Herb-infused drinks are sprouting up on Baltimore drink menus

Basil, dill and thyme are just some of the unusual extras

April 23, 2010|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

This spring, if you compare your food and drink menus, you might see a few striking similarities.

Move over, mint. As the weather gets warmer, basil, dill, thyme and lavender — herbs once relegated to the kitchen — are popping up in mixed drinks at Baltimore bars and restaurants. Bartenders are taking chances by muddling basil and strawberries in a spiked lemonade, tossing dried thyme into martinis made with tomato-infused vodka and swapping the lime in gin and tonics for cucumber and dill.

I tried five mixed drinks made with herbs such as basil, lavender, thyme — and found mixed results.

Dill

As a die-hard gin-and-tonic drinker, I shuddered to think of defiling one of my favorite drinks with cucumber, dill and honey spirits. But Bad Decisions owner John Reusing is one of Baltimore's most adventurous mixologists, and he was right on point with the Cucumber Dill Gin-and-Tonic ($7). Reusing blends Hendrick's and Hayman's Old Tom gins with a splash of Gioiello Nonino, a spirit distilled from honey and imported from Italy. Then Reusing tossed in a few spears of cucumber and a couple sprigs of fresh dill. See what I mean about adventurous? Both gins are low on juniper, which brought out the dill, and the cocktail was lighter and crisper than any gin-and-tonic I've ever had. Bad Decisions is at 1928 Fleet St. Call 410-979-5161 or go to makeabaddecision.com.

Lavender

Of all the herb-infused drinks on this list, the Lavender Martini ($12.72) sounded the most intriguing. Served at the swanky Explorer's Lounge, it was also one of the most disappointing. When mixed, the ingredients — cucumber vodka, lavender syrup and crème de menthe — were lucid green in color, sort of like Slimer Ecto-Cooler Hi-C. I wish it tasted like Ecto-Cooler, but the crème de menthe cast its syrupy sweet cloud over the rest of the ingredients. The lavender was barely detectable. Same goes for the vodka. Since there was no fresh lavender on hand, the server precariously balanced a sprig of celery leaves in the 6-ounce glass. It was a curious sipper all around. The bar should think about renaming it the Random Martini. The Explorer's Lounge is in the Intercontinental Harbor Court Hotel, 550 Light St. Call 877-270-1390 or go to harborcourt.com.

Basil

A couple of L'il It'ly Lemonades would go down easy — perhaps too easy — on a hot summer's day. The server muddled strawberries in basil before adding ice, house vodka and raspberry lemonade and garnishing with a slice of lemon. I expected the L'il It'ly Lemonades ($8.48) to be extra sugary, but the basil stole the sweetness of the strawberries and lemonade, and the vodka was barely noticeable, which made the lemonade a dangerously smooth sipper. Don't let it sit for long, though, because the ice cubes tend to water down the already thin mix. Less ice or more fruit and herbs would have gone a long way. Amicci's is at 231 S. High St. Call 410-528-1096 or go to amiccis.com.

Mint

A not-so-distant cousin of the mojito, 13.5 Wine Bar's Pomegranate Fizz ($8.48) was a cool, refreshing way to end a workday. Simple syrup wasn't necessary, since the pomegranate juice provided enough sugar. The rum was a shade too strong — a few more muddled mint leaves and perhaps a twist of lime would have done the trick — but the drink evened out about halfway through. 13.5% Wine Bar is at 1117 W. 36th St. in Hampden. Call 410-889-1064 or go to 13.5winebar.com.

Thyme

I wouldn't even dip a barber's comb in the Bloody Martini ($12.72). This abomination was made with tomato-infused vodka, thyme and olive brine; it tried to be too many things at once and failed at all of them. The result was a grimace-inducing cocktail with sprigs of dried thyme bobbing next to chunks of ice (a no-no for any martini maker) in a half-chilled martini glass (the bartender filled up a glass with ice and let it sit while mixing the ingredients in a shaker). Somehow, it cost just as much as the Lavender Martini at the Explorer's Lounge. If you ever find yourself in Meli wondering about the thyme- and tomato-infused martini, do yourself a favor and order something else. Meli is at 1636 Thames St. Call 410-534-6354 or go to kalismeli.com.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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