This Winter, Bartenders Around the World Are Slinging Up Herbal Cocktails
It's time to rethink everything you know about herbal tonics. Botanical bars are popping up all over the world, turning herbs, plants, and flowers into show-stopping cocktail mix-ins. But don't mistake this nascent trend as a simple extension of the farm-to-table movement. Botanical cocktails are about broadening the flavor wheel for bartenders—without leaning on sweet, sugary, or artificial ingredients.
According to Miguel Aranda, who helped kick off the trend at his three-year-old bar Botanic Lab on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the benefits go beyond taste. “Nowadays everyone wants to eat and drink healthier,” he explained, and cocktails are no exception. These are as natural and organic as they come.
Plus, with artisanal gin distillers using everything from sumac to seaweed in their recipes, bartenders have plenty of new sources for inspiration. “The ideas keep on coming,” says Julien Foussadier, general manager of London’s Holborn Dining Room, where G&T's get infused with thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and lavender.
Here are five of the most noteworthy bars that are, um, planting evidence for our favorite new drink trend.
Le Bar Botaniste, Paris
Prince Roland Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-nephew, was such an avid botanist that he laid claim to the largest private plant collection of his time. Now his former home is the tony Shangri-La Hotel in Paris’s 16th arrondissement—and the property’s new hotspot, Le Bar Botaniste, pays homage to Bonaparte’s green thumb. The design is anchored by a small vertical garden; vials and jars filled with herbaceous ingredients line the bar.
Drink This: Rare spirits such as Génépi by Les Pères Chartreux—made from a piney plant that flourishes only in the high altitudes of the French Alps—are a highlight of this menu. Try it in the Genesis, a refreshing twist on the Moscow Mule that’s infused with kaffir leaves, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and Lebanese cucumber.
Botanic Lab, New York
This artsy, retro-looking Lower East Side bar prepares all its infusions and juices in house to ensure quality and freshness. And while the bartenders can get creative with their concoctions—think, transforming a Julep with Japanese yuzu or adding saffron to a G&T—they’ll be happy to whip you up a sharp classic if you’re not feeling too adventurous.
Drink This: Inspired by the colors and aromas of the New York Botanical Garden, the Bed of Roses is one of the bar’s most popular, thanks to its super floral profile. It’s made with rose-infused gin and Iranian rose syrup and balanced out with lime juice and gingery Domaine de Canton.
Xaman, Mexico City
In trendy Juarez, subterranean Xaman has become an overnight classic. And why not? It has a dark, moody vibe that drips of sex appeal. Potted plants are scattered all over—at the bar, on the tables, on the shelves. The name (pronounced shaman) is a reference to Mexico’s pre-Columbian history, when wild-in-nature ingredients were a culinary cornerstone. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the cocktails feature indigenous botanicals such as hibiscus, aromatic hierba santa, and Mexican red pepper.
Drink This: The Xaman 3.0 proves that not all botanicals share a single (herbaceous) flavor profile. It starts with briny tequila that’s steeped with spirulina—then comes a punch of acidity from fresh limes and sweetness from pear juice.
Holborn Dining Room, London
The months-old Gin Bar inside the Rosewood London’s Holborn Dining Room now has the city’s largest gin collection with roughly 400 labels. Add to that an extensive pantry of herbs, flowers, and spices—many grown on a rooftop garden—and the bar staff can create more than 14,035 different gin and tonics. With so many options, the bartenders must act like sommeliers: For each drink, they purposefully pair artisanal tonics and garnishes with small-batch spirits.
Drink This: The London No. 1 is like a garden in a glass. It’s anchored by a gin distilled with 12 different botanicals from all over the world, including iris blossoms that give the drink a light, ethereal blue tint. A subtle Double Dutch tonic lets you appreciate all those complex flavors, and a dehydrated lemon topper gives emphasis to the gin’s floral characteristics.
The bar program at this French countryside-inspired spot in Greenpoint is overseen by Maison Premiere alum Will Elliott, whose cocktails orbit around botanical aperitifs such as mildly sweet Aveze Gentian and herbaceous Argala Pastis. Elliott describes his drinks as untamed and unprocessed—no doubt a nod to the flavorful wild plants and pungent herbs that can be found in the artisanal liqueurs he favors.
Drink This: Bitter Storm Over Ulm combines Aveze—made from flowers that grow in France’s Volcans d'Auvergne national park—with minty absinthe and Borsci San Marzano Elisir Italian Liqueur, which gently recalls the bittersweet flavor of coffee beans to create a drink that’s vegetal and slightly bitter with just a hint of spice.