Got the winter blues? Here’s an exercise that may help. Imagine a field of lavender in bloom. Waves and waves of delicate purple buds, clustered atop frosted green leaves. You hear the wind gently rustle the leaves. Inhale and you can catch a whiff of its sweet, clean redolence. Nothing else in the world smells quite like it.
Or tastes quite like it, for that matter. When used in appropriate amounts, and mixed with just the right partner, lavender takes on a flavor that’s gently warming, filling your palate with a roundness that should remind you of a confection dissolving in your mouth. It should not taste soapy. If it does, you’ve either used too much in your recipe, or your taste buds just won’t tolerate the flavor, and never will. We’d like to think your aversion, if you have one, stems from the former. You want lavender to taste mildly floral and sweet, never harsh or bitter.
Grow lavender in the summer, when it’s in season, or, if you have good light, indoors throughout the year. Use the dried leaves and buds as you would any herb. During nongrowing seasons, you can find lavender buds in spice jars at higher-end grocery stores and specialty shops. If you don’t see it at your grocery store, and you don’t feel like traipsing across town, ask your vendor to stock it.
We use lavender in many expressions, especially in infusions and syrups. Infusing vodka or reposado tequila with lavender allows you to be extra-creative at your home bar, and using lavender-infused simple syrup can bring all the ingredients of a drink together for that special one-of-a-kind flavor. If you’re lucky, you may find artisinal lavender syrup at your purveyor of exotic foods. If so, buy some to see how you like it compared to the stuff you’re about to make.
1 750ml bottle vodka
3 tablespoons dried lavender buds or leaves
In an airtight container, add vodka and lavender. (Rinse bottle and set aside, making sure not to throw away the cap.) Let infuse for up to 5 days, shaking it up every day and tasting it to see if it’s done enough for your taste buds. It should not taste too concentrated. Strain, through cheesecloth, back into original bottle and label “lavender vodka.”
* You can use another neutral spirit, such as unflavored moonshine, but if you really want to wake up your palate, the inherent depth and spiciness of reposado tequila pairs beautifully with lavender. Just substitute the same amount.
Lavender Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dried lavender buds or leaves
Add water and sugar to a small saucepan. Gently crush lavender with a mortar and pestle (your fingers will do in a pinch) and add to saucepan. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that sugar fully dissolves. Allow to cool for several hours, or overnight. Strain through cheesecloth into a sterile jar with a lid. May be kept in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Now it’s time to make some cocktails. For something simple, put about a teaspoon of lavender syrup in a champagne flute, then top with about 5 ounces of champagne. That will give you an idea of how lavender flavors alcohol. It’s an elegant way to start a cocktail or dinner party. But, if you’re more adventurous, we have a few drinks we think you’ll make a permanent part of your cocktail repertoire.
Lavender Blue Dilly Dilly
(created by Cocktail Buzz)
The lavender Blue Dilly Dilly is a take on the classic Manhattan Cocktail with a flamed orange peel bringing all the flavors together.
2 ounces bourbon
1 scant ounce Dubonnet rouge
1 teaspoon lavender syrup
dash Angostura bitters
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Express orange peel through a match flame by holding the match over the drink and, with your other hand, in one quick, sharp squeeze, pinch the peel (outside of peel facing the match) so the oils spurt through the flame, causing a gentle flare-up. Then gently rub the outside of the peel around the rim and drop into the glass. (Feel free to try this drink on the rocks in a rocks glass.)
Lavendel (aka Hermione Wallflower)
(created by Cocktail Buzz)
The Lavendel (German for lavender) may be the perfect brunch cocktail. It’s a riff on the classic Harvey Wallbanger.
1/2 ounce honey liqueur (Bärenjäger, a German honey liqueur, works perfectly here)
1 1/2 ounces lavender-infused vodka*
5 ounces fresh-squeezed tangelo juice, strained (you can use orange or tangerine juice, as well)
In a highball glass, add the lavender-infused vodka and tangelo juice. Fill 2/3 with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Float Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur on top. Add straw, if you so desire, but sipping is preferred as you will end your imbibing with a nice honey kiss.
(created by Cocktail Buzz)
After dinner, you may want to serve some shortbread [CLICK THE LINK FOR OUR LAVENDER SHORTBREAD RECIPE], or a cheese plate. That’s where the Bloody Lavender comes into play. The scotch rinse adds depth, as do the drops of Peychaud’s bitters that float at the top, giving the cocktail its name. If you want a Bloody Lavender before dinner, just double the recipe (except for the scotch).
1 ounce lavender-infused vodka
1/4–1/2 ounce Licor 43, or other vanilla liqueur
4–6 drops Peychaud’s bitters
1/4 ounce single-malt scotch
Rinse a chilled cocktail glass or coupe with scotch, swirling a few times, then discarding. (There should be a small amount left at the bottom of the glass.) Stir lavender-infused vodka and vanilla liqueur in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into the glass. Add bitters one drop at a time.
photo © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz