Now that spring is firmly rooted here in Charleston and we're already getting a glimpse of summer, I feel like it's time to kick back, relax and enjoy a sunny cocktail on a deck somewhere. In my house, that actually translates to chugging a lukewarm lemonade that I poured for myself hours ago but promptly had to abandon because one of my littles simultaneously managed to wedge herself underneath our dining room table while also holding one of her brother's prized monster trucks. Between all the yelling (from them) and the hustling (from me), it's a rare stolen moment if I get to have a drink at its proper temperature.
But hey, a girl can dream, right?
Luckily for me, Lindsay Ranes, the chief mixologist at O-Ku, graciously spared a few minutes of her time recently so that I could learn how to make one of O-Ku's signature cocktails to add to my arsenal of springtime drinks. O-Ku's cocktail menu is peppered with many of the Asian ingredients I use on a regular basis in my cooking, so I thought it might be a nice way to incorporate some of my favorite pantry staples into hard-earned pre-dinner drinks at home.
Lindsay showed me how to make the Shogun, one of O-Ku's most popular cocktails, which blends together a delicious fresh lemon balm infused agave nectar, basil, lemon juice, and Hendricks gin, a rose, and cucumber infused gin. The blend of these ingredients results in a refreshing cocktail that tastes like spring, and feels like summer (all warm and glowy, if you know what I mean).
The drink is also amazingly simple to make, although when I tried to test O-Ku's recipe at home, I couldn't find any grocery stores carrying fresh lemon balm to make the infused agave nectar. I researched the flavor profiles of lemon balm and decided that the closest, more widely-available approximation for the average home mixologist would be using fresh lemongrass instead. I tested various lengths of time for letting the lemongrass infuse in the agave nectar, and found that at least six hours is necessary to really let the flavors from the lemongrass impart into the agave. Overnight is even better.
After you've infused your agave nectar, the rest of the steps are simple: muddle a shot of agave, a shot freshly squeezed lemon juice and three to five fresh basil leaves together. Add a shot of Hendricks with a splash of soda water, and ice to a cocktail shaker, and work your magic.
Oh, and by the way, the best part of cocktail recipe testing is the tasting. Oh, my, the tasting.
Shogun Cocktail (adapted from O-Ku Sushi's recipe)
(makes 2 cocktails)
For the lemongrass infused agave
2 cups agave nectar
2-3 stalks fresh lemongrass
For the cocktails
1 shot (1.5 oz) lemongrass infused agave nectar
1 shot (1.5 oz) lemon juice
3-5 fresh basil leaves
1 shot (1.5 oz) Hendricks gin
Ice and soda water, to taste
To infuse the agave nectar:
In a small saucepan, bring agave nectar to a simmer over low heat. With the blunt edge of a knife, bruise lemongrass (pound it) to bring out the fragrance, and add it to the saucepan. Allow lemongrass to simmer for three to five minutes, then remove from heat and immediately transfer to a non-reactive (heat-resistant plastic or other non-metal) container. Let agave nectar rest with lemongrass stalks inside at room temperature for at least six hours. After infusing, remove lemongrass and discard. Refrigerate agave until ready for use.
To make the cocktails:
In a glass, combine lemon juice, agave nectar, and basil leaves and muddle together to blend flavors. Add muddled mixture to a cocktail shaker with ice and gin. Top with a splash of soda water. Close cocktail shaker tightly and shake vigorously. Strain cocktail and serve immediately over ice.
For more photos of the Shogun cocktail, visit my blog.