Late this summer, I was invited by Shaina Wizov of Take A Bite Out Of Boca fame to spend an afternoon at Max’s Harvest, a fabulous Farm to Fork restaurant in Delray Beach, learning from the pros what it takes to make a real craft cocktail. It was such a fun experience — one I had planned to tell you about as soon as my buzz wore off, but the website redesign (and subsequent delays) took precedence and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to share with you.
Scott and I have eaten at Max’s Harvest on several occasions and we’ve never been disappointed. Their menu is always evolving according to the seasons, the fare is inventive, yet relatable — and always satisfying! But I have to admit, I usually just order a glass of wine to sip before dinner. The cocktails always sound interesting to me, but I’m not a fru-fru drink girl and I usually play it safe with a glass of vino. Therefore, I was equal parts excited and ambivalent about this “spirited” tutorial. Excited to learn from the pros, ambivalent because I’m not into cotton candy martinis.
Before the libations even began, our hosts brought out some yummy nibbles to line our stomachs before the sipping ensued. Then our group got a tour around the bar — introducing us to the tools of the trade. Jiggers for precision measuring and muddlers for bruising/mashing. Various types of cocktail shakers and long-handled bar spoons.
And so many types of glasses. An old-fashioned or rocks glass for things like Scotch and Old-Fashioneds and highball glasses – for drinks with a higher ratio of mixer to alcohol. Stemware, like martini glasses and coupes are meant to keep warm hands away from the cool/cold liquids. Copper mugs which act as an effective insulator for both cold drinks and hot, keeping the contents at the desired temperature longer than other vessels.
At Max’s Harvest, they use high-end libations, liquors made in small-batches from artisan distillers, house-made mix-ins and only the freshest juices. A real cocktail involves real juice — not lime squeezed from a plastic lookalike form and a good citrus juicer is paramount for that. A good strainer is the right tool to remove errant seeds or pulp from the fresh-squeezed juice. The bartenders explained how they juice most everything themselves so that each cocktail is distinctive and fresh — not cloyingly sweet. (I like that!)
Our sampling this day included a French 75 (with St. Augustine Gin, house-made cherry compote, lemon juice and rosewater), a Pimms Cup (with Pimms No. 1, fresh lemonade, ginger-ale and seasonal fruit garnish) an Old-Fashioned (with Michter’s Bourbon, demerara sugar cubes, and bitters) and a Cucumber Pioneer (with Hangar One Vodka, Canton, agave, mint leaves and ginger beer).
I wanted to try my hand at one of these cocktails at home and decided that the Cucumber Pioneer was my personal favorite — the flavor is dominated by ginger with a soft cucumber finish — and that lovely green color was so fresh! I started with the cucumber juice, made by pureeing the cucumber and straining the juice from the pulp.
Then I filled the metal part of a cocktail shaker with ice and measured out the liquor and juices into the glass portion. I confess, this drink called for Canton (a ginger liquor). I wanted to use it, but I just couldn’t rationalize the $39 price tag for the quarter ounce of liquor the recipe called for. I skipped it.
But I did use a really spicy ginger beer to top off the drinks before garnishing with fresh cucumber slices and mint leaves. I’m afraid that glass of wine doesn’t stand a chance with me before dinner now that I’ve stepped up my cocktail game! Cheers!
For Cucumber Juice
- 1 English cucumber makes about 1 - 1 1/2 cups of juice, depending on the size of the cucumber
For Each Cocktail
- 1 1/2 ounces good quality vodka I used Hangar One
- 1/4 ounce ginger liquor such as Canton optional
- 1 1/2 ounces cucumber juice
- 1 teaspoon agave
- 5 mint leaves plus extra for garnish
- 1 1/2 ounces ginger beer
- thinly sliced cucumber for garnish
Make the cucumber juice
If you have a juicer, use it to make the juice, otherwise, roughly chop the cucumber and transfer it to a blender or food processor and pulse until it's completely liquified. Place a fine mesh strainer over a glass measuring cup and pour the cucumber juice through the strainer to remove the solids.
It's recommended to use a Boston Cocktail Shaker, but if you don't have one, mix the ingredients in a glass.
In the mixing glass, combine the vodka, ginger liquor, cucumber juice, mint leaves and agave. Fill the tumbler with ice. Pour the liquid over the ice. Secure the glass in the tumbler and shake 4-5 times until cold and frothy. Pour into glasses and top with ginger beer, additional mint leaves and cucumber slices for garnish. Serve.