Hot days mean cold beer, right? That’s what I used to think, too. Nowadays, though, beer is hardly ever my summer go-to beverage. I like summer cocktails that are lighter, more creative and tastier than the old standby. Sure, they’re not as easy as opening a frosty bottle, but they don’t have to be a major Tiki-type production either. And with an initial investment in ingredients, cocktails aren’t any pricier than upscale microbrews.
I asked local expert mixologist Molly Wellman to help me define what makes a cocktail a summer cocktail. “It’s going to be refreshing and light,” she says, “not heavy on the sweets or sours, but something fizzy and cool.” She believes in using ripe fruits and fresh herbs — especially mint — to distill summer’s essence into your cocktail menu.
Molly suggested Sangria as a summer beverage, a drink that is definitely experiencing a rebirth after unfortunate brushes with bad ingredients back in the hippie era of my youth. We used to throw every tired piece of fruit in the refrigerator into a box or magnum-sized bottle of cheap wine, and the results were sure to give you a headache the next day. Today, Molly and other cocktalians are taking it up a notch. When we spoke she had just made a white-wine-based Watermelon Sangria for Sunday afternoon at Japp’s, using the hollow melon as a punchbowl. Easy and fun. I have a Sangria recipe that I’ve been tweaking and am finally happy with, using red wine and a secret ingredient that gives it fizz and a little citrus zing. I’ll share both of our recipes below.
When I think summer cocktail, I don’t think cognac or scotch. Light rum, gin or an aperitif like Lillet or Campari would be likely starting points. From there, you can’t go wrong by adding a little sweetness, an easy mixer like club soda and a squeeze of fresh citrus. I’ve been saving a cocktail recipe I saw in the New York Times, waiting for the perfect moment to try it, and when Tricia Houston from Napoleon Ridge Farm had fresh blackberries at the market recently, the moment arrived.
The Blackberry Bramble was my result, and it was like liquid summertime. Here are the basics: Pour two ounces of gin, an ounce of fresh lemon juice and half an ounce of simple syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice and a handful of ripe berries. Shake it — you know you can. Strain it into a rocks glass that’s full of crushed ice. Then drizzle half an ounce of Crème de Mure, a blackberry liqueur, over the top and garnish with two more berries and a slice of lemon. A bottle of Crème de Mure is about $20, but using a half-ounce at a time means it will last forever. If your berries are nice and ripe, add more of them and another drop or two of simple syrup and skip the blackberry liqueur — you’ll still have a mighty fine drink.
Molly Wellman’s Watermelon Sangria
2 bottles Chardonnay
1 bottle light rum
4 cans Jumex Apricot Nectar
2 cups lemonade
Scoop out the watermelon and set aside. Mix the remaining ingredients in the melon shell, and then add watermelon chunks back in. Ladle from the shell as you would a punchbowl.
Anne’s Easy Sangria
Large bottle of Shiraz (or two small ones)
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup Triple Sec
Juice of 1 lime, 1 lemon and 1 orange
1 can of Pellegrino Blood Orange Soda (secret ingredient!)
3 ripe peaches, sliced
Mix all in a big pitcher, and pour over ice to serve. After you’ve drank the sangria, eat the peaches — but don’t operate heavy machinery.
Molly also suggested a summer drink called a Cobbler. I found a great one online from Charlotte Voisey, who I’ll be meeting in New Orleans later this month at a cocktail seminar. Voisey explains that a Cobbler gets its name not from the fruit but from the ice — the chunks of ice in the glass made the top of the drink look like a cobblestone street. Surprise!
To make a Strawberry Cobbler, muddle two large ripe strawberries with an ounce of simple syrup and half an ounce of fresh lemon juice. Add 3 ounces of Lillet Blanc, and shake. Strain over crushed ice and garnish with berries and maybe a sprig of mint. Voisey uses rhubarb infused simple syrup.
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