Fragrant Spring Cocktails Combine Herbs and Alluring Elixirs

With gardens coming into full flower, aromatic herbs are sprouting up on San Francisco’s artisanal cocktail menus. As we prepare for seasonal cocktail hours at home, we asked local connoisseurs for their recommendations on stocking our bar carts with spring spirits.  

Amanda Womack, spirits buyer at Cask, has cultivated a collection of herbal spirits, amari and bitters. She’ll introduce you to a thyme-infused Provençal liqueur, Farigoule de Thyme, along with such invaluable ingredients as Bittermens Celery Shrub and Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters. Womack can also provide a tutorial on making herbal concoctions and equip you with The Drunken Botanist, a primer on herbs and infusions. 

Cask also carries the full line of herbal liqueurs by St. George Spirits, a craft distillery in Alameda. St. George makes a unique Basil Eau de Vie and a Terroir Gin with notes of fennel, Douglas fir, bay laurel and sage sourced at Mount Tamalpais. Womack also recommends Imbue Vermouth, a bittersweet infusion of chamomile, citrus and baking spices serving as herbal martini component. And Cask’s treasure trove of 20 amari (Italian digestifs) by broVo Spirits features a floral-style amaro—an infusion of chrysanthemum, rose hip, linden and gentian sweetened by agave nectar—that was created by Womack herself.

Next stop for herbal ingredients is Cavalier Goods (1035 Post Street) to pick up tea by Bellocq Atelier. Bellocq founder Heidi Johannsen Stewart recommends a relaxing riff on the La Piscine French cocktail (see sidebar) that uses their soothing Le Hammeau tea, a lighthearted blend of lemongrass and meadow flowers. “Just add Prosecco or Crémant de Loire and Lillet blanc to the mix,” says Stewart. “The herbaceous notes of lemongrass, verbena, mint, lavender and rose in Le Hammeau are an excellent match for the lively effervescence of Prosecco.” Serve over ice, and, she suggests, garnish with thin slices of orange or apricot and a sprig or two of fresh lemon verbena and lavender. 

Local mixology guru Scott Beattie’s book Artisanal Cocktails (Ten Speed Press) is a must- read for techniques of muddling and cutting to best release aromas and flavors. “For spring and summer, I create beautiful drinks with lots of flowers and herbs from our garden or that are foraged directly on the property,” says Beattie, beverage director for estate events at Meadowood in St. Helena. His favorite is the Thai Boxer, which has a trinity of herbs (Thai basil, cilantro and spearmint), plus a touch of coconut milk. Cheers to spring!

A version of this article appeared in the May 2014 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Garden-Fresh Spirits.