Spice’s Farm-to-Cocktail Program

Jodi Soltis has her eyes on some space in the hoop house behind Spice Kitchen & Bar. She envisions growing red-veined sorrel, Mexican sour gherkin cucumbers, and mini-watermelons like the ones in her own garden. But these plants won’t end up on the plate — they’re destined for the bar.

“The farm-to-cocktail program is just as important as farm-to-table for food,” says Soltis, beverage manager for Spice. “Knowing that what’s in your cocktail is organic is just as important, and it’s easy when we have our herbs and other ingredients growing outside in our hoop house. We can just walk outside and get them.”

The drinks are not only tasty, and as local as it gets — the hoop house is just steps from the bar — they’re also works of art in a glass. “I like making things pretty,” she says. “We use a lot of edible flowers as garnishes.”

Pretty and tasty explains the red-veined sorrel. “It has a really beautiful leaf with a very citrusy taste.” And those Mexican sour gerkins? Soltis is imagining the tiny watermelon-like miniatures as garnishes in a cucumber margarita. Off the clock, Soltis’s home-grown mini-watermelons decorate one of her favorite go-to drinks, a strawberry-and-watermelon vodka lemonade.

Home-grown herbs are easy to use, but incorporating ingredients from the Spice Acres farm in the Cuyahoga Valley takes advanced planning. “All of what we do is very seasonally oriented,” Soltis says. “If vegetables are in season, we use them.” Last growing season, she used carrots and beets to make juices for cocktails, and Chef Ben Bebenroth made several batches of ginger bitters with ginger from a Spice Acres hoop house. The bar also used the ginger in a shrub.

“I’m not going to order things when they are not in season, but only when they are delicious, easy to get, and reasonably priced,” says Soltis, noting that they don’t grow all the types of produce needed for the cocktail program. For instance, “we get local berries from other farms, because we don’t produce them yet.”

In early spring, “the biggest ingredients we use are fresh fruit, like blood oranges, grapefruits, fresh lemons, and limes,” says bartender Mikey Ericsson. In May and June, they’ll start seeing herbs from the farm, including thyme, which Ericsson used to create the aromatic, smooth Thyme Trident (see recipe below). Are customers willing to try unusual farm to cocktail creations? “It depends on how much they trust the bartender,” says Ericsson. “If you are really excited about something, people are more willing to try it.”

Thinking of creating your own farm-to-table libations? Vodka can go with nearly anything, says Soltis, although she prefers gin. She also likes pairing bourbon with apples or stone fruits like peaches.

Here are two recipes to help you get started.

Thyme Trident

2 oz. thyme-infused Aquavit (see recipe)
3/4 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Cointreau
Sprig of thyme
Lemon peel

First, make the infused Aquavit. Mix one bottle Aquavit with 8 T diced thyme. Seal in a glass container and let sit for 24 hours, then strain out the thyme.

To make the drink, combine the ingredients and stir. Pour into a chilled glass, and garnish with a lemon peel curled around a small piece of thyme.

From Mikey Ericsson, bartender at Spice Kitchen & Bar.

Spice Tart Margarita

1 1/2 oz. Blanco Tequila
1 oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. raspberry syrup (see recipe)
1/3 oz. St. Germain
Handful of baby arugula

This mixed drink gets its tartness from the lime and its spice from the peppery fresh arugula.

First, make the raspberry syrup. Mix two pints of cleaned raspberries, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water in saucepan. Reduce over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. Strain to remove the seeds and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

To make the drink, add all the ingredients to a shaker tin and hard shake with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a glass filled with ice, and garnish with arugula.

From Erin O’Connell, bar captain at James Beard award-winning at Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN. (Her heart still resides in Northeast Ohio.)