Mobile bar creates craft cocktails with ingredients foraged from Tahoe

Michelle Shea Stohlgren pours a cocktail from her mobile bar. Photo: Claire Cudahy

Behind her mobile bar made of reclaimed wood, Michelle Shea Stohlgren identifies the plants she has collected in glass jars: elderflower, juniper berries, and wormwood, to name a few.

All of these ingredients she found growing wild in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe — though she won’t give away her favorite foraging spots — and she’s used them to craft syrups, vermouths, bitters and tonics.

“Everything is local, organic, foraged and seasonal,” says Shea Stohlgren. “I want to make unique Tahoe cocktails that feature our flavors and our style.”

Shea Stohlgren makes her own syrups, vermouths, bitters and tonics. Photo: Claire Cudahy

This August Shea Stohlgren launched her mobile bar business Garden To Glass Mixology in Incline Village. The long-time bartender also runs an outdoor cooking blog called Adventure Dining Guide.

“The most popular content by far that I ever came up with was the stuff that had to do with outdoor cocktails,” explains Shea Stohlgren.

And after taking a medicinal and edible wild plant course this summer in Tahoe, she found that the mountains had everything she needed to create the perfect cocktail.

She forages ingredients from all over Tahoe. Photo: Claire Cudahy

Shea Stohlgren goes out in search of large growth areas near water sources where she can sustainably harvest flowers, plants and berries. She then uses high-proof spirits like Everclear to extract the nutrients from the plants, layering in flavors from different combinations to create a tincture.

“When you take a tincture and blend it together and add a little bit of sugar, that’s bitters. Add a little more sugar, that’s Amaro. Add even more sugar, it’s a cordial,” explains Shea Stohlgren.

Shea Stohlgren strives to create cocktails that are balanced — not too sweet, not too sour, and not too spirit-heavy. They can be as intricate as an Elderflower Ginger Kentucky Mule or as simple as a Homemade Vermouth Vodka Martini.

Juniper berries can be found in the Sierra Nevada. Photo: Claire Cudahy

“A lot of my focus is pre-Prohibition Era recipes. Before Prohibition it was a whole different drinking culture here in America. It wasn’t about going to the bar and drinking as much as you can. It was about having artfully-made drinks that had a purpose,” says Shea Stohlgren.

“As I started going back and looking through all of these 1800s recipe books, I found that it was a different style, so I’ve been using that as my inspiration to take drinking culture with health and nutrition and infuse Tahoe flavors.”

With the cold weather coming in, Shea Stohlgren is nearing the end of her elderflower stash and has been out foraging for Manzanita berries.

Shea Stohlgren strives to create cocktails that are balanced — not too sweet, not too sour, and not too spirit-heavy. Photo: Claire Cudahy

She just scored a big batch of crabapples from Truckee, which she’s mixing with lemon, honey, sugar and cinnamon to create a cordial for a seasonally-inspired Crabapple Hot Toddy.

Though Garden to Glass Mixology is just getting off the ground, Shea Stohlgren says she is already finding success with weddings, events and even private mixology classes around the lake.

“People are really having a lot of fun with it,” she adds. “I’m excited to see what comes next.”

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