The Texas summer is a thing to be taken seriously, in case you haven’t noticed. Days, sometimes weeks, of triple-digit temperatures march on relentlessly. Dogs hunker down on the coolest floor in the house, tongues hanging out and touching the tile. Even the biggest sun-worshippers among us run for shade. As the grass turns brown and the trees droop, it’s not just the humans who are thirsty, though our thirst warrants the most delicious remedies. It is time to harness the intensity of our summer climate and reflect it onto some seriously refreshing drinks.
Choose carefully. Some spirits and cocktail styles are more suited for summer than others. Although, of course, all rules are meant to be broken from time to time, here are some simple guidelines.
Lean towards light and white spirits–gin, vodka, rum and 100 percent agave tequila. Stay away from “flavored” spirits–they are almost unanimously flavored with artificial agents. Add your flavoring the natural way (see step 3) and you’ll be much better off.
Take it easy on your wallet–this time of year offers no shortage of opportunities to hone your bartending skills at home, so don’t bust the bank. Many times the brands you’re most familiar with are expensive because you’re paying for advertising and marketing. Don’t be afraid to ask the clerk at a reputable liquor store, such as Twin liquors or Austin Wine Merchant, to make a suggestion. If you entertain a lot, buy in bulk, since bigger bottles are often more economical than smaller ones.
Buy local! It’s always been a good idea to keep your money in your community, especially now that there are about a dozen local spirits on the shelves. If your friends ask why you didn’t buy that national brand, tell them you’re performing your civic duty!
It’s hot out there, or have we mentioned this already? In as much as heat and ice go hand-in-hand, they are also mortal enemies. Heat necessitates ice in cocktails, lots of it, and yet it also wants to destroy it. Since ice is such a critical part of summer refreshments, go big and don’t hold back. Buy or make enough ice so that every drink is packed to the top.
Likewise, if you’re making pitchers or urns of cocktails, use very large chunks. Freeze water in a plastic or paper jug or Ziploc bag–any container that you can tear away, revealing a big block of ice that will chill your cocktails without diluting them.
By now it is probably well known that we do not advocate the use of drink mixes. One of the best parts about summer is that we have an abundance of fresh, local produce and herbs that can make your cocktails sing with the excitement of the sea- son. Of course, it doesn’t get much more local than your own yard or patio. Herbs such as rosemary, basil and mint are easy to grow and even easier to mix drinks with. Whether you have an expansive estate or a postage stamp patio, you can grow culinary herbs. If your thumbs are more brown than green, take a trip to the farmers market or grocery store and stock up.
Peaches are the ambassadors of Texas summer fruit and this year’s crop is a good one. Cantaloupes and watermelons are no-brainers–simply peel, chop and puree, then strain and use the juice. Cucumbers add a refreshing coolness to any number of drinks–the El Pepino cocktail (below) is like aloe vera for your thirst.
> 1 1⁄2 oz Blanco Tequila
> 1 1⁄2 oz fresh cucumber water*
> 1 oz mint syrup (or a sprig of mint muddled with half an ounce of agave nectar)
> 3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake with ice to chill. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish abundantly with fresh mint and a cucumber spear. *Cucumber water is simple to make by blending a cucumber with the smallest amount of water to keep it moving in the blender and then pouring the puree through a mesh strainer.
Porch Swing Tea
> 2 oz local sweet tea vodka (Graham’s Texas Tea or Deep Eddy)
> .5 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
> 1 dash Angostura bitters
Chill the ingredients by shaking with ice; strain onto fresh ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
> .25 oz Paula’s Texas Orange
> Barspoon Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
> .5 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
> 4 1-inch chunks ripe watermelon
> Rinse Herbsaint (optional)
In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle the watermelon. Add spirits and juice. Shake vigorously to chill and then strain into a goblet of crushed ice. If you like the flavor of Herbsaint or Absinthe, “rinse” the glass by swirling a small amount to coat the inside of the glass, then dump it out before adding the crushed ice.