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April 28, 2015

Get a cleaner buzz with healthier cocktails

Plus a superfood-infused drink recipe from the duo behind Sprig + Spirit

Cocktails Recipes
Chiapolitan Tenaya Darlington/Sprig + Spirit

At the intersection of the craft cocktail and healthy living movements, Sprig + Spirit is an exploration of low-proof, low-sugar drinks intended to leave you glowing and rejuvenated rather than depleted and hungover.

Tenaya Darlington, aka Madame Fromage, is the author of Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese (Running Press, 2013) and a self-described “cheese courtesan” about town. She also loves a good drink.

Her latest project is the new website Sprig + Spirit, a joint venture with her brother André Darlington, a Wisconsin-based cocktail writer. At the intersection of the craft cocktail and healthy living movements, the site is an exploration of low-proof, low-sugar drinks intended to leave you glowing and rejuvenated rather than depleted and hungover. 

Walk into any good cocktail bar these days and you’ll find an array of just-squeezed fruit juices and high-quality spirits. Sprig + Spirit’s recipes showcase those same ingredients, but they include surprising additions — nutrient-rich superfoods like chia seeds and spirulina.
“It started as a little bit of a joke,” says Tenaya. By the time she and André submitted the manuscript for their book Craft Cocktails in the Kitchen (Running Press, Spring 2016) earlier this year, they were ready for a detox. 

After many months of recipe-testing their way through the classics — from the Old Fashioned to the Red Snapper, a fresh take on the Bloody Mary — Tenaya and André went on a serious health kick, chugging lots of cleansing drinks.
Maca powder. Tenaya Darlington/Sprig+Spirit

Eventually, smoothie boosters like turmeric and maca powder found their way into their cocktail shakers. “We both just love to experiment. And we love to cook, we love to make drinks,” says Tenaya. “We started off with a mushroom sour using medicinal mushrooms and we were like: ‘Wow, that is delicious! What can we try next?’” 

The Sprig + Spirit website features a whimsical animated video of that Foraged Sour recipe (mushroom–infused bourbon, lemon juice, roasted walnut oil, egg white and Demerara sugar) and explains that dried mushrooms are associated with increased immunity, enhanced athletic performance and better stress management.

The site also gives tips for making more wholesome concoctions: Dial back on the alcohol; avoid spirits and mixers with dyes and chemical flavors; use filtered water for ice; always start with fresh ingredients; and replace white sugar with raw Demerara sugar, honey or maple syrup. 

Tenaya and André plan to collaborate on new recipes with talented bartenders around the country. They’ve seen the healthy cocktail trend gaining steam on the West Coast, and Tenaya points out that Europe’s first “superfood bar” opened in the MyHotel in London last year.  

We don’t have a superfood bar here in Philly (yet?), but at least a handful of area restaurants and juice shops are pairing spirits with unexpected health-supportive ingredients.

At V Street, the vegan street food spot by Vedge owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, bar manager Daniel Miller says that creating healthy drinks isn’t his number one objective, but it’s clear that he likes to experiment with savory flavors and highlight restorative ingredients. New for spring is the tangy, creamy Sevan Springs Eternal. It’s made with Genepy (an herbal liqueur), Cardamaro (an Italian digestif), lime juice, rhubarb syrup with sumac, and “Greek yogurt” (blended cucumber, dill, parsley, lemon juice, coconut milk, soy powder and salt). The boozier No Man’s Land pairs cognac and amaro with yerba mate and mineral-rich blackstrap molasses. 

Since Nicole Marquis’s Charlie was a sinner opened last year, its green-Chartreuse-and-wheatgrass shot has been very popular, says manager Pete Venuto. The cocktail menu at the vegan bar typically highlights a range of powerhouse fruits and vegetables, from berries to carrots. There’s a mocktail section, too, currently featuring a Rhubarb Spritzer and Basil Fennel Lemon Soda. The alcohol-free Spicy Pineapple (pineapple, agave, chile-infused simple syrup) makes for a great vehicle for a shot of tequila, says Venuto. 

At Rittenhouse’s P.S. & Co. café owner Andrea Kyan hosts BYOB prix fixe dinners where she suggests spirits to complement her organic cold-pressed juices. For example, the Bangkok (pineapple, lime, mint, lemongrass and Vero water) is the perfect mixer for local Bluecoat gin, made with organic juniper berries. Kyan is also planning a Wednesday night workshop series based on The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart (Algonquin Books, 2013) to begin in late May. Each week participants will explore a particular spirit in depth, learn how to craft cocktails using herbs from P.S. & Co.’s garden, and go home with a DIY kit.

Kristin Lubsen’s take-out juicery Sip-N-Glo does not have a liquor license, but the shop makes cocktails for one-off events, like a gin-spiked orange-pineapple-ginger drink for the recent Rittenhouse Row preview party (a new Sip-N-Glo location is coming to Rittenhouse soon). Late last year, Sip-N-Glo hosted a happy hour with South Street neighbor Supper — think sweet potato–and–apple juice jazzed up with Art in the Age’s organic SNAP liqueur. Also, its “Sass-N-Glo” blog posts spotlight favorite juice-and-booze recipes.

To skeptics, a healthy cocktail is an oxymoron, and many folks prefer to keep their stiff-drink-swilling and yoga-ing worlds separate. But the prospect of feeling lighter and brighter after a couple of post-gym Maca-ritas or Chia-politans may be an appealing one to more than just fitness fanatics. 

Just remember to not overdo it: The no-hangover guarantee only applies when you drink in moderation, of course.