Art in the Age’s craft spirits line focuses on “remakes” of historical libations. Though we’re still waiting for the Spanish Fly-type beverage Benjamin Franklin fed to his ravenous young French groupies, Sage ($30), a take on classic backyard garden gin, strikes our fancy quite nicely in the meantime. Thomas Jefferson’s favorite botanist, Bernard McMahon, chronicled American flora and kept the backyard English Garden alive at a time when the Brits weren’t exactly the toast of the town. What he also kept chugging, so the story goes, was personal booze made from that very homegrown crop, chronicled in a recipe from his 1806 American Gardner’s Calendar.
Art in the Age’s homage to that recipe goes to the root of Americana, literally: borrowing from many of McMahon’s herb-y finds, what they accomplish is an uncommon taste with varied greenery foundations. Spearmint, dandelion, fennel, rosemary, sumac, thyme, orange peel, lavender — and sage, sage sage — add the epitome of “green” in the flavor category. The 80 proof liquor smells lightly of spring growth, and the taste is inherently filled with piney bite; still, sage and quiet rose flavors appear mid-taste, a pleasant reprieve from gin’s usual bold flavors, until sage bullies through on the tongue to finish. The drink’s cinnamon aftertaste is, to be blunt, pretty damn delicious.
We concocted a Gimlet (3:1 sage gin to lime juice, with a hearty guzzle of seltzer) and were surprised with the result. The sage tempered the lime, and both flavors brought out the orange peel’s tropical notes. On a northern summer beach it would be just about perfect — we’re picturing Cape Cod without the Great White infestation — and in the harsh grip of winter the cocktail is a warming change of pace. With or without varied cocktail ingredients, though, Art in the Age has done well by history with Sage. We’re still crossing our fingers for gin-ingredient gardens to come back into fashion.