This is not a story about the origins of the cocktail. Conflicting histories aside, the cocktail, in its earliest bibulous form, was seen as a health-giving tonic or at the very least a drink that would put a spring in your step. And one could say that modern cocktails, at least initially, raise our moods and perceived sense of well-being.
Only recently have bartenders tried to create something that offers a far more healthful result, whether using antioxidant ingredients that promote general wellness or seeking out herbs that are reputed to treat ailments. Any way you mix them, the current crop of medicinal cocktails may be just what the doctor ordered.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great medicinal drinks? Try making the Apple Press from this list at home.
While rye whiskey, Campari and sweet vermouth are familiar cocktail ingredients, sea buckthorn most certainly is not. Halifax executive chef Seadon Shouse adds sea buckthorn to the house-made vermouth that beverage director Carlos Arteaga uses in his version of the Boulevardier.
“The base of the Halifax sweet vermouth is pinot grigio,” says Shouse. “I wanted to start with a neutral-tasting white wine. It gets infused with botanicals and herbs: orange rind, wormwood for bitterness, juniper, rose petals, hibiscus, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, chamomile and then, of course, sea buckthorn, which is native to coastal areas and high in vitamin C and antioxidants. I actually drink it with my tea.”
Soursop, also known as graviola, is a fruit native to Jamaica, ubiquitous in much of its cuisine. It’s known for its many antioxidant benefits, some of which (like an ability to fight cancer) are touted but unproven. What’s indisputable, though, is its high vitamin C count.
The Cloud 9 is a twist on the uber-sweet Bahamian Sky Juice, a traditional gin-based drink with coconut water or coconut milk, condensed or evaporated milk, and spices. Bartender Derrick Blackmon riffs on the concept with fresh antioxidant-rich soursop juice, lime juice and coconut-infused syrup. "This tried-and-true holistic fruit has a culinary history throughout the region, with an underlying texture similar to banana or coconut, balanced by tangy, pineapple-citrus notes,” says Blackmon.
The recently opened Tiger Fork uses the concepts of traditional Chinese medicine—curatives like herbal teas and tonics, which can treat everything from hangovers to headaches to head colds—as a basis for many of its cocktails. Beverage director Ian Fletcher has four of these types of drinks on the current menu, including the whimsically named Peruvian Chef in a Chinese Kitchen.
Pisco forms the spirit base, which is accented by Midori melon liqueur, lulo (similar to nightshade) and orange juice, as well as various roots and berries. It’s the latter ingredients that add the healthful twist, in this case helping to treat anxiety.
Darlene Marcello, the vice president of food, beverage and procurement at Grayson Social, uses a most unorthodox addition to her Sangria. Collagen, in the form of a water-soluble powder, is tasteless in the drink but offers numerous benefits, including increased energy, vibrant skin, improved bone strength and joint health. Rose oil has been shown to improve acne, balance hormones, relieve anxiety and depression and even increase libido.
“We wanted a cocktail with benefits that stood apart from the rest,” says Marcello. “In herbalism, tinctures are made with alcohol. It’s the best agent to extract the most benefits from the herb. So by adding rose essential oil and collagen, we have a delicious cocktail with the added benefits that those elements bring.”
Jason Eisner, the beverage director at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood and Gratitude in Beverly Hills, has made a name for himself by mixing with cannabidiol, or CBD. “Cannabinoids are naturally occurring antioxidants and neuroprotectants found in hemp,” says Eisner. “They can assist your body's healthy regulation of the central nervous, immune and endo-cannabinoid systems. Of the 85-plus non-psychoactive cannabinoids, cannabidiol is the most widely known and has tremendous health benefits."
THC, the component in marijuana that produces the high, is the only psychoactive cannabinoid. Eisner also uses Contratto bitter, which includes aloe, wormwood, cardamom, gentian, hibiscus, enula bell, juniper, mint, rhubarb, sage, swertia, nettle and ginger. Many of these are widely used in homeopathy for their own medicinal benefi
MiniBar head bartender and general manager Jeremy Allen incorporates Laird’s apple brandy, Four Roses bourbon, fresh apple juice, apple cider vinegar and Fee Brothers black walnut bitters into this cocktail. Apple cider vinegar has long been considered healthful with a laundry list of potential benefits, including helping control blood sugar, supporting immune function and aiding digestion. The Apple Press “screams fall/ winter fireplace without being a hot drink,” says Allen. “It incorporates apple cider vinegar, which is helpful in preventing the onset of colds and the flu.”
When creating the Z-Pack, bartender Cari Ha found inspiration in her childhood memories. “In Korea, we drink a lot of medicinal teas and tonics with different herbs and roots for health,” she says. “My parents used to make me drink ginseng and dried jujube tea when I was young, and I always hated it because ginseng is a very strong flavor, especially for a kid, so my mom would add honey to make it more palatable.” Ha infuses honey with real ginseng root and dried jujube, basically a dried Korean date. The honey melds with fresh lemon juice and ginger, as well as blended scotch. Think of it as a Toddy with an attitude.
Mixing your cocktail