The farm-to-table culinary trend led naturally enough to farm-to-glass drinks, with mixologists highlighting farmers market finds and locally sourced fruit, vegetables and sometimes even meats (think heritage bacon Bloody Marys). The next ripple, however, might best be called forager-to-glass cocktails.
"What we're talking about is an apothecary-style bar program of foraged botanicals," says Lauren Mote, a Canadian mixologist and drinks consultant who is championing the idea.
Mote is a partner in Kale & Nori, a Vancouver-based catering and events company that specializes in avant garde mixology. Along with her Kale & Nori business partner, chef Jonathan Chovancek, and fellow Vancouver cocktail experts Danielle Tatarin and David Wolowidnyk, she's leading a session at Tales of the Cocktail titled "A Forager's Pharmacy." She'll introduce the concept and explore the possibilities of working with everything from wild flowers to local spices, foliage and even tree bark. Though some of her ingredients might raise eyebrows, the drinks start with traditional cocktails and build from there.
"Like any good bartender, you have to have a foundation on the classics, which gives some familiarity back to the customer and grounds it," she says.
One of her favorite examples is the marigold gimlet, which is based on the well-known gin cocktail. For this foraged variation, however, she replaces lime cordial (typically the popular commercial brand Rose's) with fresh lime and a handmade marigold cordial.
"You've taken out some of the sugar from that lime cordial, you replace it with rhubarb bitters and ginger syrup to round it all out, and then you add rose petals on top that brings this floral element," Mote says. "So, it's completely different but still unmistakably a gimlet."
Earlier this year, Kale & Nori launched a line of artisan tinctures, called Bittered Sling Extracts (the name comes from an early 19th-century reference to the cocktail), but Mote encourages curious bartenders to experiment with what they can forage and find at home. Her own cocktails might call for extracts made from pansies, lilacs, grand fir tips or cherry blossoms, which are a regional obsession around Vancouver.
"People buy or pick flowers and want to keep them around because they're so pretty," Mote says. "We turn it into a cordial that brings the color, the flavor and the integrity of the flower to the cocktail."
This blend of herbs and alcohol harkens back to the ancient traditions of the apothecary, that forerunner of the modern pharmacy. Chartreuse, originally a medicinal herb elixir made by Carthusian monks in France starting in the 18th century, is one widely recognized and broadly available example of a curative by way of a stiff drink. But even the evolution of bitters, that bartender's staple, traces its roots back to the dispensary. In fact, the owners of Cure, the craft cocktail destination on Freret Street, originally planned to name their lounge Apothecary in recognition of the cocktail's heritage.
Another of Mote's forager-focused creations is an update on the classic sidecar. Called the hover car, this one mixes cognac and bitters, chai, vanilla, Lillet (an herb-infused fortified wine) and lemon juice.
If some of these forager-to-glass cocktails seem to front-load a bit of the restorative goodness you'd expect from hangover cures, though, Mote says it's a mistake to read any literal medicinal qualities into the drinks.
"We don't present this as a cure for anything," she says. "We're not medical people. But sometimes just thinking about these flowers and herbs makes people feel good. The body knows they're good for you and it responds."