What do you mix into your cocktails at home?
A spirit plus a mixer, maybe a wedge of lemon or lime?
“I’m thinking cherry tomatoes would be fun,” Michelle Curtis was telling her friend bartender Anwar Morgan the other day at Bar Amis, the bar-restaurant at the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia.
Curtis, a local sales representative for spirits maker Campari America, and Morgan enjoy challenging each other to step up their cocktails.
After Curtis mentioned the garden she had begun on her South Philadelphia rooftop, she and Morgan came up with an idea for a cocktail class open to the public.
“Garden to glass,” Morgan said, its name riffing on the farm-to-table ethos sweeping through restaurant kitchens. “People should be able to try locally sourced things and create their own cocktails without having to buy store-bought products.”
The $75 class, starting at 5:30 p.m. May 20 at Bar Amis, is hands-on. “I want to teach you how to make everything, so I’m going to grab a shaker tin and you’re going to have to shake it,” said Curtis, who in her past life was a bartender and restaurant manager. “I’m going to help you build it and you’re going to use a jigger. It’s not just like you’re just sitting there, listening to us knuckleheads drone on the whole time.” Snacks will be served, too.
Though only a few seats remain for the class, Morgan and Curtis were eager to share tips.
Their overarching message is that if you grow it, you should be able to bartend with it.
“People grow hot peppers, right?” Morgan said. “You can add that to a Bloody Mary mix, or you can muddle that up into your margarita and spice it up.”
A few of these pointers may seem obvious and time-honored, such as pinching off mint as a garnish or as the basis for a mojito. How about cucumbers and bell peppers — popular among local gardeners? They also have a place in a glass.
As local strawberries are coming in, Curtis likes to infuse Aperol, the popular aperitif, with strawberries for 48 hours. Mixed with prosecco and club soda, it becomes a fruitier Aperol spritz.
When blackberries come in, muddle them with simple syrup and sage and add Wild Turkey bourbon.
Raspberries? Curtis and Morgan puree them in a summery drink that calls for Espolon Blanco tequila, muddled bell pepper, lime juice, simple syrup, and a garnish of more bell peppers.
And then there are the cherry tomatoes, which Curtis is growing on her South Philadelphia roof deck.
They came up with a charred tomato Bloody Mary. Simply slice long hot peppers (another popular local crop) and infuse them in Skyy vodka. Strain after 45 minutes. Then make a Bloody Mary mix by charring cherry tomatoes on a grill or flat top and adding them to a blender with fresh lemon and lime juice, grated horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, celery seed, salt, and pepper.
The secret is planning. “If you are having, say, four or five people over, you can make [the mixers] the day before,” Morgan said.
For the drink that calls for Wild Turkey bourbon with simple syrup, blackberries, and sage, you’d make a shrub out of the fruit, herbs, and sugar in advance. When it’s time to serve, he said, mix in the bourbon, “throw some fresh sage in there, add a couple lemon wheels, and go from there,” Morgan said. "It’s really functional and easy and doable. And it’s not like I have to go to a cocktail or a bartending school to learn how to make this.”
2 oz. Aperol (infused with fresh strawberries)
2 oz. prosecco
Splash of club soda
Fill wine glass with ice. Pour prosecco in first. Top with Aperol and club soda. Garnish with an orange slice.
**Aperol Infusion Cut 1 qt. of strawberries into quarters and place in a pitcher or large container. Pour Aperol on top and infuse for 48 hours. Strain liquid from strawberries through fine mesh.
2 oz. Skyy Vodka (infused with long hot peppers)
Charred cherry tomato Bloody Mary mix
Build in Collins glass over ice. Garnish freely — celery, olives, bacon, pickled green beans. Optional: salt rim, Aleppo pepper rim, Old Bay rim.
**Skyy Vodka Pepper Infusion Slice long hot peppers. Place in pitcher or glass container. Top with bottle of Skyy Vodka. Infuse for 30-45 minutes max. Strain liquid from peppers with fine mesh.
**Bloody Mary Mix Char cherry tomatoes on grill or flat top. Add to blender. Top with fresh lemon and lime juice, grated horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup parsley, and celery seed. Blend thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2 oz. Bulldog Gin
1 oz. lime juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
2 slices cucumber
8 mint leaves
Lightly muddle the cucumber and mint leaves in a shaker. Add all other ingredients. Top with ice and shake. Strain into chilled coupé glass. Garnish with thin slice of cucumber.
2 oz. Espolon Blanco
1 oz. pureed fresh raspberries
1 oz. lime juice
¼ oz. simple syrup
3 slices green bell pepper
Muddle bell pepper in shaker tin. Add all other ingredients. Top with ice and shake. Strain over ice in rocks glass. Garish with bell pepper and fresh raspberries.
2 oz. Wild Turkey Bourbon
¼ oz simple syrup
4 sprigs of sage
Muddle blackberries and sage in shaker tin. Add all other ingredients. Top with ice and shake. Strain over ice in rocks glass. Garnish with sage sprig.