6 inches long, slender, and thin skinned—because they don’t have large seeds and tend to be sweeter than what we think of the standard cucumber. Sometimes they are sold as mini or baby cucumbers in packages of 5 or 6 at stores.
Second Choice: The English cucumber has similar features of the Persian but is longer and is often sold tightly wrapped in a plastic at the store. If you have the English variety, you could cut a piece that weighs about 4 ounces (the approximate weight of one Persian cucumber) to use in this recipe and it will work just fine.
Only if You Have To: The standard cucumber or American slicing cucumber are wide and have a thick dark green skin that can be bitter. For this reason it’s not my first choice for this cocktail. This cucumber is commonly sold at grocery stores and coated in wax. If this cucumber is your only option I suggest peeling, halving, and removing the seeds before muddling to avoid any bitterness.
I also use a touch of salt in this recipe. Salt elevates the ingredients that you’re using in any given recipe and a cocktail is no different.
Booze and Bitters
London Dry gin, an everyday style of gin, is light-bodied with prominent juniper notes. If you have Plymouth gin, which originated in Plymouth, England, you’ll get a more citrus-forward flavor and less juniper. Both work for this recipe.
The French aperitif Lillet Blanc has been around since the late 1800s. It’s similar to vermouth, made from white Bordeaux grapes, and flavored with what a friend of mine calls “roots and shoots” (think spices, herbs, and other botanicals). It’s then fortified with citrus liqueur making it a little boozier than wine but not as potent as straight-up spirits. Fruity but not too sweet, it gives a little balance to the acid and vegetal flavors of this cocktail. It’s an investment, but you’ll also enjoy drinking this bottle on its own poured over ice.
Speaking of bitters there are so many flavors available online or at well-stocked liquor stores that you can play around with. If you’re unable to find celery bitters, the drink will survive without it. These stores will also likely carry ready-made simple syrup for added convenience, even though it’s a cinch to make (equal parts sugar and water, heated until dissolved, then chilled).
Cocktails Tools and Techniques
Bartenders have been using a muddling stick for about as long as they’ve been serving drinks. Traditionally fashioned from wood and shaped like a small bat, these days you can find them in metal or plastic of varying shapes and sizes. I prefer wood muddlers, and one that’s long enough that you won’t hit your hand on the shaker while muddling.
Its purpose is to gently coax out the juices and aroma from the ingredients that enhance the drink without overpowering the flavors. You do that by gently mashing, not hammering down on the ingredients. Here, the basil is muddled along with the cucumber in order to release the fresh herby flavor. If you just plonked it in the drink at the end, you’d only get the smell. Lovely as that is, I wanted to taste it.
Cocktails with citrus, simple syrups or other mixers get shaken in a cocktail shaker. (As opposed to cocktails made with only spirits, like a Manhattan, which are stirred.) There are different types of shakers (some come with a top and built-in strainer), but I prefer the Boston shaker which is a cocktail tin and a pint glass. It’s streamlined and rarely does it leak.
An important step in creating a cocktail is chilling your glass. Even though you’ve just shaken the drink with ice, pouring it into a room temperature glass will not deliver the desired result—a crisp, cold, refreshing beverage. From the ingredients, to the technique, to the service—all the steps along the way contribute to the enjoyment of a well-built drink.
How to Garnish this Gin Cocktail
Garnishes can be fun and spiff up the cocktail, but they aren’t vital in my opinion. If you don’t feel like making the garnish as shown, it’s completely OK to omit it altogether or swap it out for a simple lemon twist.
If you do want to dress up the drink, you could float a few tiny fresh basil leaves on top. The tender celery leaves from the inner part of the head, the ones that are more yellow than green, would also be a lovely garnish here.
More Summer Sipper Cocktail Recipes
Gin Cocktail with Cucumber and Basil
- 1 lemon
- 1 (6-inch long) Persian cucumber, chopped into large pieces
- 8 large fresh basil leaves
- 4 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- 1/2 ounce Lillet
- 4 dashes celery bitters
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Chill the coupe glasses:
Put a handful of ice and some water into two 4-ounce coupe glasses to chill.
Peel and juice the lemon:
With a Y-shaped vegetable peeler, peel 2 swaths of lemon rind from end to end, about 3 inches long. With the tip of a paring knife, cut a slit (about 1 inch) in the middle of each lemon peel between the long ends making sure not to cut through the entire peel.
Squeeze the juice into a pourable container. You’ll use it later.
Muddle the cucumber and basil:
Into a cocktail shaker add the cucumber and basil. Using a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon press lightly; crush and bruise the cucumber and basil to release the oils and juices.
Add the spirits, simple syrup, and bitter to the shaker:
Add the gin, 1 ounce of lemon juice, simple syrup, Lillet, bitters, and salt into the cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker halfway with ice and shake to chill, 20 to 30 seconds.
Assemble, garnish, and serve cocktail:
Discard the ice water in the coupe glasses. Strain the cocktail evenly into the chilled glasses. Secure the lemon peels on the rim of each glass for garnish. Serve.