Inspired by the success of Spain’s gastro-temple Mugaritz and the accolade-laden Danish restaurant Noma, foraged goodies have been finding their way on menus and cocktail lists a lot of late. Even urban areas can reap rewards for determined foragers, with dandelions and nettles, elderflowers, elderberries, and blackberries; pine needles and wild garlic all relatively easy to find in the UK. Obviously a degree of care needs to be taken when on the look-out for wild edible plants – if you’re unsure exactly what it is, best to leave it alone. But you can be fairly certain the guys combing verges and woodland for bars and restaurants know what they’re doing.
If you think about it, it’s not surprising that the increased interest in foraging would have an impact on cocktail culture given that so many spirits, bitters and liqueurs are based on the herbs and fruits that were to be found growing wild in their place of origin. This is how these things can to be, through foraging.
In the UK the aptly named The Foragers, whose home–base is at the Verulam Arms pub in St Albans, are at the forefront of this movement. They have participated in a number of London residencies and pop-ups of late, most recently at the Dead Doll’s Club in east London and at Skyroom near London Bridge; their next London jaunt will see them collaborate with Platterform at the Hothouse in London Fields. Nick Saltmarsh of Suffolk-based Food Safari is another name to watch out for, a forager who now works as a consultant on a number of cocktail and commercial sector projects.
The Cocktail Gardener, also known as Lottie Muir, serves ‘plant-powered’ cocktails at the Midnight Apothecary, a roof-top pop-up above London’s Brunel Museum, and last year the bar at the ICA showcased a range of foraged cocktails, including a Nettle Gimlet and a Hedgerow Punch.
In the US, innovative cocktails featuring foraged ingredients are cropping up on a number of drinks lists. They were a regular feature of the late lamented Aska and are a big feature of the spirit programme at the stylish Lounge at Atera, where an emphasis is placed on the hand-picked, homemade and herbal. The drinks list at Coliccho and Sons meanwhile includes a Forager option featuring whatever fresh handpicked ingredients are available that day, maybe some huckleberries or some wild gingerroot depending on the season.
It’s not just New York. In New Orleans, Alan Walter of the Loa Bar incorporates local Spanish Moss and other wild plants into drinks such as the earthy Jean Lafite. LA bartender Matthew Biancaniello created a list of foraged, craft cocktails for Cliff’s Edge in Silver Lake. It’s a trend which seems likely to spread and spread - like wild flowers across a lawn.
Written by Natasha Tripney