Sugary drinks in the bar are often far easier to stomach at first, but as the night goes on, all of that added sugar can be nauseating—and result in a nasty hangover the next morning. On top of the natural dehydration from the alcohol, sugar throws your biological processes out of whack and can often turn a good night sour.
Speaking of sour—switching to sour cocktails instead of sweet ones can mean the difference between a rough morning and an excellent, enjoyable evening. Drinks based on sour flavors are also often made with herbs that can add an extra dimension to gin, vodka, and other spirits.
Whether cocktail hour is fast approaching or you’re not sure what to order at the bar, here are five herbs you can use to make some killer cocktails.
5 Herbs You Can Use to Make Cocktails
Cilantro is known for a unique flavor and usage in salsas and Indian cuisine. Due to the distinct flavor, not many know how to fully utilize the herb and often shy away from it in favor of milder options. However, we’ve got a simple cocktail recipe that uses cilantro to the fullest possible extent.
Start with a vodka limeade—easily made by mixing a shot of your favorite vodka with a 2 or 3 parts limeade. Add ice, a lime wedge, and add in some fresh cilantro. The cilantro will work alongside the tart flavors and hopefully give a bit a dimension to an otherwise basic drink.
Vodka limeade with cilantro goes well with fresh chicken dishes or tacos, or even by itself on a hot summer day.
Rosemary is a great herb to remind you of the great outdoors. Often panned by critics for its wood-like flavor, for fans of this unique herb, gin is the way to go.
Unlike the vodka limeade with cilantro, our take on a gin and rosemary is stronger, and probably best served in the night. Start with two shots of gin and mix in a half ounce of lemon juice and three ounces of club soda. A dash of sugar may help to soften out the acidity as well.
Finally, add in fresh rosemary and a lemon slice and serve on the rocks. This rosemary gin cocktail should remind you of many lemon-lime sodas on the market, while still bringing out the rosemary and balancing out the sharpness of the gin.
Rosemary pairs well with most other gin drinks, so if club soda isn’t your thing, consider using rosemary with a simple gin and tonic to shape up a classic drink.
Moving away from the acquired taste of gin drinks, using some basil can help accent a particularly sharp bourbon. Basil is a sweet herb that stands out from some of the others on our list due to its proliferation in America and ease of access. Chances are, you already have enough basil on hand to make this drink.
Start with a shaker full of ice and add in a shot of bourbon, fresh basil, a bit of lemon juice, simple syrup, and shake until cold. Once finished, serve on the rocks and garnish with a basil leaf. This simple basil bourbon smash isn’t a large drink in volume but will certainly hold its own when compared to classics like an Old Fashioned.
Basil is also great for lime and vodka drinks and pretty much anything involving gin. Its sweet nature is often enjoyable to most—even though who may not be especially keen on trying out a herbal cocktail.
Speaking of an Old Fashioned, you can use thyme to spice up a classic drink with the dry, minty taste of thyme.
A simple cocktail with thyme will require bourbon, a lemon, simple syrup, and bitters. Start the drink by mixing a few dashes of bitters in with a similar amount of simple syrup. Add in the bourbon, toss in a lemon peel, stir, and serve on the rocks. Garnish with more thyme to help bring out the flavor.
You can also try using thyme (or any of our other herbs) when making simple syrup. Simply add in thyme sprigs when heating up sugar and water, and filter out when finished. It’s a small change to the syrup that may require proper labeling not to get confused with herb-free syrup—but it will infuse the flavor better than a simple garnish.
Thyme balances the taste of bitters out especially well, and—if you know where to look—can be found in a Las Vegas bar near you.
The last herb on our list is certainly not the least–and may be the most underutilized herb in all of mixology.
Sage is a Mediterranean herb that’s got a savory flavor that lends itself perfectly to mixed drinks. Sage accents gin, gives weight to bourbon, pairs well with tequila, and makes vodka just a bit more interesting. Our recommended approach, however, is to go for something a bit sweeter than most of the drinks we’ve mentioned so far.
For this drink, you’ll need four ounces of bourbon, three ounces of lemon juice (or two lemons), and simple syrup made from honey and sage. Making this syrup shouldn’t be too difficult than standard simple syrup—just heat water, honey, and sage until steaming.
To make the drink, add the ingredients into an ice-filled shaker, pour over ice, and garnish with lemon and sage.
The honey draws out a sweetness to the bourbon and takes a bit of the edge off, while the sage gives that savory herbal flavor you’ve been looking for. This drink is also smooth enough to go with a fresh lunch rather than a heavy dinner.
Sage, rosemary, and all of our other herbs have many uses outside of cooking and tea. Take some time this weekend to get a little creative with your mixed drinks. Stick with gin and herbs to make a safe drink everyone will enjoy, or get a little daring and see if your risk pays off. Either way, drink responsibly, stock up on lemons and simple syrup, and get mixing.