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Raising a glass to cocktail recipes

Health benefits hide in mixed drinks

- Story by Ellie Shortt Photography by Lia Crowe

I have a confession to make: I enjoy coming up with cocktail concoctions slightly more than I do food recipes. Perhaps it’s because the task is a tad novel since I’m a food writer and nutritionist, or maybe it’s because I bartended for about 10 years to help support my schooling and early stages of my career—either way, muddling, shaking, stirring and pouring holds a special place in my heart.

I am by no means a true mixologist, but as a recipe developer I do understand the art of finding balanced and pleasing flavour combinations. I also love entertaining. Granted, it’s something I haven’t been able to do for a while thanks to pandemic life (not to mention being a new mom), but I have historically liked to have a cocktail ready for arriving guests to sip and distract while I put the final touches on the meal.

Another less obvious advantage of coming up with my own concoctions is that I can experiment with certain hidden benefits of boozy libations. Alcoholic beverages have a long history of “curing what ails you,” and while some attributions are simply superstition or merely wishful thinking, many brews offer opportunities for more than just a blissful buzz.

Digestifs traditionally help prime the belly for an abundant meal, while apéritifs may similarly settle the stomach following an overindulgent feast, and raw ferments have long been recognized as offering a boost to one’s microbiome. Bitters ease digestive discomfort, as does the vinegary tang of shrubs—two elements often incorporated in many cocktails, including a couple of the ones featured here. But the greatest benefit of all, perhaps? The smile that spreads across your face after those first couple sips, and that joyful celebratory feeling that overtakes your body as a glass is raised with loved ones.

Because I love creating cocktails so much, I have a vast anthology of options and choosing just a few to share here was an admittedly tormenting task. As an attempt to focus this undertaking, and recognizing that this is in fact a food column, I went with a much-loved culinary theme: fruit and herbs.

While mint may be what commonly comes to mind in the cocktail realm, unexpected herbs usually reserved for savoury dishes—like rosemary, thyme, tarragon and basil—often offer a layer of sophistication and intrigue to an otherwise tiresome tipple. My favourite method of infusing the flavours of herbs into a cocktail is to do just that: take a handful of your select herb, shove it into a bottle of booze of choice, let it sit overnight and strain the next day. Now, if you’re working with top-shelf liquor, and are only making a drink or two, you might not be so keen on tainting the whole batch, so in this case I suggest separating out what you’d like to infuse and combining it in a sealable glass jar with a smaller sprig of your choosing.

Of course, without implementing this method you can still enjoy herbaceous benefits, whether you muddle, shake or simply stir it in, depending on the specific drink and level of botanical intensity you’re seeking. I just find it provides a depth to the flavour profiles presented in the following offerings. I should also mention that many of these can be made non-alcoholic by either leaving out the liquor altogether or substituting your favourite zero-proof spirit.

So whether you’re beginning to invite friends and family into your homes again and are looking for a fun new refreshment to try together, or if you’re still more comfortable sipping and savouring solo or with your immediate household, I encourage you to raise a toast to making it through an unprecedented, challenging 18 months with an enthusiastic and meaningful salud, prost, kampai or l’chaim…however it is you like to raise a glass to good health.

Smokey Rosemary + Fig Old Fashioned

Prep time: 10 minutes (plus optional overnight soak)

Makes 1 cocktail

What you’ll need…

2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 ripe fig

1 tsp maple syrup



lighter or match

cocktail shaker

short rocks glass

optional garnishes: sliced fig, rosemary

How to make it…

Optional overnight infusion: In a sealable glass container or directly in the bottle, combine some bourbon (or rye) and rosemary and let it sit overnight. Strain and set aside.

Place a sprig of fresh rosemary over top of some chopped fig on a flat plate. Hold the flame to the rosemary sprig until it catches fire (if it won’t light, dry it in the oven for 10 minutes or so on low heat). Place a rocks glass over the rosemary sprig and chopped fig, and let it rest for 5 minutes. Turn the glass over and release the smoke. Add the smoked fig to a shaker and muddle to a pulp. Add bourbon (or rye), maple syrup and a couple of dashes of bitters to the shaker and give it a good shake. Add ice to the rocks glass and strain the contents of the shaker over ice. Add sliced fig and a sprig of rosemary for the garnish.

*Note: If you usually find an Old Fashioned a bit too strong, topping the drink with some soda water really helps. It’s a different drink, but you still get to enjoy the flavour offerings of this concoction without such a punch.

Watermelon Mint Shrub

Prep time: 5 minutes (plus optional overnight soak)

Makes 4 cocktails

What you’ll need…

8 oz vodka

½ cup water

pinch of cardamom

pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp honey

1 cup coarsely chopped watermelon

a handful of fresh mint

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar


sparkling water

medium-sized glass

optional garnishes: leftover watermelon chunks,

sliced cucumber, mint

How to make it…

Optional overnight infusion: In a sealable glass container, or directly in the bottle, combine some vodka and mint and let it sit overnight. Strain and set aside.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add cardamom, salt and honey, stir to dissolve, and remove from the heat. Combine the watermelon and mint in a large bowl. Stir in the honey-water and let cool to room temperature, then add the vinegar. Steep the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Strain the mixture and set aside the watermelon cubes to use for an optional garnish, or just snack on them as you please. Fill a glass with ice and pour 2 oz of vodka and one-quarter cup of the concentrate over top. Top with about three-quarters cup sparkling water and garnish with the watermelon, cucumber and mint.

*Note: Shrubs are great as non-alcoholic tonics as well, so if you or your guests are avoiding the hard stuff, just leave out the vodka and enjoy as is!

Spiced Pear + Thyme Zinger

Prep time: 5 minutes (plus optional overnight soak)

Makes 2 cocktails

What you’ll need…

4 oz rum (I’ve made this with both white and spiced rum before, both offering something different)

a few sprigs of thyme

4 oz pear puree (or well muddled pear if

you don’t have a blender)

¼ cup honey

¼ cup water

1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

a cinnamon stick

a couple whole cloves

8 oz kombucha (plain or ginger flavoured seem to work best)

medium-sized glass

optional garnishes: sliced pear, cinnamon stick, thyme

How to make it…

Optional overnight infusion: In a sealable glass container, or directly in the bottle, combine some rum and thyme and let it sit overnight. Strain and set aside.

In a small saucepan combine honey, water and ginger. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring until honey dissolves into the water. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a container, discarding the ginger, cloves and cinnamon stick, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Combine 2 ounces of rum, 2 ounces of pear puree (or muddled pear) and honey ginger syrup with ice in the shaker and give it a quick shake. Pour the mixture into a glass and top with 4 ounces of kombucha (more or less depending on how big your glass is and how strong you like your drinks). Add pear slices, a cinnamon stick and a sprig of thyme to garnish.

*Note: I find this drink equally as delicious on ice or fully strained more like a martini, hence the ambiguity in the directions. If you’re muddling the pears, try transferring the whole contents of the shaker, ice and all, into the glass so you still get the full flavour of the pears as you sip. However, if you’re using a silky smooth puree try it strained and simply chilled from the shaking process. Or play around with it and see which one you prefer!

Blackberry Basil Sparkler

Prep time: 5 minutes (plus optional overnight soak)

Makes 1 cocktail

What you’ll need…

1 oz gin

a basil leaf or two, sliced

a ripe blackberry or two

½ oz honey

½ oz fresh lemon juice

sparkling white wine, prosecco or

champagne (about 2 or 3 oz)

champagne flute, prosecco glass or similar

optional garnish:: lemon twist

How to make it…

Optional overnight infusion: in a sealable glass container or directly in the bottle, combine some gin and basil and let it sit overnight. Strain and set aside.

In the bottom of your glass, place a blackberry and some sliced basil, top with honey, lemon juice and gin, and gently muddle (the back of a thin wooden mixing spoon works great for this).

Top with your sparkling beverage of choice and garnish with a twist of lemon.

*Note: A take on a French 75, this is a great welcome cocktail for guests. I like to prepare the base of the cocktail ahead of time (so, the muddled mix of blackberry, basil, lemon juice, honey and gin) and then just top as each guest arrives.

Tangerine + Tarragon Tequila Sunrise

Prep time: 5 minutes (plus optional overnight soak)

Makes 1 cocktail

What you’ll need…

2 oz blanco tequila

4 oz tangerine juice, freshly squeezed (you can really use any sort of orange, I just liked how it sounded in the name)

1 oz pomegranate juice

a few sprigs of tarragon


tall rocks glass

optional garnishes: tangerine/orange slices,

orange twist, tarragon

How to make it…

Optional overnight infusion: In a sealable glass container, or directly in the bottle, combine some tequila and tarragon and let it sit overnight. Strain and set aside.

In a glass filled with ice, add the tequila, top with the tangerine juice and then the pomegranate juice, which will sink to the bottom of the glass, creating a layered effect. Add tangerine/orange slices, orange twist and a sprig of tarragon for the garnish.

*Note: I use pomegranate juice instead of the classic grenadine in this recipe. I find it offers a more sophisticated and satisfying flavour profile, and isn’t quite as sweet. However, as someone who likes things even less on the sweet side, I often mellow it out with a bit of soda water as well.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication
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