Following up on the New York Times article about simple summer drinks, the paper asked readers for their favorites via the Diner’s Journal blog. Readers responded in the comments and Twitter.
I wholeheartedly agree with the first tweet, which advocated for the Paloma (I make them with 2oz. tequila, half-ounce lime juice, 4oz. grapefruit soda). It’s the perfect summer cocktail, and it’s really easy.
Another chimed in for the Negroni (equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth), a bourbon Mamie Taylor (it’s normally 2oz. scotch, about 3 or 4 of ginger ale, and the juice of half a lime; does it have another name when it’s made with bourbon?), and an Aperol Spritz (Aperol, which is a lighter version of the bitter orange liquor Campari, and prosecco). I’d add the Presbyterian cocktail, which is simply whiskey and ginger ale.
Cocktail historian David Wondrich put in a word for Cuban rum: “Juice of 1/2 lime, barspoon superfine, 2 oz Havana Club 3-year-old.”
One commenter added the Caipirinha to the list (2oz. cachaça, muddled lime quarters, a little sugar). I once ranted to friends that the “premium” cachaça Leblon flew in the face of the humble Caipirinha, which was always made with inexpensive cachaças like the Pitu brand. And then I tried a Leblon Caipirinha next to a regular one at a bar: the Leblon really was much better. Just the same, I’ll be plenty happy to stick with the cheap stuff (Pitu is $12 for a liter! Leblon is $20 for 750ml).
I tried making the Live Basil Gimlet (a very rewarding combination of 1.5oz. gin, five muddled basil leaves, half oz. simple syrup, and three-quarter oz. lime juice), and so did a blogging couple from Manhattan, Smith & Ratliff. This pair wrote about an Aviation variation they called the Purple Pilot, adding muddled lavender. An Aviation is a great summer drink, but you’ll need Crème de Violette ($23 a bottle) or its more refined cousin, Crème Yvette ($43 a bottle). It’s 1.5oz. gin, half-ounce of Maraschino liquer, half-ounce of Crème de Violette, and half-ounce of lemon juice. I find that Maraschino overpowers everything, and that a quarter-ounce will do.
Smith & Ratliff made their Purple Pilot with different proportions: 2oz. gin, 1oz. simple syrup, a half-ounce of Crème Yvette, and three-quarter-ounce of lemon juice, muddled with chopped lavender blossoms.
Back to the Live Basil Gimlet, I tried using the same proportions with tequila and cilantro, with delicious results. A good, thick handful of cilantro will do the job. Also, I’ve been using agave syrup whenever a recipe calls for simple syrup lately, just out of convenience. It’s good stuff, and has a nice, subtle flavor to its sweetness. Use slightly less than a recipe calls for if you’re subbing for simple syrup—you can always add more if it’s not sweet enough.
Finally, what conversation about great summer cocktails would be complete without mentioning Dale DeGroff’s amazing Whiskey Smash? It’s sort of like a Mojito with whiskey instead of rum, or sort of like a mint julep with lemon juice. Made correctly, it’s exquisite:
3 lemon pieces (cut a lemon in half and then quarter one of the halves, use three of the quarters)
5 mint leaves
1oz. simple syrup
1.5oz. bourbon (I’ve always used Jim Beam)
Lemon wedge for garnish
1 mint sprig for garnish
Muddle the lemon pieces and the mint, shake all ingredients with ice.