The bottles of simple syrup and cocktail elixirs smell of earth and flowers and some, the smokiness of fire. Owner Michelle Stohlgren of Garden to Glass Mixology creates and blends syrups and bases from the forests of Tahoe and prepares delicious cocktails and mocktails.
“I began to immerse myself in wilderness botany and took a medicinal wildlife plant course. There are a lot of local plants that are commonly used to make spirits in our area. World history is in these bottles,” says Stohlgren, who points to the bottles on the table.
She uses seasonal locally grown plants for her elixirs. Stohlgren, a cocktail mixologist, has bartended for both Cottonwood Restaurant and Truckee Tavern. Her passion for the outdoors and mixology led her to create her business Garden To Glass.
As Stohlgren learned more about plants, her research led her to an old pre-Prohibition recipe book. She found wellness recipes using plants and spirits. She experimented with local plants and learned about the history and evolution of how these plants were used.
“When we had over abundance of large harvests, pre-refrigeration, we needed to find a way to preserve them. We made tinctures and wines and dehydrated the plants. Alcoholic beverages were not just made for use in bars, but also prepared for longevity and health and wellness throughout the year,” says Stohlgren.
Stohlgren explains that her gateway into herbs and plants was wormwood, the local version of which is mugwort, that grows in Tahoe and was introduced to her during one of her wild plant courses. According to Stohlgren, it is easy to harvest and it grows abundantly here. Wormwood is used in absinthe, vermouth, aperitivo and amaro.
“It does cool things for dreams. It’s bitter tasting and great for digestion. Vermouth cannot be vermouth without wormwood,” she says.
I open a small bottle and smell it. It has a smoky, burnt aroma like the slight smell of a forest fire.
“We are fortunate to live in a vibrant and abundant wilderness in Tahoe. Winter trees like cedar and Douglas firs give us vitamins. We make teas out of them. We forage sustainably and only use what’s seasonally available,” says Stohlgren.
I taste a spoonful of the simple syrup; it is intense.
“Imagine it in an old fashioned,” Stohlgren says.
I close my eyes. It definitely would add a unique taste to the cocktail. She also creates Smoky Daiquiris and Smoky Lemon Drops with cedar syrup.
“It’s got a fun, woodsy flavor,” she says.
For a non-alcoholic version, she adds it to soda water along with fresh berries. The elixir is prepared with smoked cedar Stohlgren forages and mixes with cedar leaf, demerara, sugar and water.
For a Tahoe Mule, Stohlgren uses ginger, Douglas fir, lime zest, honey and water. But it is Stohlgren’s homemade St. Germain syrup made with elderflowers that I am called to. It is so delicious and reinforces my obsession with elderflower and Prosecco cocktails.
In addition to simple syrups, Stohlgren makes alcohol-based tinctures with mugwort and elderberries. For her elixirs, tinctures and cocktails she is constantly experimenting, figuring out the balance of bitter, fruity and sweet and adding spices along the way.
Glass to Garden host’s private events, mixology classes, caters weddings and parties, and offers back-country bartending hikes. Stohlgren also offers private, specialty cocktail consultations, develops cocktail menus, trains bar staff and offers mixology education.
Stohlgren’s vision is to offer an authentic Tahoe experience steeped in wilderness and culture through mixology. | gardentoglassmixology.com
Elderflower Cordial | Courtesy Michelle Stohlgren
½ C Elderflower, fresh or dehydrated
1 C honey
¾ C water
In a small saucepan, combine the elderflower, honey and water over low heat. Use a whisk to slowly stir the honey until it has dissolved into the water. This usually takes 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool and store in a tight sealing jar in refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Elderflower & Bubbles Cocktail/Mocktail | Courtesy Michelle Stohlgren
1 oz. elderflower cordial
½ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Champagne or Pellegrino to fill glass
Combine elderflower cordial and lemon juice in a flute. Slowly top with champagne for cocktail or Pellegrino for a mocktail. Garnish with a lemon twist.