The other week I was asked to provide foraged cocktails for 20 people attending the foraged brunch club wild food walk which I led with the restaurant Mac and Wild. This resulted in an enjoyable evening with my partner trying various combinations of wild spirits and syrups. The result was a foraged tonic water, which I will post here soon, and this recipe for a complex, strong, palate cleansing digestif, made from fennel grappa & sweet cicely syrup.
When I began experimenting I was keen to try something with fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) as I had recently been leading a foraging course in an area of London that was covered with it, bringing back memories of collecting the feathery frond-like leaves and bright yellow flowers along the Kentish coast to sell to restaurants five or so years ago. Fennel seeds are traditionally used in herbal medicine to for a range of digestive complaints, particularly to settle an upset stomach and reduce wind. The flavour is similar to aniseed, and both have long been used in spirits that are traditionally served as digestifs for their therapeutic effect.
Whilst I had a bottle of fennel infused vodka I had made from foraged seeds to use as medicine, it was not sufficient to provide for all the thirsty mouths at the brunch. I fished around in my cupboard and luckily came across a bottle of fennel grappa I had bought several years ago on a trip to Sardinia. This would have been made on the same principle as my tincture, though using a lower concentration of seeds along with some fennel leaves, so the fennel flavour was not overwhelming when the grappa is drunk on its own. I must admit, I was a little disappointed when I first tried the drink upon my return from Sardinia, hence why it had survived undrunk for so long. However, after a little experimenting it proved perfect for adding fennel flavour to a cocktail, being lifted by other ingredients to create something quite delicious.
I combined this with a syrup I had made from the leaves sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) – though abundant in the wild, I had actually grown this plant in my small garden as it does not grow wild in the South east of England. Sweet cicely also has an aniseedy flavour, though as the syrup was made from the leaf the aromatic element was not as pronounced as in the fennel tincture or grappa and it has a more earthy, green herbal flavour.
The base I was using was Botanist gin, but an initial test of these three ingredients – gin, grappa and syrup – wasn’t quite right, so after several experiments we settled on a mixture that also added vermouth – to temper the gin and grappa, whilst maintaining the alcohol and botanical levels, and a splash of lemon juice to freshen it. The result was a complex, strong, palate cleansing digestif.
For 2 cocktails you will need:
- 2 parts Botanist gin
- 2 parts fennel grappa
- 1 part vermouth
- 1 part sweet cicely leaf syrup
- 1/3 part lemon juice
- a few dashes of angostura bitters
- 2 lemon rind twists
- 2 fennel flower umbels
Shake the alcoholic elements in an iced filled cocktail shaker for a minute, then stir in the syrup, lemon juice and bitters. To serve, pour into a coupe glass, squeeze over the lemon oils from the rind and drop it in the drink – top with fennel flowers if available.