Bartenders have been serving small batch cocktails with the French press for years. The coffee brewing tool is just one of the contemporary cocktail renaissance’s many contributions to drink culture. Now, home bartenders are also embracing this fashionable way of creating bespoke elixirs of spirits, juices, fruits, herbs, and whatever else they can scrounge up in their kitchens.
While the French press is conventionally used to separate coffee from the grounds, its use in cocktails serves a similar purpose and does so with an allure that makes it worth trying.
Why use a French press for cocktails?
The French press is a great tool to use when making cocktails for three main reasons: It has the ability to mix both hot and cold drinks; it can separate solid ingredients that were used to impart flavor into a spirit or mixture; and it does so in small batches, which is great for session drinking with others.
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Its unique value proposition as it relates to mixing drinks is one that can’t be undermined, as it is pretty much the only tool that can accomplish these tasks. It’s the perfect marriage of practicality and style, and its efficiency and convenience are the forefront of its appealing attributes.
One thing to keep in mind when developing French press-friendly cocktails is that there needs to be a component of the mixture that needs to be strained (in other words, some solid ingredient or ingredients, like basil and strawberries used in a recipe below). Without some sort of fruit, nut, spice, herb, vegetable, or other ingredient that adds flavor or texture to the cocktail, serving the mix in a French press would only be for aesthetics.
Muddled drinks are one style of cocktail that works well when applied to the French press technique, because muddling involves releasing flavor from herbs, or fruits, via agitation. Think about making a Mojito, for example: Simple syrup and mint are muddled together at the bottom of the glass, then some lime juice and rum are added, before it’s topped with ice and soda water.
The mint ends up floating in the drink — which isn’t a terrible thing — but if this cocktail were scaled up, and made in a French press, the mint would be pressed to the bottom and what would be left is a delicious mixture that still has the flavor of the mint, but with a cleaner texture. (Having solid particles in fizzy drinks also makes them lose their carbonation at a faster rate, so there is an actual benefit to maintaining the quality of the cocktail as well.)
Infusions are an entire topic in and of themselves, but the main purpose of this technique is to use an ingredient (e.g. a pepper) to give new flavor, and texture, to a spirit. Some ingredients infuse spirits quicker than others — a good rule of thumb here is if it cooks down quicker, it likely infuses quicker as well.
The most important thing to remember as it relates to infusions in a French press is that alcohol is a solvent, and the higher the ABV of a mix, the quicker the spirit will pull flavor from whichever ingredient is being used. When using this method to infuse a spirit, the most crucial thing to remember to do is let the spirit and solid infuse by themselves without adding any components of the cocktail that may lower the ABV (juice, citrus, liqueurs, etc.). This will ensure that the cocktail yields the best concentration of flavor. When it comes to hot drinks, the heat will also help infuse the drink quicker, just like brewing hot coffee or tea. (Pro tip: Infusing a spirit separately ahead of time will cut down on the preparation of the French press cocktail.)
Below are three French press cocktail recipes to make at home.
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ cup Aperol
- ½ cup Campari
- ½ cup lemon
- ¼ sugar syrup
- Strawberries (quartered)
- Mineral water
- Add the syrup, 4 strawberries cut in quarters, and a small handful of basil leaves to the French press.
- Using a wooden spoon, or muddler, muddle the ingredients together until the juice from the strawberries is released and the mix is fragrant.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to the French press, let the mix rest for 1 minute, then press and strain to separate the liquid from the solids.
- To serve, strain into a glass over ice, and top with a splash of mineral water, and garnish with a basil leaf.
- 1 cup rum
- ¼ cup Grand Marnier
- ½ cup pineapple
- ⅓ cup lime
- ¼ cup simple syrup
- Toasted coconut (chips or chunks)
- Jalapeño (sliced)
- Mint leaves
- Cinnamon stick
- Add rum and toasted coconut to the French press and allow the mix to infuse for at least 20 minutes.
- Then, add half of a sliced jalapeño, a halved cinnamon stick, and a handful of mint leaves to the French press before topping with the rest of the ingredients.
- Let the mix rest for 10 minutes, then press to separate the solids from the liquids.
- To serve, strain over ice in a double rocks glass and garnish with either mint or a pineapple leaf.
- 1 cup gin
- ½ cup blanc vermouth (like Cinzano)
- ½ lemon
- ¼ grenadine
- Tonic water (preferably Fever-Tree)
- Celery root
- Rosemary sprigs
- Add the gin, ⅓ cup thinly sliced celery root, a few rosemary sprigs, and ¼ cup sliced cucumbers to the French press. Allow the mix to infuse for as long as possible (preferably 2 hours).
- After the gin is infused, add the vermouth, lemon, and grenadine to the mix and let it rest for a few minutes.
- Then, press the solids with the strainer to separate from the liquid, and strain over ice to serve.
- Top the cocktail with tonic water and garnish with cucumber, rosemary, and lemon.