Summer drinks have a distinction all their own, notably tall drinks with lots of fresh ingredients.
Sangria for starters. In New York City, Erin Ward, beverage director for Carmine’s Italian and Virgil’s BBQ restaurants, swaps out brandy for Italian vermouth for its aromatic qualities. Her white sangria incorporates Tebbiano vermouth, cantaloupe syrup, lemon juice, peach schnapps, cantaloupe crescents, three types of citrus and fresh basil. Sangria’s are great candidates for experimentation; summer’s bounty helps as well. For Virgil’s, new wine coolers are expected, using fresh market fruits like peaches, watermelon, strawberry and rhubarb.
In Bellevue, Washington, bar manager Jon Christiansen has revamped the Monsoon East cocktail menu, largely a scratch cocktail list made with fresh, local ingredients. Standing out is his approach to wine coolers, a long-derided but completely legitimate summer sipping category of drinks (see my post last time about white port coolers). Christiansen has crafted a group and put them in soda bottles for table service – there’s the rosemary and fennel-infused Old Tom gin, grapefruit bitters, tangerine and Pinot Grigio Hadrian's Wall. His entire cocktail menu is worth perusing, but for now, we’ll focus on the other wine coolers - Queen Charlotte (crème de violette, Lillet blanc, gruner veltliner, lemon); the American (Aperol, Cochi Vermouth di Torino, absinthe, smashed kumquat, water) and the Honeybush Fizz (honeybush tea-infused Dolin blanc, crème de peche, lemon juice, manzanilla sherry).
The recycled bottle service idea is catching on; in the newly opened Spence in Atlanta, in addition to the Fairbanks Fizz, an homage to the Ramos Gin Fizz made with gin, Apry, orange flower water, Prosecco, lemon and lime, the Spence will also be offering a “Cocktail of the Day” served tableside in a mini recycled glass bottle. Opening options include The Prima (Campari, Cava, Dolin Blanc and Luxardo Maraschino) and the Green Daisy Dew Drop (honeydew water, lemon and Hayman’s Old Tom Gin.)
Of course, the onslaught of the summer doldrums means slushies and boozy ices are just around the corner; in Chicago, at The Terrace at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, executive pastry chef Sarah Kosikowski is offering a line-up of dessert cocktails served in plastic tubes a la the sticky childhood treats. Chef Sarah’s Freeze Pops as they’re known come in four versions: Strawberry Lemonade with housemade limoncello and strawberry juice; El Corazon, made with blood orange, pomegranate, and Patron Silver Tequila; Sangria Rouge made with syrah and diced apple; and Passion Colada made with toasted coconut and Cruzan rum. There is also a not-so-secret off-menu, by-request-only Secret Shake, which features housemade caramel-spiked ice cream with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey.
Plain old long, tall and fruit works in the heat just like always. For the menu at Mercadito in Chicago, summer means tequila - beverage consultants the Tippling Bros. have put together the Black Sand (blanco, watermelon, dry vermouth, Mexican oregano, mint and black salt); Tarragon Paloma (blanco, grapefruit, lime, tarragon, agave and fizz); and Los Hermanos, (mescal, passion fruit, mint, agave nectar and hot sauce El Yucateco). Unique service and extra cold thinking is fine, but sometimes, well-thought out flavor combinations are all a drinker really needs.