Approaching the end of summer is consistently hard for me. I treasure the summer months with the same savoring quality I did during my elementary summers away from school. It’s not just the heightened summer outdoorsy, free spirited, long days and fire-fly filled nights I woefully see slipping away…it’s the oppressive summer heat, too. I do love it. I’ve lived in Virginia most of my life, and although it’s not the “Deep South”, it’s still plenty hot, humid and muggy during the months of July and August, which are, of course, prime months to be outside frolicking, picnic-ing, going to outdoor concerts, backpacking, hiking, lounging in hammocks, dining al fresco, camping, herb harvesting, gardening….etc. All the outdoor things I’ll miss. And the warmth that comes with it. But in these last few weeks, when the nights are still warm and the humidity is still hovering, I’ll savor the times I get to create late summer cooling spritzers with dashes of herbal bitters to add some refreshing bubbly goodness in the stagnant summer air.
At some point after 6:00pm most days, I want to be sipping on something, Whether it’s a pot of herbal tea or apple cider or yummy wine or fruit flavored kombucha or a cooling spritzer, I find myself pulling out something to imbibe while I’m cooking. Lately, it’s been bubbly spritzers that I spike with fresh fruits and little dashes of mild bitters. These are especially fun to whip up and share because they’re so easy to make, and folks can choose their bitter preference if they want to! I like keeping friends involved when they’re making their own drinks, clearly. I keep a few bottles of single herbal bitters about from Mountain Rose Herbs, including Artichoke, Sage, Gentian & Angelica. These are some classic herbal bitters that range from mild to very bitter and are super fun to play with in mixed drinks or even in kombucha or sparkling water. How to choose? Here’s what I tend towards:
Artichoke (Cynara scolymus): When I want a simple, earthy and ever so slightly salty flavored drink. It’s a solid bitter, a little salty and on the sweeter side of bitters. It tastes best with aromatic flavors, like peppermint or orange liquors or botanical infused beverages. About 5-7 drops will do the trick in a 6 ounce drink. Bonus – artichoke is supportive of liver health, which is a perk considering alcohol is one of the hardest things for your liver to process. Adding a splash of a liver loving herb to your mixed drink is a great way to give your body just a smidge of extra TLC.
Sage (Salvia officinalis): When I want a more savory drink with a botanical flavored twist. Sage tends to be on the energetically drying side, so I like mixing this with drinks that are a bit more watered down (like kombuchas, sparkling waters or juiced drinks). It’s a little aromatic too, and smells delicious in both teas and as an extract! I use about 6-9 drops in a 6 ounce drink.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica): When I want a more aromatic, drink that’s only mildly bitter. This is an interesting taste that I can only liken loosely to celery. It’s light, moderately bitter and quite aromatic. I find it to be stimulating and moving to my circulation, so I add it to drinks when I’m feeling kind of stagnant (or it’s just so, so heavy and hot outside). I use about 6-8 drops in a 6 ounce drink (and this one tastes especially good with added fresh fruits!).
Gentian (Gentiana lutea) – when I want a true classic bitter punch to my drinks. Gentian is considered the king of bitters and is very, very bitter. It’s also a little astringent and energetically cooling. This is a perfect bitter to add to any drink, but stay on the lower end of dosing – about 3 drops should do you juuuuust fine. As this is a true bitter, it will stimulate digestion fairly quickly, so ideally be drinking this with a side of a meal (because your stomach will be asking for that shortly after your start imbibing this one!). More about Gentian here.
For this simple spritzer recipe, I chose to use Angelica along with a pinch of blow-your-mind delicious smoked sea salt for a savory, aromatic and crisp late summer cocktail. The addition of the smoked salt was a game changer! I tend to like things a bit on the saltier side (including my sarcasm), and this adds a hint of smokey flavor to round out the sweetness of the alcohol base. I often use a simple and affordable vino verde as a base, chilled and a little bubbly. I add in whatever fresh fruits are around, like strawberries or blackberries, blueberries, peaches or cherries, and then just a couple of drops of any bitter of my choosing. For a cocktail for a crowd, it doesn’t get much more simple and affordable than this combo.