Lavender is a therapeutic flower traditionally used to ward off everything from indigestion to insomnia, acne to alopecia. It's also increasingly making its way into craft cocktails.
The familiar fragrance makes lavender easy to nose. Its impact on the tongue, however, can be intense.
When the team behind Plan Check Kitchen + Bar wanted to expand its collection of inventive, ingredient-driven mixed drinks, they tapped a dependable source. With a propensity for using fresh herbs and vegetables, Matthew Biancaniello is regarded as one of the city’s elite cocktail creators.
The Kentucky Bubble Bath was among Biancaniello's first additions to the Plan Check menu. The $13 bourbon-based cocktail is embittered by artichoke liqueur and lavender water. "Lavender has a lot of staying power," he explains. "It will always be a challenge to incorporate it into other drinks and with other flavors. It's not always easy to work with, and that's what keeps people interested. There's a puzzle to be solved.”
The Kentucky Bubble Bath has a gentle, slightly bitter taste — which Biancaniello uses to defend against the advances of a sweet and spicy whiskey — and the scent of the drink alone makes it a joy to experience. Biancaniello had some fun piecing it all together. “Lavender is so abundant at the farmers market,” he gushes. “It has just an amazing purple color and aroma.”
While Biancaniello solved his puzzle using bourbon, the aromatics in gin make it a perfect spirit to pair with lavender (some gins even contain lavender).
There are several notable examples of gin-based lavender drinks throughout the city. At the Must in downtown L.A., Krisi Jensen is pouring her Nolavender. It’s built around Nolet’s, a Dutch gin awash in floral, rosy aromas that dance gracefully with half a dozen dashes of the bar’s house-made lavender water.
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The daintiness of these elements is bolted down by a ginger elixir. Shaken and served up in a Nick & Nora glass, the $11 cocktail is a fine example of how lavender can do so much with so little.
In Toluca Lake, Catcher in the Rye serves A Life of Lavender, combining no fewer than seven ingredients into a fancy bucket glass. Rosemary syrup, elderflower liqueur and a tame, dry gin are all obvious co-workers. But the pièce de résistance here is two spoons of Creme Yvette, a liqueur made with Parma violet petals. Mixologist Hailey Rohrs calls it “a whimsical, light refreshing cocktail with big floral, herbaceous notes and a beautiful finish. Pretty to look at, too.”
Rob Floyd, the beverage director at 41 Ocean in Santa Monica, batches his own lavender syrup for his $15 gin and pomegranate mixer, the Lavender Devine.
Floyd points out the ease with which you can cook up lavender syrup at home. “Boil one cup of water with one cup of sugar and three tablespoons of dried lavender,” he instructs. “Then let it steep for 45 minutes.” Muddling the flowers at the bottom of a shaker is another fine way to extract lavender's essence.