On a sunny Saturday, I beat the sweltering heat and depressing traffic to make my way to the historic Peel Mansion in Bentonville, to attend the first annual Drink the Garden event, which benefits renovation to the mansion and its grounds. Despite being bracketed by a Panda Garden and a Walmart, the mansion is beautiful, a piece of serenity on a busy road, featuring meticulously maintained grounds, a garden, and a house erected in 1875 by Colonel Samuel West Peel, the first native Arkansan elected to the US Congress and an apple aficionado. The trees and plants are still there, and today’s event featured four mixologists using herbs from the garden to create clever cocktails for attendees to vote on as we perused the grounds.
The flower garden was stunning, with butterflies and honeybees about, featuring varieties of lilies, tulips, and more. ‘More’ being a placeholder for a person who doesn’t know their flower varieties. However, I did notice hops in the backyard garden, so perhaps next year’s event will include home-brewed beer. The event was laid out so that one could easily peruse the grounds and sit on benches in the alcoves or at tables in the shade while getting their cocktail on.The first cocktail featured familiar ingredients from Fayetteville’s very own Pink House Alchemy, whose tinctures and shrubs were featured at WOW, where I tried the delightful End of Summer cocktail. Here, she had a drink featuring Bacardi rum, lavender syrup, lime juice, thyme, and an apple dipped in honey with a Jamaican fennel spice on it. This was an awesome drink- sweet and boozy with a spiced kick from the fennel. I overheard an attendee mentioning how awesome it would be on grilled meat- I wholeheartedly agree.28 Springs, from Siloam Springs, made a rich cocktail with port wine, Rock Town Distillery’s bourbon, distilled in Little Rock, and fresh raspberries and mint. The liquors in this were buttery and sweet, but detracted from the herbs a little. The bourbon was fantastic, though, and I was pleased to discover that Rock Town makes a gin that is sold in Bentonville, which will be a wonderful souvenir. While drinking this one, I wandered into the garden and spotted this beautiful flower. Is it part dandelion? Is it a mutant alien plant? The world may never know. Or, the world may Google it faster.The mixologists from Eleven, whose chef also provided the food for this event, created a cocktail with sweet potato vodka, freshly juiced beets, simple syrup, and coriander. This was a thirst-quenching cocktail, but the beets overpowered the delicate herb and sweet potato flavors, and it lacked the sweetness I was expecting.But damn, check out those beets!I took another opportunity to poke around the garden. The fountains were gushing cool water and I was tempted to splash around in them, as I was sweaty and certainly not acclimated to the Southern heat in my gingham, despite how dashing of a figure I cut. Yes, this means there’s a selfie at the end. Patience, suitors and suitettes.Each station featured a progressive set of snacks- vegetable crudites at Pink House, smoked trout rillettes and black cherries at 28 Springs, and proscuitto-wrapped figs stuffed with goat cheese and watermelon, basil, and feta stacks at Eleven. All were delicious, fresh finger foods, though I did notice plastic still wrapped around the proscuitto, both a bush league culinary move and a potential hazard. Finally, I stopped by the station manned by the guys from The Hive, my favorite bar and modern art museum in Bentonville. They had a cocktail made with tequila, fresh mint, limes, cherries, and salt, sort of like a cherry margarita. It was the perfect end to the cocktail tour, and I went back for seconds on that and the Pink House drink.With this, they served the dessert palate cleanser- caramel corn and candied bacon, which enhanced the jammy cherry flavors.And they even brought along my favorite friend, their green penguin mascot! People used to steal these from outside the museum before they nailed their feet to the ground.Airship Coffee brought along coffee and iced tea at the end, featuring two varieties of Kenyan Robusta. Their iced cold-brew was mixed with cream and sugar which, though quenching, smothered some of the delicate blackberry and cherry fruit notes the bean contains. Finishing the culinary selection was a sweet blackberry crisp, served in a big cast iron pan. The perfect end to a wonderful afternoon.After getting my drink on, I wandered the grounds a little more and looked longingly at the shade and burbling fountains. An unattended rocking chair on the porch provided much needed respite from the sun, which managed to scorch the back of my neck despite my buttoned collar. No ghosts sighted here- did I mention the mansion is purported to be haunted?The little house is the museum store and vegetable garden, where I picked up some heirloom climbing castor bean seeds to grow upon my return home. After an hour, I had to get back to the air-conditioned haven of my car and hotel before I started panting like a dog, but it was a wonderful event and the cocktails were both memorable and delightful. Long live the Peel Mansion! Please install air conditioning before I move in. Gratuitous selfie. Yeah, I know you dig that gingham swag and seed packet pocket square. And that coconut-scented pompadour. The new face of Peel.