Gardener by day and mixologist by night, Lottie Muir shakes up plant-powered concoctions that have the flavours of nature mingled with the kick of a cocktail.
On summer evenings she sets up the bar in the roof garden she created above Rotherhithe’s Brunel Museum, and, to the delight of The Midnight Apothecary’s punters, serves up the likes of Blackberry Martini, Wild Cherry Manhattan and Grilled Nectarine Smash, the fruits first smoked over the firepit.
Now Muir has gathered her recipes in a book, Wild Cocktails From The Midnight Apothecary (CICO Books), detailing the herbs and flowers to grow so that this summer, we can all pick ‘n’ mix from our own outdoor cocktail cabinets.
“Just one window box of rosemary, lavender and scented geraniums will give you some great basics for infusions, syrups and garnishes,” says Muir.
“Rosemary goes well with gin. Stems of upright rosemary make great swizzle sticks and the deep blue flowers of rosemary Feta Blue are a beautiful garnish. You can infuse lavender flowers — Munstead is especially fragrant — in gin or vodka, six teaspoons to a one-litre bottle. Test it for taste, every hour up to five hours. No longer, or it will get bitter.”
The leaves of scented geraniums, both rose and lemon varieties, she uses for liqueurs as well as infusing in sugar to make a sweet rim around a glass, and picks the velvety leaves of variety Lemon Fancy to flavour limoncello made from vodka, lemon zest, sugar and lavender buds.
Botanical cocktails should be an orgy for the senses, believes Muir, with garnishes providing flavour, aroma and texture. “Think shoots, leaves, fronds and flowers, such as peppery nasturtium blooms, which we also infuse in golden rum,” she says. “Add egg white to make a foamy float for flowers. We weave the fronds of bronze fennel into a tall glass of ice cubes and when we add the drink they look like seaweed in a rock pool.”
Lemon balm is worth growing because you can use the vibrant green leaves instead of mint in a mojito. And the dainty foliage of lemon verbena makes an exquisite syrup, adds Muir, with raspberries, as well as a great rub ‘n’ sniff garnish. If you have paving stones, Muir suggests growing horseradish between them to contain the root, and then you have, in an infusion with black cardamom, a va-va-voom base for the ultimate Bloody Mary.
If you have a patch of shade, you can grow tiny aromatic strawberries for a Rose and Wild Strawberry Daiquiri, and plant chocolate mint in a bucket so you can sip chocolate mint julep on the patio. Sorrel spreads in the border, but that’s no bad thing, because Muir says it adds a great sour-lemon note. You just smack a leaf between your palms — a better technique for muddling, she says, than bashing with a wooden spoon, which makes leaves bitter — and drop it into a G&T.
It’s a walk in the park to gather beech leaves for a gin and brandy noyau or elderflowers for an elegant liqueur. Forage fruits of the forest from Waitrose or your garden for the best Bellinis: “If you can create pulp and juice from the fruit, you can use it,” says Muir, who makes a mean Jam Bellini from blackberry puree, serving it in a jam jar.
What it’s really all about, says Muir, is getting back to nature in the city, sitting around a firepit outdoors, surrounded by the plants that are used to infuse and decorate the cocktails. “Scatter the seeds, harvest the bounty, stick it in a glass, light a fire and invite the people. They will come and they will love it!”
Wild Cocktails From The Midnight Apothecary costs £16.99, but readers can buy it for £11.99, including p&p, by calling 01256 302699 (quote code CQ1)
The Midnight Apothecary is open Saturday evenings, 5.30pm-10.30pm from Easter weekend to the end September. For details, visit www.brunel-museum.org.uk