Cook up your own local, sustainable, organic cocktails, and toast to mother Earth.
Earth Day is overdue for rebranding. As tornadoes make junk drawers out of our heartland cities, hydraulic fracking imports earthquakes to faultless places like Youngstown and Little Rock, and the rising oceans swallow island nations whole and threaten to make my beloved peninsular metropolis a densely-packed archipelago, a day for saving the world is more essential than ever. Yet many Americans know April 22 only as the day the little animated peacock turns green at the bottom of our HDTV screens.
So I propose we improve Earth Day’s Q score by recasting it as a drinking holiday. Everyone remembers St. Patrick’s Day thanks to the dogged marketing efforts of the folks at Guinness and Jameson. Ditto for Cinco de Mayo, Corona, and Jose Cuervo. It’s time for Earth Day to get its due in bars across America, too. Surely a drink could help all that bad environmental news go down easier.
The Call: Chem-Free Cocktails
Fortunately, there is no shortage of eco-friendly candidates to fill the Jameson/Cuervo role in Earth Day 2.0 (as I’ve just branded this rebranding initiative). I started with quality liquors from three of my favorites—Square One Vodka of Marin County, California; Del Maguey Mezcal, which imports single-village mezcals from Mexico via Taos, New Mexico; and Kanon Vodka, from Sweden.
All three distillers sell exclusively 100-percent organic spirits. To provide extra bang for your Earth Day buck, Square One prints its labels on paper made from sustainably grown bamboo and cotton, powers 25 percent of its distillery with wind, and recycles the organic rye byproduct from its distillation as feed to sell to organic dairy farms. Kanon sources its organic wheat from within a three-mile radius of its 16th-century castle distillery (run entirely by wind and water power), uses water from its own artisan aquifer, and heats its offices with fermentation steam. These are the good guys.
To create cocktails worthy of such environmentally responsible hooch—and to honor the wealth of awesome organic produce “sourceable” from within a three-mile radius of my San Francisco apartment—I started prep a day ahead, setting up a simple infusion and cooking my own tried-and-true flavored syrup. This is Left Coast Mixology 101—and while that school sometimes veers too far from “bartending” and too close to “cooking” for my tastes, the two techniques I borrowed this week made for killer Earth Day cocktails. Both drinks can be made from entirely organic ingredients. I named the first one after a classic by some prominent Atlanta naturalists.
So Fresh, So Green
1 ½ oz. Square One Basil Vodka
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. ginger-peppercorn syrup*
Shake with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an organic lime wedge.
* To make the ginger-peppercorn syrup: Combine 3 to 4 oz. of ginger, sliced thin, 1 tsp. black peppercorns, the skin and core of an apple, 2 cups sugar, and 3 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; simmer for about 40 minutes or until syrup has the desired flavor and consistency. Cool completely. Strain.
The SFSG is mild but complex, smooth and drinkable but layered with fruity, leafy, and vegetal flavors. Cooking up your own syrup will introduce a lot of variance in flavor, so don’t be afraid to tweak my proportions accordingly. You’ll know you’ve gotten it right when the end result tastes more like a refreshing-but-potent apéritif, and less like a salad.
Like the favorite crop of its namesake, the SFSG should ease you pleasantly into an evening of Earth Day inebriation, like a wader stepping gingerly into a swimming pool. For your friends or guests who are more keen on diving into the deep end, try this smoky, spicy concoction I named after a temperamental weather system:
1 ½ oz. pepper-infused vodka*
1 ½ oz. tangerine juice [I squeezed organic Minneolas]
1 oz.Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal [i.e., mescal with agave syrup added]
½ oz. agave syrup
Shake with cracked ice. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a vodka-soaked pepper or a dried Fuyu persimmon.
* To make the pepper-infused vodka: Remove the cores and seeds from a habanero, a jalapeño, two serranos, and an Anaheim pepper—preferably while wearing gloves. (Ripe peppers may be best overall, but firmer, crisper ones produce a “green” taste that is not entirely unwelcome in the cocktail, in addition to the heat.) Chop the peppers roughly. Clean and dry a mason jar thoroughly, place the chopped peppers in the bottom of the jar, and fill with an organic vodka (I used Kanon). Screw the lid on to the jar. Let the vodka infuse for 8 to 48 hours—longer infusion will result in more intense, spicier flavor. When the flavor is to your liking, strain the infused vodka. The vodka-soaked peppers can be retained as a garnish.
The key to El Niño is balance. Agave syrup is wickedly sweet, and the mescal in Del Maguey’s crema is brilliantly smoky; those two flavors should balance each other and play off the pointy zing of the citrus before the infusion’s heat kicks in. Like any spicy cocktail worth its salt, EL Niño’s final Scovillian note can prime your palate for an adventurous meal. It can also inspire you to order another round—either to cool the fire on your taste buds or stoke it anew. (Pro tip: the infused vodka also makes a killer Bloody Mary).
As a spokesman for Earth Day’s rebranding initiative, I fully support the latter strategy. By clearing your calendar and spending a boozy evening (or afternoon) at home, you can save fossil fuels, reduce pollution, and generally promote the original spirit of Earth Day—while doing your part to introduce the world to Earth Day 2.0, the next great drinking holiday.
Send all of your favorite infusion recipes, or your suggestions for new drinking holidays, to email@example.com.