For many reasons it makes sense to stick to what is in season in terms of your food and drink. Firstly, it is much more environmentally sound; trying to grow crops out of season expends a huge amount of energy, and goes against the balance of ecosystems. For the more pragmatic, it makes sense as the produce simply tastes a lot better. To be honest, this usually is in reference to the first point, but it's also because it is a lot easier to grow tasty produce when the plants actually want to grow.
However, it can then make it a bit difficult when you're trying to create tasty dishes or cocktails during the colder months. This was the difficulty I faced when I was designing the new menu at Henry. Once winter hit, finding ingredients from New York State was more difficult, and although there were some varieties of apple, root vegetable and brassica that I ended up using in the drinks, there was not the bounty of incredible local produce I'd encountered in Summer and Autumn. As a result, I turned to some traditional, and a few modern techniques of preservation - coupled with some forward planning - to create the variety of drinks desired for the winter menu.
Alcohol is a wonderful preservative. Most beverages themselves are a means of carrying through crops through times of surplus into times of scarcity. Grain would rot and bread would stale, but beer, and particularly Whisky was easier to transport, provided a greater range of nutrients and crucially, would not spoil. The resulting alcohol itself can act like a preservative for other crops too as well as fuel and even sanitation. I've often commented that a basic knowledge of fermentation and distillation would be crucial in a post-apocalyptic scenario!
However, there are many preserved products that can form the base of your cocktail. Vegetables can be a wonderful addition to drinks, and in the menus at Henry I've included amazing varieties from the surrounds of New York in both a natural and 'processed' state, but fruits tend to be an easier blend. The most obvious preserved form is something like a jam, but tinned goods can also be excellent. Tinned peaches blitzed and perked up provide a much tastier Bellini base than trying to squeeze flavour from out of season peaches. Jams can also provide a wonderful fruit blast to a cocktail. Favourites of mine are the berries - bramble, strawberry and wild blueberry are notoriously awful outside of season, but jams provide a true flavour expression that, although is lacking in the acidic bite of the whole berry, at least delivers a flavour that tastes like the fruit it is supposed to.
You can of course give many of the traditional preserving methods a go - salting, pickling, sugaring and jamming are tremendous fun and something that is a proud part of the new menu at Henry - as are the more modern methods of cold distillation, vacuum sealing and blast freezing - but these are a little more difficult in the home scenario. And although the preservation techniques are great for carrying things through, there's also fresh ingredients that are at their peak during the colder months, or an indoor set up will happily grow herbs and micro shoots which can be delicious additions to your dishes and cocktails.
Winter Mulberry Smash
2 heaped teaspoons Mulberry Jam
6 mint leaves (from your herb box, of course)
2 teaspoons raspberry vinegar
50ml Dodd's Gin (locally, organically made gin that itself is a preservation of the wonderful botanicals in the mix)
Shake all hard, double strain over crushed ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a sprig of mint.