We're exploring twelve seasonally-inspired cocktail recipes this year alongside our candle subscription with writer, historian, and cocktail creative Al Culliton.
As I sat down to contemplate this month’s drink and blog post, I referred to our theme words for May — rest, relaxing, and care — and lit the Cotton Magnolia candle to set the mood. With the scent of spring wafting around my writing desk, I felt transported to an idyllic vernal scene, with fresh laundry drying on the line and flowering trees around me. It felt good.
In this moment, something clicked about the magic that spring brings every year. Though it can be a busy time for many of us, there’s something about coming out of hibernation, of feeling the sun on our skin, that helps us to get our priorities straight. Sometimes you just need to take the afternoon off and get outside. It’s in these moments that we embrace the acts of self care that come more naturally in spring. Nature is telling us to let ourselves off the hook.
May: traditional spring outdoor festivities; Source: publicdomainreview
When we refer to medieval calendars and the Labors that depict each month, we see that May focuses on what we might call “spring fever” nowadays. The major themes are falconry (okay, not a modern pursuit for most), courting, and the celebration of May Day, a holiday that originated as a Roman festival celebrating the start of summer and remains a traditional European holiday today. To me, this set of Labors ties with January’s feasting as the most purely pleasurable of all the Labors found in medieval manuscripts. Most of the scenes depict young members of the gentry, in pairs or groups, having a grand old time outdoors. Western Europeans in the high- to late-Middle Ages were obsessed with the idea of courtly love and chivalry, and they produced a great deal of fiction (often in verse) focused on these subjects, like the Tristan and Isolde (also spelled Iseult) and Arthurian romances.
April May courting; Source: Flickr
For this month, I wanted to create a drink that captured this romantic energy and also mirrored all the new sensory experiences that come with May: visual (new flowers, greenery), taste (early shoots, herbs), smell (floral, green), and sound (birds singing). So, I went green, opulent, and fun. My Apium cocktail (apium means parsley in Latin!) delivers visuals, fresh flavor, enticing aroma, and the process (which involves crushing ice) has a bit of noisy fanfare to it.
The Apium is a Cobbler that starts with muddled cucumber, lime, and homemade salted parsley syrup. (See this month’s Drinks 101 info for more on Cobblers.) For the base, I chose a floral, herbaceous blanc vermouth, to which I added smoky mezcal and botanical gin. The drink, which has a pretty pale-green color, is fine strained into a footed glass, goblet, or Collins glass, which is then filled with crushed ice. A generous parsley bouquet, cucumber spear, and lime wheel round out the (very green!) aesthetic of the drink, and more ice is mounded on top for maximum visual effect. It’s a bit romantic, a bit sexy, and fully ready for cocktail hour on a sunny spring evening.
A savory, smoky green Cobbler.
- 1 ½ oz. blanc vermouth
- ¾ oz. gin
- ¾ oz. mezcal
- ½ oz. (scant) salted parsley syrup
- 2 lime wheels, plus 1 more for garnish
- 2 thick slices cucumber, plus 1 cucumber spear for garnish
- Parsley bouquet, for garnish
In a shaker tin, muddle parsley syrup with cucumber slices and lime wheels. Add vermouth, gin, and mezcal. Add plenty of ice, seal shaker, and shake hard for 5 seconds. Double strain (using a regular strainer and fine strainer) into a goblet or Collins glass. Top with plenty of crushed ice, filling to the top of the glass; tuck in a straw. Slap (yes, literally slap!) a bouquet of parsley and tuck it into the ice, along with the reserved lime wheel and cucumber spear. Mound more crushed ice on top and serve.
Salted Parsley Syrup
Yields 1 cup
Prepare a 2:1 salted simple syrup by combining 1 cup white sugar with ½ cup boiling water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk rapidly until sugar and salt are dissolved. If not fully dissolved, heat gently on the stove until just dissolved. Set aside and allow to cool. Separately, set a small pot of water on the stove to boil. Prepare a bowl with ice water for after blanching. Holding 8-10 generous sprigs of parsley by the stems, carefully blanch for 15 seconds. Immediately plunge into the ice water. Pat dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels. Place parsley leaves and the tender parts of stems in a blender with the syrup. Blend for 60 seconds. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and store in an airtight container or bottle in the fridge until ready to use. Syrup will keep for about 1 month.
What's a Cobbler?
A note on Cobblers: This month’s drink — Apium — is a variation on a Cobbler, which is a genre of drinks that originated in the early nineteenth century. They typically use fortified wine (sherry chief among them) as their base, but spirits can also act as a Cobbler base. The wine is shaken with citrus and sugar, strained over crushed ice, and often features an over-the-top garnish of mint, fruits, and citrus wheels. The Cobbler was one of the first cocktails to demand ice as part of its preparation and helped popularize the use of the straw. The cobbler shaker — which features a main chamber, a top with an integrated strainer, and a cap to seal it — is still in use today.
What’s a Lewis bag?
A Lewis bag is a heavy canvas bag designed to help you crush ice neatly. When used in conjunction with a wooden mallet, the Lewis bag contains the ice as you crush it. Crushed ice is often used interchangeably with pebble ice, which requires a special machine to make, and is usually found in specialty cocktail bars, not on your average home bar. The dynamic duo of Lewis bag and mallet is great for the home bartender who loves pre-Civil War Cobblers, Fixes, and Juleps, or those who love to make tropical drinks at home.
This month’s simpler recipe
Looking for a simpler twist or a non-alcoholic option?
- Simple recipe: Muddle a lime wedge and two slices of cucumber with ½ oz. simple syrup. Add 1 oz. gin, 1 oz. Mezcal, and plenty of ice. Shake for 15 seconds. Double strain (using a regular strainer and fine strainer) into a Collins glass. Add regular cube ice and top with tonic. Garnish with a cucumber spear and lime wheel.
- Non-alcoholic version: Muddle two slices cucumber with 1 oz. simple syrup. Add 1 oz. lime juice. Shake for 5 seconds. Double strain (using a regular strainer and fine strainer) into a Collins glass. Add regular cube ice and top with tonic. Garnish with a cucumber spear and lime wheel.