Over the last decade, the cocktail culture has enjoyed an evolutionary renaissance fueled by fresher ingredients, craft distilleries and mixologists willing to flex their shakers and think outside of the box. The foundation for crafting quality libations starts with sourcing quality ingredients, and that’s where Nate Gilds from Portland’s Gilded Greens steps in.
Founded in 2017, Gilds uses his tenured experience in horticulture to create an environmentally focused, sustainable source of microgreens for the Pacific Northwest culinary world. (Microgreens are the nutrient- and flavor-packed mini versions of full grown vegetables, typically seen topping dishes at restaurants and cocktails at savvy bars.)
As the microgreen industry continues to grow, it’ll be people like Gilds who steer the course, offering fresh garnishes and inspiration from plate to glass. Building relationships across stoves and bars, Gilded Greens is first and foremost a passion, and business second.
We had a chance to catch up with him and learn about his journey through the blossoming microgreen industry.
1) How did the passion for microgreens start? Was there a moment when you saw the missing piece of the culinary puzzle and realized microgreens were the answer?
Microgreens have quietly been around for decades, and have increased in popularity in the past 10 years. The real nudge to start Gilded Greens came from a chef friend of mine, Jimmy Asken [of Imperial]. He informed me of this niche culinary ingredient some years back, because he knew I had a passion for plant care. Upon learning of that specialty, my focus quickly turned from propagating cacti and succulents to growing colorful radish shoots, sunflower shoots, micro cress and mustard varieties for restaurants and bars in Portland.
2) How do the microgreens produced from Gilded Greens help to fuel the evolution of the cocktail world?
I’ve always wanted to see more microgreens in cocktails. The intense flavors that microgreens pack are great for adding flavors of anise, pepper, earth, lemon and more to what we drink. It’s always exciting to see microgreens leave the plate and get used in a new way.
Last year, bartender Michelle Ruocco used my nasturtium and shiso along with gin, campari, grapefruit, citrus and citron ginger tea in a cocktail at Han Oak. Urdaneta has used nasturtium for a peppery garnish in a Spanish-style gin and tonic. There’s a lot that can be done using microgreens, whether it’s using them as a simple garnish or to create syrups, bitters, sprays or tinctures.
3) How does Gilded Greens enhance the craft spirit experience, and is there a drink — spirited or zero-proofed — you think best showcases microgreens?
Microgreens can add an earthy and fresh element to cocktails. This summery cocktail uses anise hyssop microgreens, and has great citrus and bitter-spice notes:
2 ounces vodka
4-5 dashes The Bitter Housewife lime coriander bitters
½ lemon wedge
¼ ounce simple syrup
Garnish: Gilded Greens anise hyssop microgreens
Seltzer water, to top
Gently muddle a few lime wedges with a very generous pinch of Gilded Greens anise hyssop. Add the vodka, dashes of bitters, simple syrup and ice. Shake until the outside of the shaker frosts up. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with the seltzer water and garnish with a lemon wheel and anise hyssop.
4) What is the difference between Gilded Greens as a one-man-show and some of the larger operations who offer microgreens as well?
The business is growing fast, and soon we may be more than a one-man-show, but one thing I’ve learned is that chefs and restaurant owners in Portland really like interacting with their growers and purveyors. While there are a lot of ups and downs of owning a business, getting to know my customer base on another level has been enriching not only for my business but in my day-to-day life in this city.