Celebrating yardwork: Summer Garden Gin Sage Cocktail

by Terry B on July 12, 2017

Five ingredients—gin, fresh sage, simple syrup, and grapefruit and lemon juices—create an herbaceous, summery cocktail. Recipe below.

Gin Sage Cocktail

We’ve lived in our new old house for a little more than a year now. The biggest transformation since we’ve moved in has been the garden. During the gut rehab of the house, the backyard was buried under demolition rubble three separate times. Even though our contractor’s team ostensibly cleaned up after the project, the first step of creating a garden involved removing a stunning amount of glass shards, broken bricks, nails, gravel and other debris—at least partly done by digging away the top several inches of the yard and throwing it out.

Mostly, this was accomplished by Marion. She is the family gardener. My contributions to the process consisted mainly of hauling out some buckets of rubble and helping acquire and move more than a ton of soil and compost from various hardware store garden centers, and more than a ton of free mulch from the city of Chicago.

The garden is still very much a work in progress. Of course, with Marion—as I suspect is case with most gardeners—it will always be that. We lived in our St. Louis house for ten years, and the garden was always evolving. But our new garden is much further along than we thought it would be now. A mix of flowers, herbs, small shrubs, food plants, grasses and more, in a beautifully informal arrangement. And plenty of flowering plants native to Illinois, all bird-, bee- and butterfly-friendly, as evidenced by this Red Admiral Butterfly, Vanessa atalanta. In the evening, the fireflies take over.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Standing in the yard the other evening, I spotted our sage plant, small but chugging along. It reminded me of a cocktail we’d had at Lula Cafe several weeks ago. I don’t know what was in that cocktail besides gin, sage and citrusy flavors—the bartender had created it on the spot as one of our bartender challenges. So I picked some sage and went to work in our kitchen. I’m sure the Lula bartender put more moving parts and far more experience into her concoction, but this simple drink was pretty good too—herby, citrusy and tasting like summer.

Summer Garden Gin Sage Cocktail
Makes 1 cocktail

For gin, we’re liking the small-batch stuff made by Chicago-based Letherbee Distillers these days. But there are lots of wonderful—and perfectly fine—gins out there.

simple syrup (make ahead)

4 to 6 sage leaves (depending on size)
2 ounces gin
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Make your simple syrup. Combine equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan (I generally do 1 cup each) and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat and cool completely. Simple syrup will keep for more than a week refrigerated in an airtight container.

Make your cocktail. Tear up 3 to 5 sage leaves in a cocktail shaker. Muddle lightly. Add the gin and muddle some more. Add the grapefruit juice, lemon juice and 1/2 ounce simple syrup. Add several ice cubes and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. This will make the drink (and your hand) nice and cold; the ice will also further beat up the sage leaves, releasing more of their herbaceous goodness into the drink.

Strain into a martini or coupe glass. (Pouring the drink through a fine strainer will remove tiny bits of sage leaves—you can also not strain the drink and let those bits be part of the drink.) Top with a sage leaf and serve.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

John/Kitchen Riffs July 12, 2017 at 9:02 am

We completely redid our garden this year — now our entire back yard (which is quite small, so less impressive than it sounds) is garden. Mainly Mrs KR is doing the work — I offer moral support. And drinks, when appropriate. And this would be most appropriate when the day is ended. Really nice — thanks.

Terry B July 12, 2017 at 9:28 am

John, our entire (smallish) backyard is also garden, and I totally approve. My one routine yard duty in St. Louis was mowing the lawn, which was sizable. Now we don’t even own a lawnmower.

Anita July 12, 2017 at 10:07 am

Sounds like a cocktail exactly geared toward my preferences… and I have two bottles of nice gin that somebody brought as a hostess gift! Maybe I can make some of your other recipes while kicking back the cocktail(s); if I do, I’ll be sure to post :) p.s. I so miss having a yard/garden. And despite sifting and new soil and mulching, know you’ll still have random nails and screws and such popping up like archaeological finds. Keep those tetanus shots up to date.

Terry B July 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Anita, I think you’ll like this one. Sometimes when Marion and I cook something that turns out really well, we deem it “restaurant good”—in other words, if we were served the dish in a restaurant and had to pay for it, we would be happy to eat it. Last night, as we were sampling this cocktail, Marion said it was “bartender good.” Regarding backyard archeological finds, besides construction debris, Marion has dug up countless marbles, a few toy soldiers, a broken glass car-shaped bottle and other charming artifacts. Some are displayed on a kitchen windowsill.

Barbara Fazio July 12, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Sounds like a perfect summer cocktail for Scottsdale, AZ. Wish my grapefruit and lemon tree were ripe for the picking. Thanks, Terry.

Kate July 12, 2017 at 9:31 pm

I’m always looking for new ways to use gin! Can’t wait to try this. Thank you! :)

Dani H July 12, 2017 at 10:28 pm

Gin and tonic is my go to drink but this sounds so refreshing I can see it becoming a new favorite. Thanks for another great recipe.

I keep meaning to try fried sage but forget when I have fresh sage in the house.

A lovely photograph of the butterfly, Terry!

Mellen July 13, 2017 at 4:11 am

Sounds really good, and we’re on the same work-breakdown here. I do the garden and tend the plants , Steve does the rubble-hauling. Difference is that when we find treasures in the soil, they are in the 17,000-years-old category, which is totally normal here, not even worthy of kindergarten Show And Tell because everyone has a pile of them. Somewhat sadly, we have loads and loads of land to take care of now, but hey, we’re basically farmers now and have to tend our plot.

We have recently discovered at the Bio store a ginger syrup, which seems to go very well with a number of herbs (like sage) and gin (though I’m not a gin drinker, but Steve and guests have raved about it). Works for me on top of coconut ice cream. Also very refreshing when mixed with a cold San Pellegrino or Badoit.

Loads of caterpillars this year, too, which means loads of beautiful butterflies. I spent a day last week following hordes of them around the yard, marvelling at all the stupendous colors and taking pictures of them. We have dragonflies galore as well, which according to what I have read is a good thing, as they are major predators of insects that harm garden vegetables.

We cooked a “restaurant-good” pintade two days ago when we had a guest/client here. Only problem was that it came with the neck/head/beak on it, which caused a momentary kitchen fuss before I found the cleaver. Those television chefs never mention these sorts of moments, do they?

Terry B July 13, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Barbara, Kate and Dani, I hope you try it. Every time I look at the photo, I have to admit, I’m ready to drink this cocktail again.

Mellen, your found treasures sound amazing. Our oldest find was an early 1900s coin, in such bad shape that it wasn’t worth more than face value.

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