This gin cocktail made with black pepper and cilantro syrup is a perfect spring sipper
EGG HARBOR - The Spring Green cocktail starts with a black pepper and cilantro simple syrup. That syrup gets shaken with gin, lime and cucumber juice.
Yeah, I had my doubts. I said as much to Hatch Distilling's founder Chris Roedl and the distillery's mixologist master (among other duties) Brett Cleveland during a Zoom call.
I like gin, lime, pepper, cilantro and cucumber. Just not all at once — I thought. And I never made a simple syrup before. I was doubly doubtful.
Cleveland assured me this cocktail works with Hatch's gin because they add a secret spice blend when making their gin that includes peppercorns. And locally foraged spruce tips. And the alcohol that's the backbone of the gin is derived from raw honey.
"We let juniper sit in the back seat and these other flavors come forward," Cleveland said. "It plays better with these more vibrant robust flavors."
Let's get into this week's No Budget Cooking Series recipe review.
Black pepper cilantro syrup
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely ground
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped (can include stems)
1½ ounces Hatch Distilling gin
1 ounce cucumber juice
¾ ounce black pepper cilantro syrup
¾ ounce lime juice
1 ounce club soda
Additional cilantro and cucumber wheel for garnish (optional)
Over medium-high heat, toast coarsely ground peppercorns quickly in a dry pot until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Add water and sugar before peppercorns begin to burn. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low.
Add cilantro. Leave over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and cover. Steep for 1 hour.
Strain syrup well using a tea strainer or cheesecloth. Store in airtight container in refrigerator until needed.
Peel the cucumber and run it through a juicer or blender and strain to remove pulp
Combine gin, syrup, and juices in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake well, and double strain into a Collins glass. Add club soda and ice.
Garnish with cilantro and a cucumber wheel.
(Recipe from Brett Cleveland, Hatch Distilling Co.)
TASTING NOTES: Yup, the professional mixologist was right and the food reporter who mostly makes gin and tonics at home was wrong. Shocking. I know.
Peppery, citrus fresh with cucumber earthiness. Sorry if I sound like a hipster doofus while describing the flavor, but it's more accurate than "refreshing" or something trite like "refreshing as a spring breeze."
The cilantro flavor isn't detectable, so either I messed up the syrup or cilantro plays a supporting role to the pepper and citrus nature of this cocktail.
After guzzling down a couple of Spring Greens despite my best effort to sip and savor, I felt foolish for having doubted Cleveland.
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EQUIPMENT: For the syrup: two measuring cups, sharp knife, cutting board, pepper mill or spice grinder, wooden spoon, a pot, cheesecloth or tea strainer and airtight jar with lid. For the cocktails: muddler or juicer or food processor, shot glass or food scale, sharp knife, cocktail shaker and cocktail glass.
PRACTICALITY: This is the first time I've made a simple syrup. If you can measure and use a timer and have patience for straining, you too can make this syrup. All you need to make the cocktail are measuring and shaking skills. Though if you'd rather stir than shake, that works too.
COST: About $2 per cocktail.
HACKS/INSIGHTS: It took five minutes to grind 2 tablespoons in my small, cheap pepper mill and easily the most difficult part of the process. I'm taking suggestions for upgrading my pepper mill.
As far as toasting the peppercorns, Cleveland goes by feel and smell as with toasting any spices. As someone who doesn't toast spices I was nervous about burning the peppercorn but it did become significantly more fragrant and a little thicker or clumpier after 30-ish seconds. I also stirred the ground pepper occasionally before adding water.
I used two pieces of paper towel and funnel to strain the syrup in two batches. I used new paper towels for the second round of straining.
Anxious to try my first successful simple syrup but before I felt ready to make cucumber juice, I mixed a couple of these drinks sans cucumber. Honestly, if the cucumber is a deal breaker for you, the cocktail is even more refreshing than a spring breeze because it has been set free of the cucumber earthi ... sorry. Moving on.
After pureeing half a cucumber in a food processor I once again turned to my friend paper towel to squeeze juice through a funnel. I got enough juice for about three cocktails.
An alternative for juicing the cucumber would be to muddle chunks in the bottom of the shaker, Cleveland said.
If you don't have a cocktail shaker, stirring the ingredients still mixes up a fine cocktail.
I felt a little swell of pride making this cocktail because it tasted like a $10 drink at a fancy-schmancy cocktail bar.
About Hatch Distilling
Hatch Distilling opened to the public in 2018 thanks to Roedl's beekeeping hobby that grew out of control.
The distillery uses raw honey to make Harbor Dog (a rum-like liquor), vodka, limoncello and gin. Roedl said demand for Hatch Distilling spirits outgrew what his bees can produce and they supplement with honey from another Wisconsin beekeeper.
Honey gives spirits a more viscous mouthfeel, said Cleveland and Roedl.
"It tricks your brain into thinking you’re drinking something sweet even though it’s not sweetened in any way," Roedl said. "There's almost a sweet creamy note to it, which is a real cool backbone for spirits."
Hatch Distilling gin flavor comes from its spice blend that complements locally foraged junipers and spruce tips. No, the spruce tips don't boost the "pine needle" flavor sometimes used to describe gin. That comes from juniper berries. And Hatch intentionally mutes that tasting note.
Spruce tips are new growth that can be pinched off by hand.
"If you chew on it, it has a lemongrass flavor when it's young like this," Roedl said.
Hatch's distiller, Caleb Despins, does most of the spruce tip foraging and will begin gathering soon.
Juniper berry foraging happens in the fall but is tougher to harvest — though not for lack of availability. Common juniper is native to Wisconsin and Door County has good growing conditions for the plant. Juniper's awl-shaped leaves scratch arms while picking, Roedl said, and it’s usually the height of mosquito season.
The resulting gin isn't a classic London dry style like Beefeater or Tanqueray. Speaking from experience, I'm telling you to be prepared for a more complex gin and tonic with Hatch's version.
Cleveland said their gin plays nicely with citrus flavors like those in a Tom Collins or gimlet but really shines in cocktails like Spring Green partly because the creamy mouthfeel holds up to sharp, astringent flavors like pepper and cilantro.
Hatch also distills an apple brandy made from locally grown apples and a straight bourbon whiskey made with an heirloom variety of corn, rye and barley. Bourbon ingredients are grown as a side project by a nearby father-son dairy farming team.
"We could pull the grain here (to the distillery) in a little red wagon because they’re so close by," Roedl said. "That’s been cool. We can track each grain in each batch to the field by season. We’re getting into a micro-nerdy level of knowing our grower.”
Hatch Distilling products are distributed across Wisconsin and available at the distillery tasting room at 7740 Highway 42, Egg Harbor. Tasting room hours vary by season. Keep an eye on Hatch's Facebook page or call (920) 543-3800 for hours.
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