Tips for making standout cocktails with the season’s bounty
During the summer months when restaurants and bars roll out seasonal menus, fresh fruits almost always punctuate the offerings. They are refreshing in cocktails, but not all fruits are suited for all spirits and can sometimes be too much.
After consulting a number of Southwest Florida bartenders, most were in agreement that while you can have fun with a myriad of seasonal delights, berries are best for cocktails, good for floating, blending and muddling.
Muddling is a technique where gentle pressing is used to release oils, juices and aromatics from fruits and herbs before mixing into a cocktail. Take
strawberries, for example, one of the most popular summer fruits. Lightly press them in a bar glass with a little simple syrup and add to a traditional lemon drop martini for a summer twist.
Beefeater makes a strawberry gin that bartender Dani Capizzi has fun with at The Bevy in Naples. With notes of juniper, coriander and lemon peel, the gin reminds me of strawberry licorice. Capizzi adds diced strawberries and lemonade to the gin and then a splash of soda for a light and refreshing pink beverage.
The Bevy’s popular Italian 75 starts with blueberries in a Champagne flute. In a shaker mix EG Inspiration Rosemary and Lavender Vodka, lemon
juice and simple syrup, then strain into a tall glass. Leave room to top with prosecco and add a sprig of rosemary. Capizzi uses a small kitchen torch to singe the ends of the rosemary, releasing its oils and aroma.
Watermelon is the quintessential summer fruit, but its texture can be challenging. No matter how you puree it, it still has some pulp. If pulp is unappealing, strain the juice or freeze the puree in cubed trays for a frozen cocktail. Watermelon and vodka pair well, with a splash of fresh citrus or Cointreau, and fresh mint for a garnish.
Cucumber, a summer vegetable, is another refreshing addition to cocktails and particularly suited for muddling with gins such as Hendrick’s.
The Bevy’s Cucumber Smash uses Ketel One Botanical Cucumber and Mint Vodka pressed with a few slices of the fresh vegetable in a bar glass. Add about a half-ounce of elderflower liqueur, a splash of simple syrup and squeeze in half of a fresh lime. Shake over ice, strain into a bar glass and garnish with cucumber.
While Capizzi says a good rule of thumb for cocktails is 1½ to 2 ounces of liquor, the key to incorporating ingredients such as simple syrup and fresh squeezed citrus to your summer sippers is tasting as you go. No two lemons are alike. One might be loaded with juice, another super tart. Go light, you can always add more. Recipe amounts are just guides. Remember sweet balances acidity and vice versa.
Canned cocktails are super convenient for summer and can be livened up with fruit. Gin and tonic is a classic refresher, but it’s cumbersome to carry two bottles when you are boating, beaching and trying to get the right proportions. Greenhook Ginsmiths Gin & Tonic takes the guesswork out. The gin is aromatic, the tonic fresh, and it’s just the right serving size, straight from the can or poured over ice with a citrus wedge. It’s fun.
Also in aluminum is Joe to Go canned wines from Oregon. The pinot gris, which was released last year on a limited basis, is delightfully refreshing with lots of stone fruit and citrus. It went over so well that rosé and pinot noir have been added to the lineup, along with distribution in Florida. It’s so much easier than carrying around a heavy bottle of wine. The rosé goes down easy, and while I prefer it on its own, it makes great friends with Bloomers Frosé and More mix.
Frosé is a trendy summer beverage based on freezing rosé wine. There are dozens of recipes, but Bloomers has a mix that is vegan, kosher and even comes in a lo-cal version. It tastes seriously good and keeps you bikini ready. The bottle offers a number of recipes including the use of red wine for sangria, sparkling wine instead of rosé, and the addition of vodka, which is what my guests preferred. Perfect for the pool.
If you prefer to drink your vegetables this summer, pick up Sister’s Sauce Bloody Mary Mix. It’s a solid mix that has all of the classic Bloody Mary flavors, ingredients and a good amount of spice. Remember that summer cucumber? Add a stick to garnish alongside the traditional celery, or a splash of cucumber vodka for some extra refreshment.
Take advantage of the bounty of summer fruits. If you end up with more peaches, watermelon or berries than you can use, freeze them in chunks and use them in cocktails year round. Cheers!
The key to incorporating ingredients such as simple syrup and fresh squeezed citrus to your summer sippers is tasting as you go.
Clockwise from top left: Dani Capizzi creates an Italian 75, a specialty at The Bevy in Naples; watermelon paired with vodka makes a refreshing summer drink; frozen rosé is all the rage; and canned gin and tonic is a convenient way to go.
The Bevy's signature Italian 75 cocktail; below: canned wine has come a long way.