Make These Immunity Boosting Cocktails to Ward Off Winter Blues
Let ginger, dragon fruit, and mushrooms lift your spirits during these cold-weather months.
Hunkering down for the winter months means lower physical activity, less exposure to sunlight, and (scarier than ever right now!) vulnerability to seasonal bugs, and beverages that impart comfort are in high demand.
While hibernating at home away from the masses, and tinkering with new cocktails recipes, what better time to incorporate ingredients and drinks that will not only give your mood a boost, but enhance your body’s ability to stay healthy, as well?
Read on for a deep dive on ingredients—some ubiquitous, some obscure—that will not only elevate your drink game, but give you a wellness glow that will make this winter easier to bear.
Kick up your immune system with rhizomes
It is no secret that ginger—ubiquitous in cocktails such as the Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy—brings a bright, aromatic, and punchy heat to a drink. Ginger has long been recognized for its ability to stimulate blood flow, thereby assisting the body in flushing toxins and reducing inflammation in the body.
The burning question is how to best incorporate it into your liquid regimen with these benefits intact, with minimal equipment and effort. An easy way to do this is to make a switchel. Originally enjoyed in the Caribbean and Colonial America, switchels are sort of a cross between ginger beer and a shrub. Unlike the former, carbonation is in theory optional, in the case of the latter, ginger takes the place of fruit. The beauty of switchel is that it is a passive infusion of four easy-to-find ingredients: ginger, apple cider vinegar, and molasses or honey.
Some recipes call for simmering the mixture together, others for putting the ingredients together in a vessel for one to two weeks and letting nature take its course. There is no right or wrong way—it comes down to the method you prefer from a flavor perspective, and how many people, and how soon, you would like to serve.
Yield: Serves 3-4
• 2- to 3-inch piece fresh ginger
• 2¼ cups water
• ½ cup apple cider vinegar
• ½ cup + 2 tablespoons honey
• Sparkling or still water to finish
1. Peel the ginger and chop into medallions. Combine with the water and bring to a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reside to a simmer and allow to steep for 10 - 15 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then combine with other ingredients in a non reactive container, preferably a glass jar with an airtight closure.
3. Leave to steep at room temperature for at least 4 hours, then strain out ginger.
4. Enjoy as is over ice, or top with sparkling or still water to lengthen the beverage. If you would like a more intense ginger flavor, leave the mixture to steep for 4 days refrigerated before straining the ginger.
5. The finished switchel will keep for up to one week refrigerated.
Note: If you would like to opt for an earthier play on this drink, consider using turmeric, but be warned that the root’s bright orange hue will stain everything it comes into contact with —your knife, your tools, your countertops—proceed at your own risk. To minimize staining your hands, wear gloves. Galangal, on the other hand, while it may be tougher to track down, will surprise you with it’s delicate grassy and floral notes. The bite is still there, but shows up in a subtler, more restrained level.
Embrace teas and tisanes
It bears mentioning that teas—in particular hearty varieties such as Darjeeling, Assam, and later, Earl Grey, were a key ingredient in 18th-century punches, communal drinks traditionally composed of rum, brandy, citrus, spices, and sugar. Originally enjoyed in India, where sugar and these other ingredients were cultivated and traded to Arabic countries, and later European explorers, punch was the precursor to the modern cocktail.
Meanwhile, tea went on to grow into a robust drinking culture of its own, inspiring ceremonies around its service in Japan, the cultivation of highly specialized strains in China, and inspiring various hospitality themes around the world, including an hour, replete with specialty snacks to accompany the experience, that are ubiquitous in England, Europe, and beyond.
With the recent interest in matcha lattes and hibiscus brews, it’s worth shining a light on a class or herbal infusions that are becoming increasingly easier to find, to consider building into your beverage repertoire.
The benefits of tisanes lie primarily in their calming and soothing effects, and ability to reduce stress.
While tisanes aren’t technically tea, since they don’t contain caffeine, they are brewed and enjoyed in the same way. Tisanes are composed of dried flowers, herbs, barks, roots, and dried citrus peels. Want to level up a vodka cocktail, such as a Cosmo or a Moscow Mule, or add a savory or bitter component to an aperitif? With tisanes, the possibilities are endless.
Originally enjoyed in Egypt and China, as infusions of a single ingredient, some retailers are creating blends that incorporate botanical elements, citrus, and barks. You can purchase pre-made tisanes from sources such as Harney and Sons or T2. But if you want to take a more hands-on approach, you can find dried herbs, flowers, and barks at specialty grocers and natural food stores.
The benefits of tisanes lie primarily in their calming and soothing effects, and ability to reduce stress. If you want to go all in on tisanes that will supercharge your immune system, consider making infusions from rooibos or mushrooms. Mushrooms offer pathogenic benefits and can elevate your mood. The flavors can be earthy and challenging, but using it in this martini riff gives off a similar flavor profile to olives in a dirty martini.
Touch of Zen Recipe
• 1 ounce of reishi mushroom-infused gin (see below)
• 1½ ounces dry vermouth
• 2-3 drops reishi brine (see below)
1. Combine both ingredients in a chilled mixing glass, and add ice. Stir to chill, and strain into a chilled coupe.
2. Garnish with a lemon twist or olive, according to your taste.
3. For best results, keep your gin chilled in the freezer, and the vermouth in the refrigerator. Remember that it is a wine, and will go bad if left at room temperature after it has been opened.
Reishi Mushroom-Infused Dry Gin
• 1 liter of dry gin, proofed at 45% ABV or above
• 3 ounces of dried tisane grade reishi mushroom
• 1¼ cup filtered water
1. In a small saucepan, bring ¼ cup of water to a boil. Add the mushrooms and remove from the heat. Allow the mushroom to steep for 5-10 minutes, to cause the mushrooms to “bloom." Remove all but a little part of the water, and reserve.
2. Combine the mushrooms and gin and allow to steep 6-12 hours, checking every 3 hours to assess the strength and intensity of the brew. Once the gin has taken on the desired flavor, remove the mushrooms.
3. To make Reishi brine, combine the reserved water with 1 teaspoon of your preferred sea salt, the finer the better. Shake vigorously to dissolve, and store in a dropper bottle.
Enter the dragon fruit
While the Chinese astrological calendar indicates that this is the Year of the Tiger, there is no denying that the dragon is emblematic of a powerful and unstoppable force. With this image in mind, you should be embracing dragon fruit, which not only boasts bright, acidic flavors, but can be used in both zero-proof drinks or octane tropical cocktails.
Rich in vitamin C, dragon fruit is also abundant in betalains and carotenoids, antioxidants that stave off inflammation and are believed to suppress the growth of cancer cells. Dragon fruit is also incredibly high in fiber, and brings prebiotics to the table, promoting good gut health.
As a member of the cactus family native to the Americas, dragon fruit is also highly cultivated in Asia. While it was once only available in specialty markets, dragon fruit is now becoming easier to get your hands on in frozen and puree form. I recommend using the frozen chunks to incorporate into blended or frozen drinks, as the dramatic purple color from the skins create a striking visual.
Should you opt to get fresh dragon fruit, note that the flesh is white and dotted with small seeds, which may impart an unwelcome texture to the drink, without the benefit of the color. I suggest taking the route of embracing the best of both worlds, using frozen dragon fruit for a drink build, and using thinly sliced fresh or dehydrated medallions as a garnish.
Nite Lite Recipe
• 2 ounces Pisco
• ¾ cup frozen dragon fruit chunks or ¾ oz puree
• ½ ounce coconut milk
• ¾ ounce lime juice
1. Combine all in a blender with a small scoop of crushed ice.
2. Flash for 8-10 seconds to a fine texture/consistency.
3. Pour into a chilled footed pilsner or Collins glass.
4. Garnish with a slice of fresh dragon fruit and a mint bouquet, then serve.