Lots of great links to click for even greater drinks for the summer!
Refreshing by Definition
By PETE WELLS @ The New York Times
AGAVE NECTAR In a Venn diagram of vegans and bartenders, this might be the only overlap. While the former group likes it as a honey substitute with no taint of animal exploitation, the latter appreciates its easy ability to blend into cold drinks. Professionals prefer mixing it with tequila and mezcal, but lazy home bartenders might use light agave nectar just like SIMPLE SYRUP, without the bother of boiling, cooling and bottling an extremely sticky substance.
BASIL Unless you sell your own line of pesto, there’s only so much basil you can use. So why not drink it? A distant cousin of MINT, basil can be put to some of the same uses in cocktails, but with predictably different results. MUDDLE it or just toss it in the shaker and let the ICE do the work (but use a strainer). Basil plays well with fruit, even pineapple.
CHILIES Sometimes the best way to cool down is by adding heat. Sparing amounts of hot peppers can lower body temperature, and will cut against the grain of a sweet cocktail, too. Bits of fresh chilies can be tossed into a blender for FROZEN DRINKS or smashed with a MUDDLER. Whole fresh chilies may be left in a bottle of liquor, like vodka. Ground dried chilies — typically cayenne, but smoky pimentón is also worth a try — can be included in a salt rim, as in: Watermelon Sugar.
COLA Rum and Coca-Cola, the Andrews Sisters sang. America sang along. And drank along. And it was good. What happened? Maybe our tastes changed. Coca-Cola certainly did — around 1900, when the drink was invented, Coke contained cane sugar (and cocaine, but that’s another story). Now it has high-fructose corn syrup, a viscous, unwelcome intruder in a Cuba Libre. But some new colas on the market contain restrained amounts of cane sugar, and a mildly bitter presence of kola nut. This sets the stage for an overdue revival of the Cuba Libre. To make one, mix two ounces of un-aged rum and the juice of half a small lime in a tall glass, build a tower of ice cubes, and top it off with the driest cola you can buy. The rind of the half lime is optional. A straw is not.
COLLINS Commercial sour mix drove this drink to the edge of extinction. If you must take a shortcut — if, say, you have heatstroke and the act of squeezing a lemon might send you to the hospital — then pour very good sparkling lemonade over your favorite liquor (gin, if it’s a Tom Collins; with vodka, the name changes to John). But try to gather strength to make it the right way, with the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of SIMPLE SYRUP, a slug of liquor and loads of SELTZER. As a way to pass a hot afternoon, it is difficult to beat.
CUBA In most Polynesian-themed bars, not one cocktail comes from Polynesia, but plenty come from Cuba. The island is a prodigious source of classic summer drinks, including the Cuba Libre, the mojito and many variants on the DAIQUIRI.
DAIQUIRI If it’s purple and looks like it came from Mr. Softee, it’s not a daiquiri, no matter what the bartender says. This noble drink from CUBA, often ignobly degraded, should be the color of sea glass and taste somewhere on the sweet side of sour, or the sour side of sweet.
FREEZER The freezer is the home bartender’s most important ally. Set it very cold and always keep a bag of ICE in it for reinforcements, although the ice trays that come with most freezers yield superior cubes. Thick and substantial, they melt slowly. Stashing liquor bottles in the freezer is an affectation that may lend your kitchen a slightly desperate appearance and doesn’t do much to cool individual drinks. But it is a help when making punch. If you are, freeze a large plastic bowl of water (or a ring mold, to be fancy about it) the day before. Once solid, the ice will chill a punch for an hour or two before melting.
FROZEN DRINKS This degraded class of cocktail is now clawing its way back to respectability with the aid of bartenders like Adam Seger of Chicago and Martin Cate of Forbidden Island and the forthcoming Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. Traditionally, most blender drinks are tropical and rum-based (leaving aside, with a violent shudder, the ones that contain ice cream). But the idiom can stretch to fit other flavors as well, as in this drink of Mr. Seger’s: Blueberry Maple Caiprissimo.
GINGER Ginger ale never went away as a mixer — a spigot with a button marked “G” is standard equipment in most bars — but it lost its fizz, not to mention its zing. Bartenders are restoring both. At the easiest level, this means buying high-quality ginger ale or ginger beer, the kind that burns a little as it goes down. Poured into a tall glass over ice and vodka, with a teaspoon of lime, it makes a Moscow Mule. With dark rum and lime, you have a Dark and Stormy. But there are other ways to drink your ginger. You can throw in thin slices of ginger root when making SIMPLE SYRUP for a ginger syrup that combines sugar and spice. Or get your hands on ginger juice. You can make it if you own a juicer, or you can buy it at juice bars, health food stores and Whole Foods, among other places. Dissolve an equal amount of sugar into it and you have a much more energetic ginger syrup. One last tip: in a pinch, you can grate ginger and squeeze it. You won’t open a ginger ale factory this way, but you can extract enough juice for drinks like: Pimm's Saigon.
ICE Modern bartenders will brag about keeping 10 different kinds of ice on hand. For home use, though, only three are worth worrying about. First, regular ice cubes, for the cocktail shaker and for most drinks served on the rocks. Second, big chunks of ice for punches; see FREEZER. Last, finely cracked ice for JULEPS. Some ice crushers on their finest setting will yield something close to this. But for sticklers, only ice wrapped in linen or canvas and whacked to a fine powder with a wooden mallet will do. If the prospect of that makes you want to take a wooden mallet to this reporter, then forget it, and just find the nearest bar that stocks 10 different forms of ice.
JULEP For all the chest-thumping this class of drinks has caused, it’s a simple affair: sweetened liquor stirred in a mound of finely crushed or shaved ice. But until you’ve had one made without shortcuts, one that truly frosts the outside of its cup, it’s impossible to imagine how refreshing a julep can be. These days it is almost always seen in the form of the bourbon-based mint julep, but in the 19th century Americans drank a julep made with genever, an aged gin that eventually vanished from stores. Now it’s come back and with it, if we’re lucky, this recipe from the drinks historian David Wondrich: Gin Julep.
LEMONS AND LIMES Citrus may be a winter crop, but even the most devoutly seasonal bartenders would not make it past the solstice without lemons and limes. Beyond standard uses, keep in mind that a big dose of lime cuts the sugar in a gin and tonic, especially those made with oversweetened mass-produced TONIC WATER. In fact, it can uplift almost any drink made with a carbonated mixer; see RICKEY.
MELON Honeydew, watermelon and even cucumber (all members of the cucurbitaceae family) can be pounded with a Muddler to flavor a cocktail. But for a tall drink where the juice is the main ingredient, you can peel and pulse them lightly in a blender (seeds and all), then push the pulp through a sieve or a cheesecloth. The juice can taste flat without LEMON or LIME juice and SALT. Try, for instance, loading a shaker with ice, then adding 2 ounces of gin, an ounce of cucumber juice, a teaspoon of lime juice and a pinch of salt. Shake, pour over ice in a tall glass and top with cold TONIC WATER.
MINT Essential ingredient in mojitos and some juleps and a fine garnish for almost every other summer drink.
MUDDLER If you don’t own one, you can make do with the handle end of a sharpening steel, or even a wooden spoon. But a muddler, essentially a miniature bat with a blunt end, is a worthwhile investment for crushing fresh herbs and fruit: Thai Basil Bliss.
PEACHES When they’re in season, drink them. Puréed, sweetened white peaches topped with Prosecco make a Bellini. Three or four ripe peach wedges, Muddled with MINT leaves, a tablespoon of sugar, two tablespoons of water and two LEMON slices, then shaken with bourbon and ice, strained into a glass and served on the rocks, gives you Dale DeGroff’s classic Whiskey Peach Smash.
PIMENTO DRAM Crafting sweet drinks that don’t cloy is the trickiest part of summer mixology: you don’t want your rum punch to taste like Hawaiian Punch. Bitters and CHILIES can help. So can Jamaican pimento dram (or pimento liqueur), now back on some liquor store shelves in the United States. As an undercurrent in fruit-based cocktails, it adds a dash of what-is-that-flavor intrigue. (It’s allspice.)
RASPBERRY SYRUP On summer’s first really hot day (and that day will come, unlikely as it seems), when fresh berries turn to pulp before you can eat them, do this: Boil 3/4 cup of sugar in 3/4 cup of water until dissolved, and let cool slightly. Purée a cup of raspberries with the warm sugar syrup in a blender, then strain and let cool completely. Keep in a clean jar and use the raspberry syrup in place of sugar or SIMPLE SYRUP in any cocktail recipe, particularly those with LEMON. Or stir 2 ounces of syrup into 6 ounces of seltzer for a lovely, if expensive, soft drink.
RICKEY So simple it’s almost embarrassing, a rickey is nothing more than a shot of any liquor with a healthy dose of LIME juice and lots of seltzer. That’s it. A little sweet liqueur can make it even better, as in: Rye Rickey.
SALT Once seen on margaritas and nowhere else, salt has come in for a second look at bars. A pinch in the shaker can sharpen the taste of juices like MELON or cucumber. More often it’s used on glass rims, mixed with sugar, perhaps, and with ground spices like fennel seed, black pepper, CHILIES or dried citrus zest. (Bacon dust has also been spotted, but the less said about that, the better.)
SELTZER Keep a few small bottles in the refrigerator, and more in storage, and you will always have the simplest summer drink within reach: a highball, made with liquor and soda.
SIMPLE SYRUP Nobody in their right mind makes simple syrup for just one cocktail. But it’s worth the bother in summer, when a big batch comes in handy for sweetening iced tea, coffee and lemonade. Boil a cup of sugar in a cup of water and stir until dissolved. Let cool, decant into a glass container and keep refrigerated. (For a change, especially in rum and pisco drinks, try simple syrup made with Demerara sugar instead.)
SPICED SYRUPS Follow the method for simple syrup, but throw in some cinnamon sticks or a tablespoon of whole cloves, allspice or black pepper. Let cool, strain out the spices, and store. Use instead of, or with, SIMPLE SYRUP in fruity drinks. Your guests will be pleasantly mystified.
TONIC WATER Like COLAS, many commercial tonics are now made with high-fructose corn syrup. They have a way of sticking to the roof of your mouth that might be fine in peanut butter, but not in a gin and tonic. New boutique tonics, like Q and Fever-Tree, are less sweet and sticky. A sour blast of Lime juice is no longer a necessity, just a nice complement.
WINE When it’s hot, we’re thirsty. But you don’t want to knock back straight whiskey like water, just to quench your thirst. That’s why tall drinks diluted with COLA, SELTZER or TONIC make sense, and why wine cocktails deserve a try. On the other hand, you could just forget the cocktail and drink a cold rosé.