Farming Cocktails With Jeff Josenhans
The farm-to-glass cocktail, no longer restricted to the realm of fine-dining oddity, especially works at operations where the culinary program already has developed a garden program on-site. Hotels are especially likely candidates, and one program that's growing is overseen by Jeff Josenhans, bartender and director of outlets at San Diego's US Grant Hotel and Grant Grill.
Mix: You've got a pretty big garden to choose from for ingredients at your bar. What are you using right now, and how?
Jeff Josenhans: We are using the garden pretty extensively — Florence fennel, cinnamon basil, Russian tarragon, pink lavender, chocolate mint and lemon mint for muddling. We use anise leaf and red currant tomatoes as well as many of the above muddled produce as garnish. We use green caraway seed to infuse rye whiskey, and Stevia and green anise seed to make a syrup for the Seasonal Skinny Cocktail. We use angelica flower to infuse vodka as well. All of these items come from our garden as well as some of the Meyer lemons we use in the cocktails.
Mix: This year you've expanded the concept somewhat. What lessons have you learned about garden-to-glass cocktails in terms of ingredients and harvesting?
Josenhans: The concept of garden-to-glass is a completely different ballgame if you are actually tending your own garden; I would not even use this term if I wasn’t. The largest lessons we have learned have all involved the actual gardening of the produce we use. Right off the bat, you learn about how different seeds germinate in different ways after different germination periods and how pests, like beetles, can come and destroy them right after they have sprouted. When and how a plant flowers varies dramatically from plant to plant, as well as how and when those flowers turn to seed. Green seed is not the same as normal seed, etc. Add the complexity of the different lifespans of each species of plant and all of a sudden it’s a pretty complex picture. Some vegetables, like the red currant tomatoes, for example, just continue to produce as long as we keep the plants pruned, while others, like the Florence fennel, will start flowering and that’s it. So you need to have re-planted and anticipated in order to not run out of produce. As a result of all this, we are always in a state of planting, germination and harvesting for all of our garden produce pretty much every week.
Mix: Has anything surprised you about what customers have favored in terms of the garden cocktail?
Josenhans: Our favorite cocktail is our Rooftop Garden Tour, which features angelica flower, Florence fennel and Russian tarragon. I am surprised how quickly people order this drink and love it without even giving a chance to the cocktail server to explain what angelica is (a typical gin botanical).
Mix: Gardeners are subject to the whims of nature; any disappointments so far this year?
Josenhans: Our first round of seeds came up quickly during a warm period in March but died almost immediately when a cold rain hit the next week. Otherwise, we are lucky to be in San Diego, and everything since then has been rosy.
Mix: What's still to come from the garden, and how do you plan to employ them in drinks?
Josenhans: I am looking at some more winter produce right now. We have Buddha’s hand citrus growing on our roof, purple sage just planted, as well as saffron bulbs coming any day now.
Mix: Will you be taking the next step and preserving some of the bounty, or have you already been doing that?
Josenhans: We have been preserving some of the bounty in the form of infused syrups, but for the most part we consume everything. What we don’t use the kitchen does. May be a project for the winter.
Mix: What's your favorite drink right now?
Josenhans: You know, I am a promiscuous cocktail drinker. I’ve been through a gin phase, a rye phase and a mezcal phase the last year, but a colleague of mine has gotten me back on the tequila train this summer.