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Thursday, May 19, 2016 12:12 am

I thirst, therefore I am

Summertime cocktails deliver

The classic recipe calls for dark rum, but amber works fine for a Dark and Stormy.


Ahhhh – the summer cocktail.

Both refreshing and teasing, the perfect elixir for summer’s dog days evokes a happier time of spring, with cherry blossoms bursting and everyone’s team with a chance to win the pennant. Scotch is never a bad idea, of course, but it loses its allure, if slightly, as temperatures rise and the palate hungers for things fizzy and fruity and frothy.

By this, we do not mean to condone blender drinks, killjoys of evenings spent on the veranda listening to classic jazz or perhaps a bit of guilty-pleasure Seals and Crofts. “Sweet days of summer, jasmine’s in bloom...,” then BAH-REEEEEEE!!!!!!!! as the Waring pulverizes the mood. No. The best summer cocktails tickle, not freeze, taste buds, with their manufacture woven effortlessly into the fabric of garden parties, cookouts, croquet and lawn darts. They are delicate creations, more seductive than sweet – potions that contain liquor but are nonetheless alcohol-lite affairs, regardless how much booze is used.

Mint julep

Of course, there are always exceptions, and so we begin with the mint julep, a beverage best savored after a particularly hard day at the office. There is a reason that the mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, an event that thrives on folks making foolish decisions at the betting window. Made properly, it is strong as a thoroughbred, essentially bourbon, mint, a bit of sugar or simple syrup (which is the essence of simplicity, see below) some crushed ice and good luck driving home if you have more than one. A bit of seltzer water does wonders to lighten this up and increase the drinkability factor. Proper ice is critical. You want the beverage interfacing with as much ice as possible, and so you’ll need crushed ice – do not attempt this with ice cubes. If you don’t feel like crushing it yourself, and who does, Sonic Drive-In ice is perfect. A bag costs a buck or so. You don’t need top-shelf hooch for this, but don’t scrimp too much. Think Jim Beam or better. And grow your own mint. It’s cheap, tougher to kill than a cactus and spreads like ivy, so put it in a pot.

• 10-12 fresh mint leaves
• 2 ½ teaspoons simple syrup or 1 ½ teaspoons superfine sugar
• 2 ½ ounces bourbon
• Seltzer water

Muddle the mint and simple syrup (or sugar) in a frozen tumbler until leaves begin to break. Splash with seltzer water. Fill glass (make sure it’s frozen) to within two fingers of rim with crushed ice. Add bourbon. Splash with seltzer water. Stir, garnish with mint sprig and serve.

Simple syrup
Combine one cup of sugar with one cup of water in saucepan, heat until it just starts to boil, simmer for a minute or two, then cool. Can be stored in refrigerator for a month or so.

The Cuke

In addition to growing your own mint, cultivate some cucumbers. You’re going to need them, because this cocktail is, quite simply, liquid summer. Guests will rave and demand the recipe. Your significant other will think you’re the most significant person ever. You can make this with either vodka or gin, but use gin. Good gin. Food writer Peter Meehan, creator of the Cuke, recommends Hendrick’s, and he is not wrong. Even if you don’t like gin, you will love it in a Cuke as the aromatics in the booze make ever-so-sweet love with the mint and cucumber. It’s the perfect special-occasion cocktail that’s a snap.

• Six limes
• One cup mint leaves (press them down so they’re compacted)
• Three cucumbers (make sure they’re not waxed)
• One-half cup sugar
• Two cups gin (or vodka, if you insist)
• Perrier

Slice three of the limes as thinly as possible and place in a pitcher. Juice the remaining limes and add juice to pitcher along with two of the cucumbers, sliced into rounds, and the mint leaves. Add sugar to the pitcher, then muddle everything. Add liquor, then place pitcher in refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes. One hour is better, and two won’t hurt. When ready to serve, make spears from the remaining cucumber, peeled if you like, for garnish. Fill refrigerated highball glasses with ice. Using a strainer to keep the drinks free from debris, pour the concoction from the pitcher into the glasses – this is a smooth drink, and many will prefer a third, even half, full. Finish with Perrier and garnish with cucumber spears and mint sprigs. This will make six drinks, give or take.

Don’t skimp on quality when making Cukes – the better the gin, the better the drink.


First, a word about lime juice. If you have the stuff that comes in a bottle, throw it away. It is horrid stuff that defeats the purpose of going to the trouble of preparing something other than booze poured over ice. This said, there are two secrets to a perfect margarita: Fresh lime juice and high quality tequila. Sound simple? Well, it isn’t. Figuring out just the right blend of ingredients – proportions are critical here – can be a quest, but a worthy one. Fortunately, you can adjust as you go along, so take a tiny sip before declaring victory and make changes as necessary before going from cocktail shaker to glass. Once you get it right, you’ll never go back to the sickly sweet mix that comes in plastic bottles.

• 3 ounces 100-percent agave blanco (silver) tequila
• 2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
• 1 ounce simple syrup
• Splash of Grand Marnier or Contreau

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Let it sit for a bit (a minute is fine) to cool the vessel. Add ingredients and shake, shake, shake until your shaker is sore – some say a minute is overkill, but it doesn’t hurt. Take a taste sip. If it’s too tart, add a bit more tequila and re-shake. Be careful about adding more simple syrup. It’s easy to over-sweeten. Pour into frozen tumbler with no more than three ice cubes, just enough to keep it cold, and some will prefer no ice at all. Whether to salt the rim is up to you.

Dark and Stormy

This is a drink anyone can make. Guaranteed impossible to screw up, it’s tasty and surprisingly complex. The classic recipe calls for dark rum, but amber is perfectly acceptable. The proportions are mere guidelines. If you want it stronger, feel free; if you’re conserving alcohol, increase the amount of ginger beer. Either way, this will taste great.

• 1 part (3 ounces is recommended) rum, either dark or amber
• 3 parts ginger beer
• Lime wedge (and use a wedge instead of a chunk – it looks better)

Fill a glass, either highball or tumbler, with ice. Pour in the rum. Pour in the ginger beer. Squeeze the lime wedge over the drink and stir. Put the lime wedge in the glass, then enjoy.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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