For once, my half-hearted gardening pays off. Every spring, I start off with tons of green thumb ambition, then get lazy and quit pulling weeds by August. Things end up growing where they shouldn't go, and unidentifiable stalks of green take over. But there's one patch of leaves I can identify by smell that keeps getting bigger and healthier every year: a gloriously spreading tangle of mint that's slowly taking over the front yard.
Mint for my iced tea! Mint for my ice cream! Mint for my tabbouleh! Mint for my meatballs! And, of course, mint for my cocktails!
See, mint is a medicinal herb, and technically a weed. Sitting on the front porch, thinking of ways to use up all this herbal bounty, I realized that mint is something of a kissing cousin to one of the most essential cocktail accoutrements: bitters.
What are bitters? A slow-simmered blend of alcohol and various herbs, spices, bark, roots, and plants, bitters impart—yes—a bitter flavor to cocktails. Though originally intended as a medicinal tonic to aid with digestion and stomach issues, the fact that the plant matter is slowly steeped in strong spirits gives bitters a loopy but pleasing side effect.
The obvious move for these two herbal digestives, then, is to bring them together in a boozy concoction. An Old Fashioned is one of the oldest cocktails in the book, pairing rye or bourbon, bitters, and sugar with fresh orange and cherry. Why not sub in orange bitters and replace the fresh fruit with a little herbal action in the form of mint? It could work... and it did.
Though it's simple enough to pick up a bottle of orange bitters at the liquor store, recipes for homemade orange bitters abound. The evil cocktail geniuses at Post Prohibition recommend Regan's Orange Bitters No. 5 and CHOW's got a video recipe courtesy of the LA restaurant Lucques (fair warning—both recipes require a full month for the flavors to fully meld). And—perhaps unsurprisingly—ingredients like quassia and gentian are easy to find via Amazon.
The most readily available commercial brands of orange bitters are:
- Angostura Orange Bitters
- Fee Brothers West Indies Orange Bitters
- Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6
- or come as a three-pack Orange Bitters Collection on Amazon.
For yet another variation on the Old Fashioned, Stirrings makes blood orange bitters that are something nonalcoholic and a bit sweeter than the holy trinity above—bringing slight echoes of the classic cherry taste to an unconventional drink.
Total time: 5 minutes
Makes 1 drink
- 6 mint leaves
- 1/4 oz. (1/2 tablespoon) simple syrup
- 1 1/2 oz. (3 tablespoons) rye whiskey or bourbon
- 1/2 oz. (1 tablespoon) orange bitters
Place the mint leaves in a rocks glass and top with the simple syrup. Using a muddler or the base of a whisk or wooden spoon, gently crush the mint to release its essential oils.
Fill the glass with ice and pour in the rye or bourbon and bitters. Stir gently with a swizzle stick and serve.
For a stronger mint flavor, toss a handful of leaves into your simple syrup once the sugar has dissolved and steep off heat, covered, for 15 minutes before straining.
Good. Food. Stories. is an online magazine edited by Casey Barber and Danielle Oteri that focuses on food from a storyteller's perspective.
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