Tequila! I could go for some right now. So of course, the folks at Log House Plants also put together a collection of plants based around the flavors in tequila. They’re a wholesale nursery, so they’re growing the plants for sale at retail garden centers and gourmet grocery stores on the West Coast. Look for them in your local indie garden center/grocery store, or order them online from the Territorial Seed Company, who has joined in this effort and put together a great collection of cocktail-friendly plants and seeds.
Here are the plants in our Heart of Agave Tequila Garden collection:
Sage ‘Grower’s Friend’
Pepper ‘Jalapeno Peguis’
Watermelon ‘Petite Treat’
Read on for recipes, growing tips, and more:
Growing tips and cocktail ideas: Sage
The sage to grow is Salvia officinalis, often sold as common sage, garden sage, or culinary sage. You’ll see burgundy, gold, and variegated varieties sold in garden center, but if you’re serious about growing this plant for its flavor, stick with the ordinary silvery-blue variety. I like a cultivar called ‘Grower’s Friend’ because it rarely blooms. The level of essential oil drops after blooming—this is true of many herbs—so pinching back flower buds becomes a chore if you want more leaves for cooking and cocktailing.
Plant sage in full sun or afternoon shade, and don’t fuss too much over the soil—it actually tastes better if it’s grown in lean, sandy, dry soil. It’s hardy to about 0 degrees F, and with a glass cloche or some other kind of frost protection it might even tolerate lower winter temps. In spring, wait until you see new leaves unfurling, then cut the old, dead wood down to where the new growth is starting. Sage is not a long-lived plant—you’ll want to replace it after about four years. Oh, and it’s particularly good in tequila drinks.
Growing tips and cocktail ideas: Pepper
As with tomatoes, the trick to growing peppers for cocktails is to choose a variety that is small enough to fit in the glass as a garnish. It’s also important you actually like the pepper; there’s no point growing hot peppers if you can’t stand spicy cocktails.
A good hot pepper variety to try is ‘Peguis,’ a heavy producer of large, green jalapeño-style peppers. For sweet peppers I like ‘Cherry Pick,’ a small, round, red pepper that matures early, making it a good option for chilly summers like I have in northern California.
In any case, give peppers full sun and protection from the wind. If the summer gets off to a slow start, you might even consider giving them a little shelter behind a cold frame. Even using an old glass window as a lean-to to above the pepper plant can give it a little extra shelter and warmth. Like tomatoes, they need rich soil amended with plenty of compost, a granular organic fertilizer formulated for vegetables, and regular water. Uneven watering in temperature swings can stress the plant out and keep it from blooming or producing fruit.
I use slices of peppers in a lot of vodka, gin, and tequila drinks, and I’ve found the flavor to be pretty stable in infused vodkas. Don’t go overboard with the heat, however. Even if you love spicy drinks is much as I do, an incredibly spicy infused vodka can just be overpowering. Dial it back a little and add extra spicy pepper when you make the drink if you really want it.
Growing tips and cocktail ideas: Watermelon
If you’re growing melons specifically for a cocktail garden, it really make sense to look for small-fruited varieties. Better to have a steady supply of small melons on hand than two or three jumbo fruits that took all season to ripen. There’s a beautiful heirloom watermelon called ‘Small Shining Light’ that tolerates short, cool growing seasons and produces 10-inch fruit. ‘Sugar Baby’ is another small, icebox-style watermelon you might try. I also like ‘Minnesota Midget,’ a miniature cantaloupe bred to tolerate short seasons.
No matter what variety you grow, remember to give them at least 4 to 5 feet of growing room in every direction, and to plant them on top of a mound of rich soil amended with plenty of compost. I love melons in tequila and rum drinks, but I’m sure you’ll find a use for them in vodka and gin drinks as well. Melon infused vodka is a wonderful thing, but the flavors don’t stay stable for long, so mix up a small batch that you can use within a month or so.
Growing tips and cocktail ideas: Rosemary
If you live in our mild West Coast climate, rosemary is practically a weed. Just buy a plant and stick it in the ground and you’ll have it forever. In fact, it takes temperatures below about -20F to kill it. Look for the upright form of rosemary, not the trailing groundcover variety. The favorites among chefs are ‘Barbeque‘ or ‘Tuscan Blue’, with wide, aromatic leaves, ‘Roman Beauty’, a compact variety bred to have higher essential oil content (also sold as ‘Chef’s Choice’), and ‘Arp’, which is the most cold-hardy of the bunch. If you’re really crazy about rosemary, ‘Spice Island’ was once grown for commercial production and reaches six feet tall.
The plant needs practically no care—just give it full sun, minimal water, and clip it to whatever shape you please. Rosemary and watermelon are surprisingly good together in tequila-based drinks.
Topiary: Muddle 1.5 oz tequila, juice of ½ lime, dash of simple syrup, cucumber, rosemary. Shake over ice & strain into glass with ice. Top with tonic or club soda.
Growing tips and cocktail ideas: Mint
Okay, margaritas don’t actually call for mint, but who can resist a mint called ‘Margarita Mint’?
Indispensable in mojitos and juleps, and generally useful in any drink that combines fruit and alcohol, mint adds a little botanical complexity to what can otherwise taste like a juice box for adults.
Look for spearmint, not peppermint or any other kind of mint. Grab ‘Kentucky Colonel’ if you can; it produces large, fragrant leaves and isn’t quite as invasive as other mints. Keep it in a pot against the house where it gets some protection from frost and you’ll probably have mint all year long. ‘Mojito Mint’ is another good variety to try–according to the catalog copy, it comes to us courtesy of tourists visiting Cuba who had the courage to pluck a sprig of mint from their drinks and bring it home. That’s right, it’s the authentic Cuban cultivar, only recently cultivated for sale in the nursery trade. You can get it from Territorial.
To keep it from spreading, grow it in a pot (you can bury the pot in the ground, leaving 2-3 inches of the rim aboveground, if you prefer), or plant it in one of those small areas hemmed in by concrete on all sides that everybody seems to have around their house somewhere. Give it regular water, and cut off an entire stalk, not individual leaves, when you’re ready to use it. If, after a few years, the mint starts to seem tough and bitter, dump the whole thing out of the pot, extract a few young side shoots, and re-pot just those shoots. The new plant will be sweet and tender again.
Tequila Limon: Muddle 1.5 oz tequila and mint. Pour into tall glass filled with ice, top with carbonated lemonade. Garnish with mint.
And now–on to the recipes!
1.5 oz 100% agave tequila
2 oz pineapple juice (fresh if possible)
.5 oz agave nectar or simple syrup
2-3 fresh jalapeño slices
2-3 sage leaves
½ small lime
Optional: Club soda or lemon-lime soda
Squeeze lime into cocktail shaker and add other ingredients. Muddle sage leaves and peppers to release the flavors. Shake well over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Optional variation: Pour into a tall, skinny Collins glass over ice and top with soda to taste.
1.5 oz 100% agave añejo or reposado tequila
.5 oz Sage-honey syrup (see note)
½ lemon, preferably a Meyer lemon
Sage leaf for garnish
Note: To make sage-honey syrup, combine equal parts hot water and honey, and add fresh sage leaves. Allow to steep for one hour before using.
Squeeze lemon into cocktail shaker and add the other ingredients. Shake well with ice and strain into a glass over ice. Add garnish.
Agave y Sandia
1.5 oz 100% agave tequila
.5 oz Combier or another orange liqueur
4-5 chunks fresh watermelon
¼ fresh lime
3-4 sprigs‘Margarita’ spearmint or rosemary
Optional: fresh jalapeño slice
Reserve a chunk of watermelon or herb sprig for garnish. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and crush with a muddler or wooden spoon, being sure to release all the watermelon juice. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Add garnish.
Are you growing your own cocktail garden? Here’s what I’ve got going in mine: