"It's a sin to mix high quality beers, vodka, rum, and tequila with high fructose syrup," says Trisha Shirey, director of flora and fauna at Lake Austin Spa Resort
. "Quality alcohol needs natural mixers."
At the resort, nestled on 19 acres in Central Texas' Hill Country, Shirey is tapping into a trend in the cocktail world these days: rejecting processed mixers in favor of natural alternatives.
"We take a cue from nature and our own garden for making outstanding naturally flavored beverages or beverage starters," says Shirey, who has been at the resort for 32 years and is also the author of Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest.
"Many commercial mixers are filled with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, colors, and a plethora of chemicals that I prefer to avoid. When you don't skimp on ingredients your cocktails will be fabulous and flavorful."
Many groups have tapped into Shirey's expertise during her cocktail gardening classes, which involve rolling up your sleeves to pick some of the 1,000 species of plants, herbs, vegetables, spices, and wildflowers that fill the organic gardens at Lake Austin Spa Resort. Classes and demonstrations on gardening topics and aromatherapy are also offered weekly at the resort.
Another trend Shirey says is popular now is flavored spirits. And according to Shirey, making such spirits could not be easier. All it takes is choosing your flavoring ingredients, placing them in a glass container, and pouring the spirit of your choice over the ingredients before sealing the container tightly. Gently mix the concoction daily, taking care to remove any fresh herbs before they go bad. When the flavor is to your liking, strain the mixture and discard the flavoring agents. Naturally flavored spirits are at their best for only a short time, so freeze or refrigerate anything you don't consume within a few days.
Spirits With a Kick
Here are a few of Shirey's favorite spirits.
• Lemon verbena (fresh or dried) and Meyer lemon peel with vodka
• Cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and pieces of nutmeg pods with bourbon, which goes great with eggnog
• Chocolate peppermint (dried or fresh) with vodka, the perfect way to make adult hot chocolate
• Rosemary and grapefruit juice with vodka -- just place a single rosemary sprig in 8 ounces of vodka
• Citrus peel (just the colored part, from organic fruit) with vodka or gin
• Lavender buds (fresh or dried) with gin or vodka, add a vanilla bean if desired
Handy Drink Recipes
• 2 cups organic or pure cane sugar
• 2 cups water
• Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until all sugar is dissolved; allow to cool
• 1 cup plant material
• 2 cups quality vodka
• Place in a glass container and allow to stand for a week in a cool, dark place. Strain and discard plants and mix with enough simple syrup for the desired sweetness.
Mint liqueur: dried mint
Lemon verbena: dried verbena leaves
Spice liqueur: cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, cardamom, orange peel
Tuaca: orange peel and vanilla beans
Kahlua: coffee beans, vanilla beans
• Use the peel from 10 to 12 organic Meyer lemons (squeeze and freeze the juice for other uses)
• Mix with 750 milliliters of vodka
• After a week, strain the lemon out and mix with simple syrup
• Same as limoncello, substituting oranges for lemon; Calamondin oranges work best