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This LA Bar Created 31 Cocktails That Are an Ode to Seeds

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By Kelly Magyarics

Growing up in a family of gardening enthusiasts, Tobin Shea recalls devouring the pages of seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables every time his grandparents received a new issue of the Burpee seed catalog. "I was always fascinated with gardening and being able to enjoy the fruits of one's labor," said the bar director at Redbird, a 120-seat Modern American restaurant in Los Angeles. "I've always felt inspired by the catalog's mission to encourage subscribers to grow their own produce at home."


You might say it was kismet when chefs Neal Fraser and Amy Knoll Fraser added a 6,000-square-foot garden to Redbird and the adjacent Vibiana, a former cathedral owned by the couple that they've turned into a performing arts and event space. Designed in a minimalist modern style by L.A.-based landscape designer, horticulturist and certified arborist Kathleen Ferguson and planted on land shared with the Little Tokyo Branch Library, the garden is used to grow seasonal produce, such as passion fruit, Japanese plums and honeynut squash, for the kitchen. It is surrounded by Manzanillo olive trees and uses a sustainable Aquaponics system.

Creating a garden like this was a lifelong dream for the Frasers. To celebrate their first growing season and harvest, they created The Plain Truth About the Best Seeds, a collection of 31 cocktails in a menu designed by Anette Shirinian and illustrated by Erin Elise O'Brien. "Our guests spend a lot of time looking through our menu and choosing cocktails based on the illustrations they like best," said Shea. "Guests even try cocktails with spirits that they wouldn't ordinarily drink because they love the illustrations so much."

The libations also give a nod to the process of distillation. Shea calls this "the original farm-to-table method of preserving produce, allowing you to capture flavors that are sometimes available only two or three months of the year, during their appropriate season."

Obviously, plenty of that garden bounty goes into these drinks, including strawberries, kumquats, mint, lemon, rosemary and passion fruit. One of the most popular drinks is honeysuckle, a variation of an old-fashioned that pairs the sweet corn and vanilla flavors of bourbon with stone fruit notes from the Hungarian sweet wine Tokay. The honey for the drink is procured from urban hives on Redbird's rooftop.

Queen Anne's lace is the white flowers that grow above wild carrots. In liquid form, it becomes a martini riff with gin, akvavit, dry vermouth and mastic liqueur. Carrot eau de vie and carrot bitters (from garden vegetables) lend more of a subtle flavor than carrot juice, which Shea said can be overwhelmingly vegetal.

For the tiki-esque Scotch bonnet — named for the pepper used in jerk and other Jamaican cuisine — the seeds and pulp are blended into a syrup and shaken with two kinds of Scotch whisky, Falernum, lime, grapefruit and a spicy tincture.

Cocktails on The Plain Truth About the Best Seeds menu will be available until the end of summer, just in time for the late-season bumper crop. Shea hopes they will continue to appeal to green-thumbed diners and inspire would-be gardeners. "Fresh ingredients really make a difference and go a long way," he said.

Honeysuckle

Recipe courtesy of Tobin Shea, bar director at Redbird, LA.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Maker's Mark 46 Bourbon Whiskey½ oz Tokay
  • ¼ oz Dimmi
  • ¼ oz Honey
  • 4 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
  • Orange twist, for garnish

Instructions

1. Combine the first five ingredients in a cocktail glass.

2. Add ice and stir until well chilled.

3. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass over a large ice cube.

4. Garnish with an orange twist.

Scotch Bonnet

Recipe courtesy of Tobin Shea, bar director at Redbird, LA.

Ingredients

  • 1½ oz Glen Grant 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • ¼ oz Port Charlotte Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky½ oz Grapefruit juice
  • ½ oz Brovo Spirits Lucky Falernum
  • ½ oz Lime juice
  • ½ oz Liquid Alchemist Passion Fruit Syrup
  • 3 dashes Scotch bonnet tincture
  • Mint sprig, flower and grapefruit twist, for garnish

Instructions

1. In a Boston shaker, combine all ingredients, except garnish, with crushed ice.

2. Shake until the sound of ice disappears.

3. Strain into a chilled double old-fashioned glass and top with crushed ice.

4. Garnish with mint, a flower and a grapefruit twist.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

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