The Spirits: lavender-infused drinking
Richard Godwin's cocktail adventures take him on a scented journey to Provence.
The delicate scent of early summer is in the air, at last, and it is hard to resist the call to inaction. Most of us are unable to disappear to the south of France, to spend until July following butterflies around thyme-scented hillsides. However, we are lucky enough to be able to consume that particular idyll in liquid form.
Herbal drinking is having a minor vogue. A lavender sprig is now the classiest G&T garnish. The Grill on the Market in Smithfield is offering a "herb garden" cocktail menu, matching sage- and jasmine-tinged cocktails to its dishes. Tim Hope-Cobbold, who makes Boxer Gin, has been foraging for the English wild herb, borage, to create a new liqueur. Pleurat Shabani, of Konik's Tail vodka, is planning a summer trip to Poland's Bialowieza forest to find herbs for his own elixir.
The emperor of herbal spirits remains Green Chartreuse, the praises of which I rarely tire of singing. Since 1764 it has been produced in Voiron, France, by Carthusian monks who dedicate themselves to God by distilling an elixir of 130 herbal extracts to a puissant 55 per cent ABV. It is much prized by bartenders for its mixing qualities, and a vital part of this summer's It-cocktail, the Last Word: equal parts Chartreuse, maraschino, gin and lime juice, shaken up.
And it is prized by writers for its green-tinged mysticism. It features in The Great Gatsby (Gatsby keeps a bottle in his study) and in the novel's English cousin, Brideshead Revisited. Anthony Blanche, the stuttering aesthete, describes its charms to Charles Ryder thus: "Real G-g-green Chartreuse, made before the expulsion of the monks. There are five distinct tastes as it trickles over the tongue. It is like swallowing a sp-spectrum."
I am also developing a pash for the artisanal liqueurs of Distilleries et Domaines de Provence, which specialises in bottling the French countryside. Its Farigoule de Thym has a lovely pale golden colour and the smell of a Provençal meadow, wild thyme with a hint of lavender. It is dry and complex, rather like drinking a moreish sort of aftershave. Génépi d'Armoises is lighter and sweeter, with a pine-cone aftertaste. It is apparently made from an infusion of artemesia, a genus which includes mugwort and the hallucinogenic wormwood (both are available from thedrinkshop.com).
They are traditionally drunk after dinner - but I see no reason why they would not work with tonic as an aperitif, or mixed into a Last Word in place of the Chartreuse. That's just enough oomph to kick you into a new frame of mind.
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