Botanical: “Of or relating to a plant.” When cocktails are involved, this can encompass a plethora of ingredients – anything from herbs and spices to oils and tinctures. Just in time for spring, we’ve narrowed down the top 5 spots in NYC serving up botanical cocktails. You don’t need a science degree to enjoy these. By Jonathan Pogash.
Nestled in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Fort Defiance rises to the top of the cocktail totem pole with their drink menu. Owned by St. John Frizell, this joint is a darling of the neighborhood, and a wonderful spot for good food and drink. The Criterium cocktail, so named after the Red Hook Criterium, an international bike race, includes an amaro from Milan, Italy, in it’s mix. Amaro, meaning bitter in Italian, is an herbal liqueur that is flavored with sometimes dozens of herbs, citrus peels, and other such botanicals.
At Employees Only, the “Lazy Lover” cocktail combines Leblon Cachaca with jalapeno-infused Chartreuse (a French herbal liqueur), Benedictine, fresh lime juice and agave nectar. Chartreuse has approximately 130 herbal extracts in its blend, and Benedictine contains exactly 27 herbs and spices. With all those ingredients, and after a cocktail or two, you’ll likely forget that French monks are to thank for both of these liqueurs.
From the fine folks who brought you Employees Only, Macao Trading Co. offers the epitome of a botanical cocktail. “The Odd Job,” a drink combining Bulleit rye whiskey, Galliano liqueur (a sweet Italian herbal liqueur created in 1896), and Fernet Branca (another type of Italian amaro), will settle your stomach and ease your mind. Enjoy Macao’s Asian-inspired bites along with your cocktails.
On the border of the Lower East Side and Chinatown lies Italian Osteria, Grotto. They specialize in classic cocktails. “The Last Word” blends gin (a botanical-heavy juniper spirit), Green Chartreuse, fresh lime juice, and maraschino liqueur. You’ll want to cozy on up to the bar and order some crostinis and carpaccio to go along with your herbaceous beverage.
Michael Flannery is the new resident mixologist at popular Michael’s Restaurant in Midtown. He’s created a whole list of fabulous cocktails, one of those being the “Oaxacan Negroni,” a blend of Del Maguey Mezcal, Campari, vermouth, and grapefruit bitters. Campari is a fruit and herb infusion, and vermouth is a fortified wine containing different types of botanicals in it’s mix. With the addition of grapefruit bitters, one can be sure that this cocktail is full of biological ingredients.
Take your pick of a few different botanically-inspired cocktails at Peel’s on Bowery. Try the Buddha’s Prayer (vodka, gin, white vermouth, Buddha’s hand bitters), Peels Punch (Pisco, bianco vermouth, hibiscus, lime, and bitters), or Improved Tonic and Gin (gin, Jack Rudy tonic syrup, and soda). Quinine, a bitter root extract added to tonic water or syrup, is a traditional herbal remedy once used as the primary remedy for malaria.
Jonathan Pogash, aka The Cocktail Guru, is a beverage consultant, writer, and educator.