When former playwright Alan Walter isn’t assembling cocktails behind the bar at Loa, inside New Orleans’s International House Hotel, he’s out tracking down the Spanish moss, sassafras leaves, muscadine grapes, and other wild ingredients that season his creations.
“When I’m making syrups, I’m canvassing for flavors,” Walter says. “It can be something readily at hand, or it can be something unusual.” Last year, a walk through his grocery store inspired a popular birdseed Manhattan. And the citric bite of longleaf pine needles inspired his Marguerite, an eccentric but refreshing drink that blends the flavors of a summertime classic with the flavors of the Southeastern forest: pine, sassafras, and bay. To gather all of the ingredients, you’ll need to hit the trail—or at least the backyard. Once you have a basketful of needles, though, you can set yourself up for a season’s worth of cookouts by brewing an extra-large batch of syrup and freezing whatever you don’t use right away.