Every season is a good season for cocktails. But while winter begs for slow-sipping, stirred drinks with warm spices like clove and allspice or shrubs from vinegared preserves, summer calls for brighter flavors — the sharp acidity of citrus, melons and berries fresh from the harvest, shaken until ice cold.
Now is the time for punches, smashes, Collins and tiki drinks, all of which are aimed at quenching thirst and relieving the tension of hot days. And while it’s enjoyable to relax on a barstool at your local watering hole for some liquid revival, it’s always nice to be able to mix things up at home as well.
Here are a few ideas from myself and other local bartenders for easy-to-make drinks to beat the heat at the home bar.
Wild Water Punch
When Waterbird opened this spring, it promised to be not only a great neighborhood café and coffee shop for the North Asheville area, but also a destination for nighttime revelers in search of a decent cocktail. This mix appealed to bartender Andrea Seng, who was lured away from the Montford Rooftop Bar to helm the bar program at Charlotte Street’s newest watering hole.
“To me, a perfect summer cocktail is easy to make, easy to drink, a late-afternoon porch sipper, packed in a canteen for poolside quaffing or at the top of a long hike,” says Seng. The following recipe sticks to the traditional five-ingredient punch profile with a nice balance of sweet, tart and herbal. The touch of cinnamon, she notes, adds a hint of heat that opens up the other flavors. “It’s equally delicious without the booze,” she says, “though not quite as fun!”
1½ ounces Reposado tequila
4 ounces hibiscus tea
½ ounce agave
¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Shake and strain onto fresh rocks. Garnish with edible flowers.
On the Bright Side
The Chemist is a brand-new addition to the South Slope scene. The craft distiller makes American gin that relies less on juniper and more on lemon, grapefruit, orange and tangerine. The spirit can be sampled in the distillery’s vintage apothecary-style tasting room.
The Chemist bartender and cocktail consultant Jonny Burritt says, “We’re a craft distillery that pays homage to Prohibition-era chemists who turned contraband bars into happy-hour science labs.” The operation’s picturesque handmade copper alembic stills and soft vapor infusion production method, he adds, enable the distillers to craft a balanced gin that works well both in cocktails or over ice.
“This simple twist on a classic martini is a perfect fit for the soft, nuanced flavors of The Chemist gin,” says Burritt of his cocktail, On the Bright Side. “The subtle floral and citrus notes of the aromatized wine and dry vermouth bring out the best of what The Chemist has to offer.”
1½ ounces The Chemist gin
½ ounce dry vermouth (Dolin works well)
½ ounce Cocchi Americano
Dash Regan’s orange bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and stir until chilled. Serve up in a coupe or martini glass. To garnish, express the oils from a lemon peel and drop it in the glass.
Love Ain’t Nothing But a Monkey On Your Back
Named for a great warm-weather tune by Johnny Nash and in keeping with the citrus-driven nature of good summer tipples, here’s a riff on a tiki-style drink I’ve been toying with lately. Homemade limoncello is extremely easy to batch. Just throw leftover lemon peels into a Mason jar full of vodka. Seal and let it sit for a week or two, strain and sweeten to taste with honey or simple syrup.
Depending on how sweet you make your limoncello, you might want to skip the honey in this drink. Despite the melon and limoncello, this kicky little cocktail tends to be more acidic than sweet.
1 ounce silver tequila (100 percent agave)
1 ounce homemade limoncello
1½ ounces watermelon juice
½ ounce lemon juice
¼ ounce honey syrup (One part honey to one part water. Optional — if the limoncello is supersweet, forget the honey.)
Dash of Jack Rudy Aromatic Bitters
Fill a shaker with ice and shake the cocktail until the tin is frosted (5-7 seconds). Strain into a coupe and serve neat. If you want to get fancy, double strain it with a fine mesh strainer and garnish with a lemon peel and a sliver of watermelon or pickled watermelon rind.
Some quick notes on method: Remember that the colder a cocktail is, the more diluted it will often be — unless you start with chilled liquor, of course. So be cautious when shaking a drink to not water it down.
Start by completely filling your shaker tin with ice (not just a handful of cubes). Then pay attention to the sound it makes when you are shaking. If, after a couple of seconds, it just sounds like ice swimming in liquid, you are making more of a cold, diluted alcoholic soup than a potent and wonderful cocktail. It’s preferable to use large, square whiskey ice cubes. Molds for these are available at most kitchen stores.
Also, keep in mind that cocktails that do not contain citrus don’t actually need to be shaken. Stirring them in a full glass or shaker tin of ice will allow the flavors to fully blend and chill without watering them down. Fruit-based cocktails and anything high in acid have a harder time blending, and a little dilution helps the process. Thus, shake anything containing citrus or other fruit.