Recipes: Vibrant, Earthy and Sweet: Peas Make Their Cocktail Debut

Peas in the shape of a martini on a green surface

Every year, the springtime arrival of peas at green markets sets off a frenzy among chefs who prize the ingredient for its verdant, earthy flavor and versatility. This year, of course, was no different. But 2023 arguably marked a new season for the ingredient: Snap peas, garden peas and English peas nabbed starring roles on cocktail menus, appearing in drinks shaken, stirred and spritzy. All signs indicate that the garden ingredient is officially a cocktail fixture.

Consider that diners can order a snap pea cordial paired with rum and honey at The Gin Joint in Charleston, North Carolina. Meanwhile, Gunshow in Atlanta serves an English pea tonic with vodka, charred scallions and Sichuan peppercorns. Peas replace mint in a Grasshopper-style tipple at Moongate Lounge in San Francisco; a simple pea leaf accents a pea-infused martini at Lord’s in New York City; and the Make It Snap Pea cocktail at Superfrico, which has locations in Las Vegas and New Jersey’s Atlantic City, is a striking blend of white miso, gin, lime, aquavit and snap pea syrup.

The list goes on, proving that bartenders across the nation have only just begun to explore what this vegetable can do. Here, we explore what led to the growing trend and what peas can bring to a bartender’s repertoire year-round.

Why Peas?

A garden-to-glass movement took hold of American mixologists in the 2010s, kickstarting a trend of botanically-inspired drinks that use plants in cocktails, cordials and elixirs. But vegetable-infused libations have not taken the spotlight—until now.

“One of my favorite things is to work with ingredients that make people do a double take and say, ‘In a cocktail? Really?’ and vegetables are always great for that,” says Jaz’min Weaver, the national brand ambassador for Kentucky’s Bardstown Bourbon Company. Weaver has mixed drinks for more than a decade in the Detroit area.

Some vegetables are too difficult to cocktail-ify because of overly intense earthy flavors or tough textures, she says. But people are different. “There’s something so fresh, faintly sweet and gently earthy about them that lends itself to a lot of versatility when mixing,” Weaver explains.

Jay Sanders, the owner and operator of Drastic Measures, a James Beard Foundation Award-nominated cocktail lounge in Shawnee, Kansas, believes peas first caught on in cocktails because they occupy an elusive sweet spot in drinkers’ minds. Customers recognize the vegetable and find them approachable, but they’re “different enough that people will say, ‘Oh, I wonder how they’re using that,’” he says. “There is a natural snappiness to peas.”

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Plus, peas deliver show-stopping color that’s hard to beat. Kelsey Owens, a bartender at New York City’s Market Table, started working on her Peas and Thank You cocktail last fall, before the recent wave of pea cocktails hit bar counters. The fragrant drink combines English peas, green tea and fennel to stunning effect. “It’s one of those drinks that goes out onto the restaurant floor and everybody’s like, ‘What’s that? I want that,’” she says. “The color is just so vibrant and eye-catching.”

Pea-Based Problem Solving

One of the most beloved attributes of this vegetable is its dazzling green hue. But maintaining the shade’s vibrancy is a major challenge for bartenders.

“Muddling peas is a lengthy process to do for each individual drink,” says Owens. “(But) I couldn’t keep something like pea mash on the bar—it will turn brown.”

To combat this, Market Table chef Kishen Jagmohan created a pea-centric take on oleo, a syrup typically made by using sugar to extract oils from citrus. Jagmohan’s version, however, involves gently cooking peas in glucose syrup. The technique effectively crystallizes the water in the pea, which yields a strong pea flavor and eye-catching, enduring green color.

Michael Hart, cocktail program director at Rosemary & Pine in San Francisco, faced a similar problem with color. His Snap Pea Comeback cocktail brings together mint, citrus and foamy egg white with a lush pea syrup and springy pea-infused gin. But his two pea-centric elements at first failed to maintain its near-glowing shade of green. A tip from the kitchen offered a simple solution.

“All I had to do was blanch the peas for about a minute,” says Hart. “I was astonished at the difference that made.” After bleaching, the pea color was brighter when making the syrup and infused gin. “This provides a spectacular contrast to the egg white foam atop the drink.”

A Year-Round Treat

Peas are in season in the springtime throughout most of the US, so it makes sense they first popped up on menus during that time. But Hart believes peas pair nicely with sesame, which has a warming nuttiness perfect for fall. “Coffee works (also) surprisingly well with peas,” he adds. “It’s a delicate balance, but they don’t clash at all like you might expect.”

In addition, though many bartenders use neutral spirits like vodka or those with botanical notes like gin to highlight peas, darker liquors can also work. “If you’re feeling adventurous and want to make something fresh, surprising and complex, I love working peas into a whiskey cocktail,” Weaver says.

In her Growing Season cocktail, for example, she uses green tea, lemon juice, celery bitters and rye whiskey to highlight the more subtle woodsy spice inherent in the snap peas. The final drink is a perfect transition from summer to fall, she says.

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All this said, pea-based cocktails rely on the quality of their star ingredient. Fresh peas—which are generally available in the US beginning in April—are best. Pro tip: Blanch a ton when they’re in season, dry and stash in the freezer. Pull them out when you’re craving a mid-winter pea cocktail fix. If that’s not possible, high-quality frozen varieties from the freezer aisle will do the trick.

Want to mix up a pea cocktail at home? These fresh, bright and very green cocktails are just as suitable for back patio summer shindigs as they are cozy armchair hangouts by the fireplace in the fall.

Peas & Thank You

Recipe by Lisa Komara and Kelsey Owens

Ingredients

1.5 oz fennel and pea-infused vodka, recipe follows

2 tablespoons fresh English peas, muddled

3/4 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz Jasmine orange oleo, recipe follows

1/4 oz Cocchi Americano

Fresh snap pea, for garnish

Instructions

Chill a coupe glass while you prepare the recipe. Combine fennel and pea-infused vodka, muddled English peas, lemon juice, Jasmine orange oleo and Cocchi Americano in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until cold and strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a fresh snap pea.


Fennel and Pea Infused Vodka

Ingredients

1/3 cup fennel, sliced

1 cup snap peas

1 liter vodka

Instructions

Combine ingredients in a glass jar and infuse for 24 to 48 hours. Use a fine mesh strainer to remove the solids and discard.


Jasmine Orange Oleo

Ingredients

Peels of 2 oranges

2 cups of sugar

1 cup brewed and cooled Jasmine tea

Instructions

Place the peels in a bowl and cover them with the sugar. Cover the bowl and allow to rest on the counter overnight until it is the consistency of a slurry. Pour cooled tea over the mixture and stir to dissolve any remaining sugar and to create a syrup. Strain out the orange peels using a fine mesh strainer and store in a bottle, chilled for up to a month.

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