Local Spots Pour Garden-to-Glass Cocktails
By Catherine De Orio
The contemporary classic Bubbling Rose, one of Abou-Ganim’s creations, uses syrup made from hibiscus flowers.
“The Hemingway Bar in the Ritz Paris would serve a long-stemmed rose as the accoutrement to a lady’s drink,” says Tony Abou-Ganim, author, pioneering mixologist, and founder of modernmixologist.com. “That was the first time I’d ever seen flowers being used with cocktails.” These days, Abou-Ganim and other creative Las Vegas mixologists go beyond using floral accents solely to beautify beverages. They utilize the incredible flavor-enhancing ability of blooms to produce intoxicating, tasty cocktails.
Blossoming botanicals have made their way into liqueurs, flower waters, medicinal bitters, and elixirs for centuries. Nineteenth- and early-20th-century barkeeps used them to concoct cocktails that are now part of the “classic” drink genre. Orange blossom water, for example, lends a certain je ne sais quoi to a Ramos gin fizz, setting it apart from its less intriguing gin fizz cousin. Meanwhile, a splash of violet liqueur gives the ginbased Aviation cocktail its signature shade. With the onset of Prohibition, however, many craft cocktails were forgotten or fell out of style—until the most recent cocktail renaissance brought these botanical bevvies and their ingredients back into the spotlight, via classic and original recipes at hot spots such as Herbs and Rye, Downtown Cocktail Room, Carnevino, Bouchon Bistro, and Comme Ça.
Jasmine, hibiscus, and lavender often form the floral foundation of bitters, known as the salt of the cocktail world and measured in drops, not ounces. “Bitters add and enhance flavors without throwing off the volume of the drink,” says J.R. Starkus, master mixologist for Southern Wine & Spirits. Rose, orange blossom, and cherry blossom waters “add an elegant layer of flavor to the base spirit. There are so many edible flowers that the options are endless.”
A pinch of petalscan be delicious, but too much can leave you feeling like you licked Grandma’s soap. “One needs to have a delicate touch when adding a floral component,” Abou-Ganim says. “It must be used in the right proportions, or it can be too pronounced.”
Elderflower blossoms are the primary ingredient in a popular liqueur nicknamed “bartender’s ketchup,” St.-Germain. “It’s a perfect complement to any spirit,” Starkus says. Adding it to a Champagne cocktail (on the menu at RM Seafood and Marché Bacchus), an old fashioned, or a gin and tonic puts a fresh twist on a classic. Comme Ça’s Sunflower cocktail combines St.-Germain with gin and citrus to create a refreshing spring sipper.
Flowers as ingredients have made their way into base spirit brands as well. Gran Centenario Rosangel tequila is infused with the tropical hibiscus flower and is available at Javier’s and SHe steakhouse, and on pool menus across town in refreshing drinks such as the Pink Tequila, which mixes it with Campari, lime, and a float of Squirt. Hendrick’s, a Scottish gin, is teeming with blooms including elderflower, chamomile, and yarrow flower, but, in addition to the notes of cucumber, its rose essence sets it apart. Made from the oil of pressed Bulgarian damask rose petals, combined with water and alcohol, the essence is added at the end of the distillation process, delivering subtle hints of rose to the spirit. Chris Hopkins, property mixologist at Cosmopolitan and general manager of its Vesper Bar, built his By Any Other Name cocktail around Hendrick’s, adding Lillet Rose and fresh citrus to usher out winter and herald the arrival of sunnier days.
photography by Sabin Orr