Honeysuckle: Your New Favorite Cocktail Ingredient

Savor summer with these delicious floral cocktails.

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Ever plucked a honeysuckle blossom and pulled out the stamen to enjoy the droplet of fruity, sweet nectar on the end? It’s an experience kids all over the world grow up enjoying, but the sophisticated flavor of this common flower also lends itself well to a wide variety of adult beverages.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

Ever plucked a honeysuckle blossom and pulled out the stamen to enjoy the droplet of fruity, sweet nectar on the end? It’s an experience kids all over the world grow up enjoying, but the sophisticated flavor of this common flower also lends itself well to a wide variety of adult beverages.

Photo by: ©iStockphoto.com/Multiart

©iStockphoto.com/Multiart

Honeysuckle is an incredibly widespread plant. There are about 180 different species growing in backyards, parks and along roadsides throughout Asia, Europe and North America, all of them with edible flowers and leaves, according to Colin Nohl, the beverage manager at Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont. Nohl’s been working in the food and drink business since he was 14, but he’s also an expert forager: He formerly ran a landscaping consulting firm that specialized in edible and medicinal plants.

Garden to Glass: Make This Honeysuckle-Infused Cocktail

Combine fresh blossoms with vodka and citrus flavors to create a delicious summer drink.

At Stowe Mountain Lodge, Nohl features a “garden to glass” cocktail menu including ingredients grown in an on-site kitchen garden and foraged from the ski resort’s 40-acre property. His Stowe Suckle cocktail shows off floral honeysuckle in two ways, using fresh blossoms to infuse both sugar that’s used to coat the rim of the glass and a honey syrup that goes into the simple mix of citrus juices and Vermont-made Barr Hill Vodka (which is itself distilled from honey).

“The best way to identify honeysuckle is by its smell,” Nohl says. “When in bloom, it has a distinctive floral, sweet smell.” (The name doesn’t lie: The smell is a lot like honey.) The small, trumpet-shaped flowers can range in color from white to red-orange to purple, and the plant grows sometimes like a vine and sometimes like a shrub. Nohl suggests looking for honeysuckle in public parks and community gardens, where it’s often planted as an ornamental. The nice thing for amateur foragers is that honeysuckle is fairly distinctive and doesn’t tend to grow near any similar-looking plants that can be harmful. (Just avoid honeysuckle berries: While flowers and leaves are perfectly safe, the berries of some species are mildly toxic, Nohl says.)

Honeysuckle blooms from spring through mid-summer, which means now’s just about your last chance for the year to collect fresh blossoms. But if you can’t find fresh honeysuckle for cocktails, fret not: There are a few honeysuckle spirits on the market that capture the flower’s distinctive flavor year-round.

Founded by a pair of blues-loving friends who met at the University of Alabama, Mississippi’s Cathead Distillery has been selling a honeysuckle vodka since 2012. “Honeysuckle is something [co-founder Austin Evans] and I grew up around,” says Cathead co-founder Richard Patrick. “We started working on it as an idea in 2008, but it took a long time to get to the flavor profile we wanted.”

Cathead honeysuckle vodka is now available in 14 states throughout the Southeast (as well as online). It’s delicately floral, with a subtle flavor Patrick likes to pair with citrus, or club soda. (“3 ounces of Cathead Honeysuckle and 4 ounces of Topo Chico over crushed ice is absolutely delicious on a hot Southern day,” he says.) But for something a little fancier, try the Orange Blossom from CO, a restaurant with five—soon to be seven—locations throughout the South. It mixes Cathead’s honeysuckle vodka with orange liqueur, bitters and a generous splash of Champagne.

Champagne and Honeysuckle Vodka Cocktail Recipe

A unique flavor of vodka takes this fancy drink to the next level.

If you’re a fan of sweeter floral drinks, you might also want to check out the new Martine Honeysuckle Liqueur, made in Texas by Gary Kelleher, who also started Dripping Springs Vodka back in 2007. “I grew up in Texas, and in Texas we had yards and yards and yards of honeysuckle growing wild in our yard, as did all the other folks in the neighborhood. As a kid, I’d pluck the blossoms and drink the nectar,” he says. “Years later, I thought about that and the feeling of freedom and summertime and the wonderful aroma and really wanted to have a honeysuckle liqueur.”

Now available in Texas and Louisiana, Martine is flavored with fresh honeysuckle as well as honey, oranges, nectarines, vanilla and other botanicals to create a sweet, honeysuckle-scented spirit that really pairs well with just about anything you can throw at it. Kelleher likes the liqueur with sauvignon blanc wine and a lemon twist, though you can certainly go a bit more complex than that. In his 100 Acre Wood cocktail, James Beard Outstanding Bar Program Award semifinalist Jeret Pena combines Martine with gin, lemon and bittersweet Italian liqueur Amaro Montenegro. The drink will be on the menu at Cherrity Bar, Pena’s new watering hole in San Antonio, which opens later this year and will donate a portion of its revenue to a series of non-profit organizations voted on by patrons.

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