It’s almost masochistic, as I sit here under layers of blankets inside a house surrounded by walls of snow, to remember this drink’s origins on a meltingly hot August afternoon in Manhattan. Plodding up Hudson St. in the Village, looking for a beverage in the shade, Dan and I stopped into the recently-opened Employees Only.
There we discovered the West Side, a lemon-and-mint cocktail that was born for sipping on outdoor terraces on an 80-degree day. After that revelatory moment, and because we have the idyllic shaded backyard that Employees Only lacks, we appropriated the recipe as our home’s signature summertime drink.
But all good things must end—or at least cycle out of season. Last year, when winter took my mint and turned it into a brown, brittle husk, I was forced to revise that feeling of summer-in-a-glass and make it a little more appropriate for the indoor imbibers.
Enter tarragon, an herb that features a variety specifically known as Mexican marigold or winter tarragon because of its ability to withstand harsher temperatures while keeping the same anise spiciness that we know and love.
(Sadly, my tarragon didn’t make it to February this year, so the illustrated herbs are the usual variety of French tarragon, brought to you by the grocery store.)
And the sweet fragrance of Meyer lemons, which just happen to be in season during the darkest months of the year, replace the traditional summery brightness of regular Eureka lemons. (Ah, winter citrus. Without you, I’d be lost in January and February—or at least be afflicted with scurvy.)
My recipe calls for Zubrowka vodka, which frankly was first purchased because it had a bison on the label, and as a Bucknell graduate, I couldn’t resist. Those of you with similarly wonky college mascots understand.
But the vodka is actually distinctive and tasty, flavored with Polish bison grass (!) that adds warm cinnamon notes to the winter version of the drink. If you don’t have bison-grass vodka in your liquor cabinet, feel free to substitute citrus vodka.
For those of you feeling flush, add a float of Prosecco on top of the drink. Or just splash in the seltzer as usual, and you’ll be none the less pleased.
- 1/4 cup 50 grams granulated sugar
- 2 tarragon sprigs, leaves stripped, + 2 whole tarragon sprigs for garnish
- 1/3 cup 3 fluid ounces Zubrowka vodka
- 1/2 cup 4 fluid ounces freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
- Prosecco or citrus-flavored seltzer
Make tarragon simple syrup:
- Stir the sugar and 1/4 cup water together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves.
- When the syrup comes to a simmer, add the tarragon leaves and remove from the heat.
- Cover and let steep for 15 minutes.
- Strain the syrup into a mason jar. (You won't need all the syrup for this recipe; it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.)
Make the cocktail:
- Fill a cocktail shaker with 2 handfuls of ice.
- Add the vodka, Meyer lemon juice, and 1/4 cup simple syrup.
- Shake for 30 seconds, then divide evenly between two coupes or martini glasses.
- Top each glass with Prosecco or seltzer and garnish each with a whole tarragon sprig.
- Serve immediately.