Intriguingly, there are a number of cocktails that use basil in tandem with fruitnot an immediately obvious match to my palate, but strawberry and basil can be found mixed with vodka, gin, white rum, tequila, and even bourbon. I'll admit to eagerly welcoming peach season so I can play with a recipe Mark Miller (of Coyote Cafe fame) published in Cool Coyote Cafe Juice Drinks that includes orange juice, Thai basil, fresh peach, and club soda. I'm going to try it with each of the major spirits and see what works best. I have a feeling bourbon might be the winner.
Adding fresh herbs to cocktails is by no means a new phenomenon, by the way. For example, the Herbal Bloody Mary, published in the July 1960 issue of Gourmet, included marjoram, basil, and savorythough it's the MSG that really sets the drink apart. Because marjoram is often an ingredient in vermouth, I'm intrigued by the idea of punching up that aspect of the aperitif wine by infusing it with a few sprigs of the piney plant and trying it in a Martini. (I'll probably pass on the MSG, though.)
Needless to say we've barely scratched the aromatic surface of what can be done with herbs. Unless you live in an extreme climate or don't have a sunny window in which to grow herbs, you can probably cultivate any of the plants mentioned in this article: amaranth, angelica, basil, chamomile, cilantro, fennel (for the fronds), hyssop, lavender, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, shiso, summer savory, tarragon, and thyme. If you take the plunge and grow your own herbs, you'll have both the satisfaction of creation and the many frustrations of being a gardener. Although my mint has been extremely rewarding, I've had absolutely no luck getting shiso seeds to germinate. Not that I would know what to do with shiso, but that hasn't kept me from trying to get it to grow: Experimentation and the palate expansion that can result are a huge part of what's pleasurable about gardening for drinks. And when what's in the glass tastes good, and you can share your creations with friends, that's when the real fun begins.
James Rodewald started tending bar in college, never had a hangover until he was a reporter at Sports Illustrated, and always chose quality over quantity during his time as drinks editor at Gourmet magazine. His last piece for Gourmet Live covered beers, wines, and liqueurs made by religious orders.