Farm fresh ingredients for cocktails raise the bar of consumer expectation and markets for growers.

by Pamela Irving

Pumpkin puree, preserves, and sage are just a few of the ingredients that Bridget Albert, author of Market Fresh Mixology, uses in autumn cocktails.

"Culinary trends in cocktail culture are about sustainable relationships with the land and the people who grow the fresh ingredients," says Albert, a fourth generation mixologist who comes from a farming community near Chicago. Albert recently returned from a field trip with her mixology students to Farmer Lee Jones' Chefs Garden farm in Huron, Ohio where students sampled product, asked questions and got to know the history of Farmer Jones who has been farming this particular operation since 1983.

"If you can weave a bit of history of the ingredients, a little firsthand knowledge of how it is grown, you have a much bigger story to tell, and evoke more interest in quality, handmade beverages versus pre-fabricated cocktails," Albert talks about 'raising the bar' of consumer expectation.

As guest speaker addressing seasonal products at the Art of the Cocktail festival in Victoria, November 7-8, 2009, Albert will be taking along some of Farmer Jones' product to educate mixologists, consumers and beverage connoisseurs about how to use farm fresh product in cocktails. "We were the first to pioneer micro greens, and now we are pioneering relationships with mixologists which we think is going to be an evolving trend," says Farmer Jones from his farm office. At the on farm Culinary Vegetable Institute, products are developed to market and industry specifications. "If you want a cucumber small enough to float in a glass, with a flower on top, we can develop it," explains Jones, quick to add that they use no genetically modified ingredients in their products.

In Canada, BC is leading the way in farm fresh cocktails. David Wolowidnyk, bar manager of Vancouver's West restaurant has been using farm fresh ingredients for four years. "I go to farmers markets or talk to our chef about what fresh product we have in the cooler. I like product from North Arm Farms and Back to Eden farms, both local farms that grow excellent products. Two farmers drop by every week out the back door and we also buy from them," says Wolowidnyk. Some of Wolowidnyk's favourite autumn ingredients are carrots, beets, and heirloom tomatoes, and fruits like apples and pears. His signature cocktail is the "Beet-nyk" (see below) made with golden beets, potato vodka and apple liqueur. Wolowidnyk says that cocktails made with heirloom tomatoes can fetch $16 per cocktail, but consumers should expect to pay $10 to $13 on average for a cocktail made with farm fresh ingredients. His customers expect something fresh, different and not too sweet and many request pairings with cocktails to refresh the palate throughout a meal.

Frank Deiter of Okanagan Spirits in Vernon has been making award-winning artisan fruit spirits for five years using fruits like pears, cherries and apricots, flavoured with herbs and botanicals like anise, fennel, lemon balm and hyssop. He uses about one metric tonne of herbs per year but finds that the biggest hurdle to expanding production and more markets with growers is the distribution fee charged by the liquor board. "If we did not have to pay such high distribution fees, we would be able to pay higher prices for high quality apricots for example," Deiter explains. He says that production of fruit spirits is much more expensive than grain spirits, which may cost about $20-25 per bottle to produce, versus less than 5 cents per bottle for grain spirits. Dieter says the consumer is very responsive to his products and their palates are educated by onsite tastings and events like Feast of Fields in Summerland. "The higher the culinary quality enjoyment and appreciation of a product by chefs and consumers, the bigger the demand by people who are locals, visitors and locals wanting to gift something quality from their region that they are proud of."

Bridget Albert, who developed the American Dream cocktail made with fresh cherries for Obama's inauguration says that consumers should not overlook what's in their own backyards. "If you are going to eat cherry pie for dinner, why not try some pureed in a cocktail to complement the meal?"

By David Wolowidnyk - WEST 2881 Granville Street Vancouver

  • 3 pieces golden beetroot (cooked and infused)**
  • 1 sprig of fresh dill to garnish, and 1 for the recipe
  • 1 1/4 oz golden beet infused syrup
  • 1 oz Luksosowa Vodka (or another potato vodka)
  • 1 1/4 oz Manzana Verde Giffard (or other apple liqueur - not sour)
  • 1/2 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice

Muddle (or crush with pestle and mortar) Golden Beet (3 pieces) and sprig of dill in a mixing glass then add all liquid ingredients. Shake vigorously with ice and taste. Adjust if necessary for either sweetness (Beet syrup) or acidity (lemon). Double strain (using a tea strainer to filter out the pulp) into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill.

** Preparing the beets: Select 6-7 small organic golden Beets and boil them with a little salt to bring out the flavor (approx.45 min.) Peel and cut in to approx 1" pieces and place into a large 1 litre jar. Fill half the volume with simple syrup (50/50 sugar to water), adding 1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice. Top the jar off with bottled water. Leave for a minimum of two hours, to infuse flavors and colors (keep for a maximum of 6 days, unless you 'spike' it with vodka to stop fermentation). Yield: Up to 20-30 cocktails

Notes: I prefer to use the potato based Luksosowa Vodka for this recipe to stay with the root vegetable theme. When using fresh lemon, you may have to add in a little simple syrup to taste and to balance when mixing the final drink. If the Manzana can not be sourced then substitute could be "Apfelkorn Schnapps".