“Look at these beautiful strawberries,” Jason Hedges said to me as we entered the Union Square Greenmarket earlier this season. “They’re a promise of everything that’s going to be coming in the summertime.” I didn’t have to look far. The smell of the sweet red fruit carried quickly through the air on the breezy June morning. We approached the stand and inspected the strawberries. Although they looked perfect, we decided to take a lap around the market before purchasing a pint.
Hedges agreed to meet me at the farmers market so we could talk about his new book, The Seasonal Cocktail, while shopping for ingredients so I could try a couple of the libations at home. The veteran bartender has led cocktail programs at some of the city’s best restaurants, but it was his time at Gotham Bar and Grill that propelled him toward creating drinks with a seasonal lean. “I was working as a bar director there, and Alfred Portale had a menu that was just riddled with all seasonality,” Hedges says. “He had a whole menu page that just was dedicated to the Union Square Greenmarket, and so I got really excited about that and took it as a provocation to echo what he was doing in the kitchen on the beverage side.”
If you shop at the farmers market and try to eat seasonally, then you understand the joy of asparagus in the spring, summertime peaches and a burst of bright citrus in the middle of winter. And the majority of produce also tastes better when it’s grown nearby and hasn’t spent a week traveling cross-country in a refrigerated truck. If food is that much more delicious in-season, then cocktails must be, too.
That’s the whole ethos behind Hedges’s bar philosophy and The Seasonal Cocktail. The book is broken down into four seasons, and the second half focuses on education — a breakdown of spirits used in the book, tools and techniques and recipes for modifying ingredients (like shrubs and syrups). Original photography is accompanied by beautiful illustrations from Hedges’s wife, Sonya.
6 Boozy Cherry Recipes for Cocktails and BeyondYou will thank yourself in winter for doing this surprisingly simple DIY garnish project now
We finally circle back to the strawberries, which I promptly buy so I can make the strawberry shrub that goes into the Nothing to Get Hung About cocktail. “It’s kind of an homage to Strawberry Fields in Central Park and The Beatles,” Hedges says. “I thought that the name ‘Strawberry Fields’ would be a little too cliche.” Even though our farmers market trip was at the end of spring, this shrub lasts for six months in the fridge, meaning I’ll be sipping those fresh strawberries well into late fall.
As we crossed to the other side of the market, I noticed petite bulbs of fennel that would be perfect for Hedges’s Spring Gibson. “Two of my favorite things: Martinis and fennel,” Hedges says. “I started working on [this drink] around this time last spring and was foraging for ramps while spending a month in New Paltz, New York. It was my young son who found them; we realized there were wild ramps growing everywhere. So we cleaned them and put them in a pickling solution. I was like, ‘OK, this is gonna be a great Gibson.’”
While ramp season had passed by the time we met at the market, Hedges said a caper berry would be a fine substitute to garnish the Spring Gibson, so I bought the fennel to infuse gin for the cocktail. While the following libations are both in the spring section of The Seasonal Cocktail, if you can find fresh fennel and strawberries in your area, they are certainly worth a try — even though the season has passed. And if you want to see what it’s really like to drink with the seasons, the book is certainly worth a read.
Nothing to Get Hung About
- 2 oz. Bols Barrel Aged Genever
- 3/4 oz. lemon juice
- 3/4 oz. strawberry shrub
- 1/2 oz. Aperol
- 1/4 oz. Zucca
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups ripe strawberries, sliced
- 5 oz. apple cider vinegar
For the strawberry shrub
In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine 1 cup of water with 1 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved. Add 2 cups of sliced ripe strawberries. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and let rest for a few minutes. Strain, pressing the berries gently into the strainer to extract more juice from them. Add 5 ounces of apple cider vinegar. Let cool, bottle and refrigerate.
For the cocktail
Shake the genever, lemon juice, strawberry shrub, Aperol and Zucca with ice, and strain into a coupe. Garnish with 2 revolutions of freshly cracked pepper.
- 2 1/2 oz. fennel-infused gin
- 1 oz. dry vermouth
- 1 dash orange bitters
- Pickled ramps or caper berry, for garnish
- 1 fennel bulb, chopped
- 1 liter gin
For the fennel-infused gin
In a nonreactive container, combine the chopped fennel bulb with 1 liter of gin. Let infuse for 1 to 2 days, stirring or agitating occasionally. Strain and bottle.
For the cocktail
Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with pickled ramps or a caper berry.
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