Spring Loaded

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Laguna Beach restaurants stir, mix and muddle ingredients straight from the farmers market stands for the ultimate in fresh springtime cocktails. – By Dana Nichols  | Photos by Jody Tiongco

Mixologists search local farmers markets high and low for cocktail ingredients like kumquats, basil, chili peppers and blood oranges to prove the best and brightest tastes are often the most unexpected. Keep reading to learn how local restaurants will bring new spring flavors to life in your glass this season.

To Market, To Market

With more farmers markets than any other state, local bartenders in Southern California have the best ingredients at their fingertips. When top Laguna Beach restaurants ensure that each sip begins with a personal grower-chef relationship cultivated over stands of fresh fruit, the result is inspiring new combinations that keep sustainable farming practices in business and more reasons to say “yes” to another round.

Inspiration starts Saturday mornings in Laguna Beach. “We’re a presence at the farmers market,” says Brian Harrington of Nick’s Laguna Beach, known since 2008 for its ever-changing Saturday Farmers Market cocktail special. “People have come to know that our managers in their chef jackets scour the stands for the freshest produce possible, bring it back and craft a unique cocktail that’s only available that day.”

It’s not surprising that many chefs get to know growers by name. “One of our favorites is farmer Shawn who has a fourth generation family farm just south of Fresno,” says Three Seventy Common Kitchen manager Monica Flick. “We use his citrus for our fresh squeezed juices and cocktails—lemons, limes, blood oranges and grapefruits.”

Come spring, the selection is more bountiful than ever. “As we transition to spring and then summer, I’ll be perusing the local markets more and more often,” says Anthony McLeod, lead bartender at

Watermarc, who uses all fresh fruit in everything from margaritas to blueberry-coconut mojitos. “I go to the local farmers markets in Dana Point, Laguna Beach and Irvine looking for fresh ideas.”

Buncha Basil

Savor the best of spring with the cool essence of California’s herb garden staple, fresh basil. The delicate sweet-peppery flavor gets the limelight now that it’s coming into the height of its season.

The aptly named Secret Garden at OceanView Bar & Grill is a combination of Veev Acai Liqueur, fresh lemon juice, basil, cucumber and simple syrup. (425 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-494-1151; hotellaguna.com/dining)

The masterminds at Nick’s Laguna Beach infuse Herradura Silver Tequila with basil for the Basil Blood Orange Margarita, garnished with an orange zest salt rim.

The fresh basil that Sapphire Laguna’s chef Azmin Ghahreman picks up at the farmers market from LA-based Jaime Farms pairs with naturally sweet raspberries, Stoli raspberry vodka and Chambord for the restaurant’s most popular springtime martini, the Basilica.

For a freshening of a classic, Three Seventy Common makes its East Side with basil and cucumber instead of mint. The result is so refreshing, you’ll know those ingredients were picked just over the hills (Ventura County, to be exact). (370 Glenneyre St.; 949-494-8686; 370common.com)

Hot Citrus

The hottest flavor combo this spring blends spicy with bright orange. These drinks have the right spicy heat for the perfect hint of danger:

Bartender Justin Holmes of Asada Laguna uses fresh local citrus and Serrano chilies from local markets in his new Blood Orange Caliente Margarita, with fresh lime, agave nectar and tequila. “It has the perfect blend of sweet and some heat,” he says. (480 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-715-5533; asadalaguna.com)

Anthony at Watermarc makes homemade habañero syrup to infuse in the Fresh Mango and Cilantro Margarita, a new springtime twist.

For ultimate spice, ghost chilies are special ordered  and infused with tequila for The Miablo at Three Seventy Common. “She’s a spicy devil so the name came naturally,” says chef Ryan Adams of his girlfriend Mia, for whom the drink is named.

It’s a perpetual vacation at Tommy Bahama Bar & Grill, where the Spicy Kumquat Margarita, featuring sweet-and-sour citrus fruit and a jalapeño kicker, is only available in the spring; kumquats and peppers are sourced from local Southern California farms. (400 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-376-6881; tommybahama.com)

 Color Pop Sangria

Color is known to brighten moods, so when you need a pick-me-up, go for a vibrantly hued sangria. If the appearance of in-season berries, fresh green grapes and sliced apples doesn’t tantalize your taste buds, the first swig of white springtime sangria by Watermarc will put a smile on your face. The drink features St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, finished with Italian sparkling Prosecco. (448 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-376-6272; watermarcrestaurant.com)

Keep an eye out for this version of one Saturday’s popular Farmers Market Cocktail at Nick’s Laguna Beach (drinks vary each week): Pineapple Blood Orange Sangria made with local organic blood oranges, pineapple juice, rum and merlot. (440 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-376-8595; thenickco.com)

At Sapphire Laguna, the outdoor patio is like an early California fruit stand and drinks are made with homemade fruit purees. Sparkling water and vodka keep the signature White Peach Sangria from tasting too sweet. Stirred with locally sourced, in-season white peaches, white Spanish Albariño wine and garnished with edible flower petals, it’s a vision of spring. (1200 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-715-9888; sapphirellc.com)

Strawberry Splendor

Strawberries are grown nearly year-round in California but are at their peak in April. One of the best spots to head if you can’t get enough of these juicy sweets at their ripest is Montage Laguna Beach. To make its popular Spring Berry Blossom, made with Tanqueray Rangpur Gin and Crème de Violette, The Loft at Montage gets strawberries from Harry’s Berries, an Oxnard family farm that’s been harvesting since 1967. (30801 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-715-6420; montagelagunabeach.com)

Chef Azmin of Sapphire Laguna thinks the combination of strawberry and rhubarb will be the standout flavor of the spring and thus created the new Hummingbird Cooler with Hendrick’s Gin and strawberries from Harry’s Berries.

Strawberry Lemonade served at The St. Regis Monarch Beach Lobby Lounge has Ketel One Citroen, strawberries from a grower in Irvine and lemons from Morning Song Farm in tiny Rainbow, Calif. (1 Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point; 949-234-3200; stregismb.com) LBM

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