One sunny summer afternoon, Amanda West, owner of Hummingbird Gardens, invited us over to see her amazing garden and, of course, mix up some delicious, refreshing cocktails using fresh herbs. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, Amanda will teach you everything you need to know about using fresh herbs in infusions and cocktails.
Tell us a little about your company.
Hummingbird Gardens is an herb, edible flower, and cut flower-focused market garden (or yard farm) that is in my front and backyard in Southside Richmond. I source mainly to local restaurants and have a small garden share program that provides folks with herbs, a bouquet, and an item from another partner business. In addition, I make herb salts that I sell on my website, some retail sites, and at events like Brunch Market.
We broke ground in October of 2015 and I had my first season in 2016. It feels like yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time!
How long have you been gardening?
I’ve done it in spurts my whole life. I had some marigolds as a kid and spent a lot of time hauling plants around for my grandmas when I would visit them in Savannah and New Jersey. I started gardening in earnest my senior year of college and continued after I graduated. I volunteered with Tricycle Gardens not from from the Belle Isle Moonshine distillery and helped break ground on their farm in Manchester. After that, I went to graduate school in Pittsburgh where I worked at a small farm called Churchview Farm and at my school’s farm, Eden Hall.
What do you love most about gardening?
There's so much to love! I love bringing more life into the world. I love creating a space that other people and creatures can be happy in and can thrive. I love watching things grow and (hopefully) helping them along. Most importantly, I love sharing what I grow with others.
What are you growing currently?
Loaded question! I grow a variety of herbs including 3 kinds of thyme, 7 kinds of basil, 4 kinds of sage, and a bunch of edible flowers including bachelor’s buttons (which I'll be using in a cocktail today), cosmos, anise hyssop, and gem marigolds.
Who do you work with in the area? How are folks using your products?
I have a Garden Share program that several local restaurants participate in - it’s basically a CSA and they get 5 items from me a week for 20 weeks. My clients all use my products differently, but I’ve seen edible flowers in anything from cocktails to desserts, and recently I saw that Hutch used my pineapple sage in one of their fish dishes. Sometimes we come up with things together!
What are some tips for using fresh herbs in infusions and cocktails?
You can use fresh herbs as a garnish, muddle them when mixing a drink, or make a simple syrup infusion.
Fresh herbs are a lot of fun to experiment with in cocktails and infusions. Unlike dried ingredients such as tea leaves that infuse very quickly, fresh herbs give you a bit more room to play around. You can adjust how powerful you want the flavor of the herbs to be by changing quantity used and time left infusing.
My infusion recipes are typically 1 part herb to 4-6 parts spirit. When you use a spirit with a higher alcohol content like Belle Isle 100 Proof, it pulls flavors from the herbs quicker than a lower proof spirit will. I'll put my infusion in a sealed container for a full day, taste it, and continue to infuse it for another 2-4 days, just tasting it along the way. Once it gets to where I want, I pull the herbs out, fine strain out anything left, and put it back in a bottle.
My favorite herbs to use in cocktails are basil, lemon verbena, or rosemary.
I think of herbs as the knot that ties other ingredients together by complementing their flavors or adding a new element to a cocktail to round it out. So if your other ingredients are all bitter, you might use something citrusy or tea-like. If your cocktail is hearty and heavy, you might use a bright, spicy herb to finish it off. A lot of times I'll use dishes from cuisines around the world to think of flavor pairing ideas and inspiration.
What fresh herb-infused cocktails did you make today?
Muddle blueberries and thyme in the bottom of a highball glass. Add ice to the glass, pour in Belle Isle Premium Moonshine, top with seltzer, and stir.
- 2 oz. Belle Isle Premium Moonshine
- 6-10 fresh blueberries
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 2 oz. seltzer water
Add a coffee ice cube to a glass, then top with lavender-infused Belle Isle & tonic and stir.
- 2 oz. lavender-infused Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee Moonshine*
- 3 oz. tonic water
*Add 1-2 lavender flower heads to 12 oz. Belle Isle Cold Brew Coffee Moonshine, let steep for 4 hours, tasting occasionally.