Many cocktailers dream of a long sabbatical in Southeast Asia complete with exotic flavors, sights and people. This fantasy trip is of the bucket list varietal and out of reach for most. Fortunately, Miami bartenders are bringing Thai delights closer to home with the help of local farms and their remarkable herbs.
Cricket Nelson of the new The Cypress Room by Michael Schwartz revels in using Thai basil -- a sweet herb with hints of licorice -- in gin cocktails to enhance the essential botanicals in the dynamic spirit.
“I love the fragrance and surprise of garnishing with the purple flower heads. They add an elegant touch and a subtle scent that draws you to the glass while suggesting what’s about to cross your lips,” said Nelson.
Spear-like leaves resembling Italian basil surround the edible purple blossoms that have a tendency to excite the nose with a distinct clove-like aroma.
While it’s not listed in the cocktail menu at The Cypress Room, Ryan Goodspeed, beverage director for the Genuine Hospitality Group, says the culinary herb is “always in-house.”
Grab a seat at the bar and ask Nelson to make you what she likes to call the “Love Game,” a cocktail she debuted at the Sony Ericsson Open this year. It’s a combination of Bombay Sapphire East (new gin featuring Asian botanicals), rose-infused Earl Grey syrup, fresh lemon juice, fresh Thai basil leaves, and a splash of club soda in a Collins glass. The Thai basil leaves gradually exploit the lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorns featured in Sapphire East, the first addition to Bombay’s line in 25 years. To garnish, she adds a sprig of the purple flowers along with a rose bud and a slice of lemon.
If you want to experiment with the herb in cocktails at home, Nelson suggests heading to Whole Foods Market or any Asian market in the area. However, she prefers sourcing her Thai basil and other herbs, edible flowers and produce from Teena’s Pride, a third generation farm with a popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Homestead.
“At other bars around town, Thai basil pokes its flavorful head out of cocktails at The Broken Shaker, where they grow their own herbs, and at Khong River House,” said Nelson.
Bar manager Will Rivas switches things up at Khong’s gin-centric bar with a variation of Thai basil called Holy basil, which boasts a strong minty flavor and actually looks like mint. It’s presented in his “Very Thai Gimlet:” Martin Miller’s gin (easy on the juniper and heavy with citrus) and homemade lime galangal preserve (reminiscent of ginger root, but packs a peppery punch).
Rivas and the folks at Khong are commendably authentic. They maintain a strong relationship with Thai Farms in Homestead, which grows papaya, guava and a small amount of the beloved and hard-to-find Holy basil that the farmers are kind enough to share with Chef Bee.
As you envision your trip to Thailand, contemplate this: Homestead is just an hour away, we share the same climate, and there’s a peaceful Buddhist temple near Teena’s Pride and Thai Farms. Why not take a field trip to forage for cocktail necessities? If you do end up visiting the monks at Wat Buddharangsi, it’s recommended to save the drinks for later.
Galena Mosovich is the lead writer for cocktail culture for Miami.com and The Miami Herald.