Grab a muddler and mix up a Wise Man

Earthy, tangy and just a touch sweet, this sage-and-gin highball is perfect for spring.

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Manasa Gudavalli

The Wise Man is a sage- and gin-based cocktail perfect for spring weather. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Phoebe Goldman, Contributing Writer

Spring has finally sprung, so I figured I’d introduce you to my favorite warm-weather cocktail, a gin-based twist on a mojito. I call it the Wise Man, since it’s flavored with sage. I crowdsourced the name via my Snapchat story, and a friend came up with a pun on the sage.

I first mixed this drink during the summer of 2020 while living at my parents’ house — thanks, COVID-19. It was a positively boiling late afternoon, and I wanted to unwind. Usually the hot weather puts me in a mojito mood, but we didn’t have rum, mint or even a lime in the house. All that was left of my mojito dreams was a glass of sugary water over ice. 

Ever resourceful, I scavenged around my mom’s garden and came up with some sage, then dug a rather sad-looking lemon out of the fridge. Luckily, my dad shares my taste in booze, so we had a handle of Costco’s Kirkland gin handy. I ended up with a drink that was more sophisticated and herbal than a mojito, but still captured its refreshing citrus zing. It also looked super cool. 

This style of cocktail is called a highball, which means it combines a relatively small volume of hard liquor with a relatively large volume of non-alcoholic mixer. Classic examples are the rum and coke and the gin and tonic. Highballs are always served in a characteristically tall, round, thin glass, which is called a highball glass. They’ll always have some ice, though whether you should use crushed ice, cubed ice, pebble ice or a big long spear is a hotly-debated question of style. And they’ll always come with a reusable metal straw. I use metal straws because they’re a more elegant presentation and because they feel super satisfying between your lips. You can use a paper straw if you hate yourself, or a plastic straw if you hate the planet.

In addition to a highball glass and a metal straw, you’ll need a muddler, which is a tool for mashing up citrus fruits and herbs in a glass. You should be able to get one for five or 10 bucks at Target. A muddler is an essential bar tool that is also great for making guacamole. You’ll probably want a juicer too, because squeezing lemons — especially those sad, dried-out lemons that seem all too common in New York City grocery stores —by hand sucks. 

For once, the fruity and floral gins I prefer are not the right choice. Instead, you want something in the London Dry style, which is to say, mostly juniper-flavored, perhaps with some herbal notes. I’m using Plymouth gin for this one, but Costco’s Kirkland gin is nearly as good and much cheaper at the price of $18.59 for a hearty 1.75L bottle. Or, you could embrace the life of a broke college student and use Gordon’s. If all else fails, tell your liquor store you want a London Dry gin, and they’ll help you find what you need.

If you’re not into gin and sage, the good news is I’m teaching you to mix a mojito too!

Use a light rum instead of gin, mint instead of sage, and lime instead of lemon. In fact, I bet an enterprising reader could try just about any combination of a fresh herb, a liquor and a citrus fruit to wind up with a refreshing drink. I’ve had success with basil, blanco tequila and blood orange, but I couldn’t come up with a name for that one.

Whatever you settle on, the mojito method of muddling herbs with sugar and mixing with citrus and booze makes for an easy, refreshing and visually impressive drink.

A glass of clear gin-based cocktail decorated with sage leaves and a metal straw against a white background shot from the front.
(Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

THE WISE MAN

Start to finish: 8 minutes

Difficulty level: Easy

Ingredients

• 1 small lemon

• 3-6 leaves of fresh sage

• 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, or 2 if you like things on the sweet side

• 2 fluid ounces of gin

• Sparkling water

• Ice

Procedure

1. Wash your sage and pluck the leaves off the stem. 

2. Drop the leaves into the bottom of a highball glass. 

3. Pour one tablespoon of granulated sugar over the sage.

4. Muddle gently once or twice — you want a strong sage smell while leaving the leaves intact.

5. Pour in the juice of a lemon, or juice it directly into the glass, and two ounces of gin. 

6. Stir until the sugar dissolves. 

7. Fill the glass with ice.

8. Pour in soda water to fill gaps between the ice.

9. Sip through a straw.

Contact Phoebe Goldman at [email protected]