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Cool summer cocktails
(article, Carrie Floyd)
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I've often been told by friends to give up my artistic ambitions and follow my true calling: bartending. It's the kind of backhanded compliment that gives one pause. On the one hand, it's flattery, affirming what tasty drinks I make. On the other hand, what does it say about my writing?
I don't take it too seriously, though, just as I don't take my kids too seriously when they gush, "I love you, Mommy!" while I heap whipped cream into their cups of cocoa or buy them doughnuts and ice cream at our neighborhood gelato joint. Candy for kids, cosmos for adults — either way, it's sugared praise.
The adults, I must say, are no better than the kids when it comes to limits. I've seen grown men turn petulant with my One Good Cocktail Rule. This rule is founded on my own kid-in-a-candy-store tendencies, not to mention an increasing affection for my health. Youth is wasted on the young, after all, and so are many livers.
My cocktail rule is this: For a dinner party, I prep enough ingredients for everyone to have one really good cocktail (and if there are kids, one good kiddie cocktail). And then we move on.
Water, wine, more water, but no more cocktails. It seems stingy, but you'll thank me in the morning.
And stingy, well, it is. I have my limits, too, of how much time I want to spend squeezing and puréeing fruit. The time I pressed strawberries through a sieve yielded quarter-cup cocktails, but hey, wasn't I nice to share? (That could have been one good cocktail for me.)
The secret of scrumptious cocktails is also the secret of good cooking: Start with high-quality ingredients. Though there are some bottled juices (grapefruit, pomegranate) that render passable drinks, for the most part you'll fare better making your own. (If you've ever tasted side-by-side margaritas, one made with fresh lime juice and the other made with bottled margarita mix, you'll appreciate the difference.)
First-rate bartenders stock their bars with sweet-and-sour, which is a blend of fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juices (and sometimes a little orange). This, combined with simple syrup (a 1-to-1 ratio of sugar and water, dissolved rapidly in hot water) is the basis of many a cocktail. The key is to balance the sweet and the tart.
There are lots of ways to turn seasonal fruits into summer drinks — fresh juices, fruit purées, infused syrups. I like making fruit syrups, because it's such an easy way to capture flavor and color. You could also try your hand at infusing vodka: Add chopped cucumbers, ginger root, fennel fronds, or fruit (melon, quince, berries) to a fifth of neutral-tasting vodka, then set it aside for a month or two. With a little imagination, this infused vodka will seed future one-of-a-kind cocktails.
If you're new to bartending, I suggest picking up Lucy Brennan's book, Hip Sips. Brennan excels in creating what she calls "food-forward cocktails," drinks that marry fruit, vegetables, and herbs with spirits. Her book provides useful information — basic tools for mixing drinks, suggestions for stocking the bar, tips on glassware and ice — along with individual tips (how to make a lollipop rim, recipes for fruit purées, advice on shaking) and lots of splendid recipes.
I bartend like I cook — slap-dash and scrappy, a little of this, a little of that. Though the following recipes contain specific measurements, don't hesitate to alter these drinks to your own taste — adding more sweet, more tart, or more alcohol. And keep in mind other agreeable, easy-to-make summer sippers: gin and tonics, rosé wine, and the bottled aperitif Lillet, served chilled with a twist of orange peel.
Here are seven summer cocktails that blend (mostly) seasonal fruits with thirst-quenching (or at least cooling) mixers.
[%image kimmy width=300 float=right caption="The Kimmy"]The Kimmy
The Kimmy is named after my friend Kim, and it blends and borrows from several drinks: the gin and tonic (of which we've had more than one together), the mojito (one of her favorite drinks), and seltzer (a watering-down trick I learned from her).
To make The Kimmy: Pour a shot of gin, 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon-lime juice, and a swig of (cooled) mint simple syrup into a chimney glass with ice. Fill to the top with seltzer, stir to combine, and garnish with a mint sprig.
For a non-alcoholic variation, mix mint simple syrup with seltzer; serve over ice with a mint sprig.
[%image reference-image width=300 float=right caption="Rhubarb Cosmopolitan"]Rhubarb Cosmopolitan
The typical cosmopolitan is a kamikaze tinged with cranberry juice. This cosmo actually tastes like rhubarb.
To make a Rhubarb Cosmopolitan: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then pour in 2 shots vodka (I like Monopolowa because it's so neutral), 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice, and 1/3 cup rhubarb syrup. Shake vigorously, then strain into two martini glasses. Garnish with half-moons of lime.
The syrup also makes a delicious soda when mixed with bubbly water.
[%image portlander width=300 float=right caption="Pimm's Cup"]Pimm's Cup
The quintessential sultry daytime drink, a Pimm's cup is especially refreshing if you go light on the liquor and heavy on the mixer. Pimm's No. 1 is gin-based and the most common Pimm's available.
To make a Pimm's Cup: Fill a tall glass with ice, layering as you go several slices of fresh fruit, such as lemon, orange, green apple, or cucumber slices. Add a shot of Pimm's to the glass, 1/2 cup ginger beer or ginger ale, and a splash of seltzer water. With a long spoon, carefully stir the drink to blend the alcohol with the mixer. Garnish with long wedges of cucumber and mint sprigs.
[%image margaritas width=300 float=right caption="House Margarita"]House Margarita
Agave nectar makes a tasty sweetener for margaritas, along with a splash of orange-flavored liqueur (I prefer Grand Marnier or Harlequin over Triple Sec).
To make one perfect margarita: Squeeze one lime, half of a lemon, and half of an orange into a mixing vessel (a pint glass or Pyrex measuring cup). Add a shot of tequila, a splash of Harlequin or Grand Marnier, and a slosh of agave nectar. Stir and taste. If it's too tart for your taste, add more agave nectar.
Prepare a bucket glass: Run a lime wedge around the rim of the glass, then swirl the edge through a saucer of margarita or coarse salt. Fill glass with ice. Pour drink into glass. Drop lime wedge into glass.
To make several margaritas, follow the same proportions of citrus, alcohol, and sweetener.
[%image bittersweet width=300 float=right caption="The Bittersweet"]The Bittersweet
This is a drink I made up for a friend, who earned her own house cocktail after buying a house that has been both a lemon and a bitter pill, given the domino effect of requisite projects. The house has some sweet qualities, too — hence "bittersweet."
There are two ways to make this drink. You can place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake, then strain into a martini glass with a sugar rim. (To make a sugar rim, run a lemon wedge around the rim of the glass, then swirl the moistened edge in a saucer of superfine sugar.) Or you can combine all the ingredients in a 2-cup measuring cup, stir to mix, then divide into bucket-type glasses filled with ice before garnishing with orange slices.
For two drinks, you'll need 1/4 cup Campari, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sweet vermouth, 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1/8 teaspoon rose water (optional).
[%image prosecco width=300 float=right caption="Prosecco with blackberry-sangiovese coulis."]Prosecco Cocktail
Coulis is really just a fancy word for sauce or purée. Last summer, I made a large batch of Kelly Myers' blackberry-sangiovese coulis, which I stowed in jam-jar quantities in the freezer, then thawed throughout the fall and winter to make cocktails.
This summer I've been experimenting with turning seasonal fruits into syrups for cocktails and sodas, freezing the excess for later. The basic technique is to cook fruit — rhubarb, plums, berries — in a saucepan with a 1-to-1 ratio of sugar to water. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. Once it's cool, pour mixture through a strainer, pressing through the fruit pulp; discard the seeds and skins.
To make a coulis-based beverage: Add the syrup to a glass of sparkling wine (and garnish with a twist of lemon), mix it with a blend of freshly squeezed lemon-lime juice and a shot of vodka, or stir it into sparkling water for a lovely soda.
[%image saketini width=300 float=right caption="The Saketini"]Lime-Cucumber Saketini
Substituting sake for hard alcohol is a great way to lighten up a drink, yielding an alcohol content close to a wine spritzer without sacrificing the flavor or style of a good cocktail.
The Lime-Cucumber Saketini — made with sake and served in a martini glass — is an adaptation from Jessica Strand's book Margaritas, Mojitos, and More. Strand offers several variations of the saketini (ginger, lemon-rosemary) as well as other riffs on the martini that will make classic martini drinkers shudder. For summer cocktail inspiration, however, it's a good book to peruse, with lots of ideas for pairing fresh juice and making infused syrups, not to mention those just-turned-21 (and I'm-not-proud-when-it's-sweltering) favorites: blended drinks.
To make a Lime-Cucumber Saketini: Place 1/2 cup cucumber in a mini food processor and pulse until liquefied. Pour into a cocktail shaker along with 1/2 cup lime juice, 2 Tablespoons simple syrup, and 5 ounces sake. Add enough ice cubes to fill the shaker. Shake for 30 seconds to a minute, then strain into two martini glasses. Garnish each glass with a cucumber half-moon and serve.
p(bio). Carrie Floyd is Culinate's food editor.