There’s no sound more beautiful than the clink of ice in a cocktail glass on a hot summer day. Because whether it’s 5pm or just north of noon, ’tis the season for salted rims, muddled mint and tiny paper umbrellas.
But cosmopolitans and chocotinis are so last fall. Taking advantage of the summer’s bounty of fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables (yes, veggies!), creative bartenders are creating of-the-moment cocktails that both satisfy and quench. Here’s a sampling of what’s on the menu.
Bloody Mary: An abundance of summer tomatoes was all the incentive Chef Thaddeus Palmese of Starlight Wine Bar needed to create his own Bloody Mary mix. He first roasts fresh tomatoes, the adds garlic, onion, celery, homemade Worshteshire sauce, lemon juice, fresh horseradish, his own Creole seasoning and a bit of chipotle for heat. Palmese’s version gets blended with a Soju, a distilled Korean spirit. 6761 Sebastopol Ave # 600, Sebastopol, 823-1943,
Summer Thyme (see image, left): The name says it all — a crisp, refreshing signature cocktail from Healdsburg’s Cyrus restaurant that brings together thyme-meyer lemon lemoncello, gin, lemon juice, herb-infused simple syrup, cucumbers, sunflower petals and seltzer. Like many of Cyrus’ wildly adventurous recipes, it’s possible to try at home (recipe at the end of this article), but much more satisfying to get from the source –unless you’ve got sliced cucumbers, sunflower petals and thyme-infused simple syrup just sitting in your fridge.
Margarita: Tequila’s a natch for hot, sticky summer weather. The Starkida Partida Margarita at Stark’s Steakhouse mixes Partida Reposado, agave syrup, orange liquor and lime. Plus, it has a built-in tipsy tester: If you can’t say the name, it’s time to switch to coffee. Also summery is their Mary, Mary Strawberry, mixing vodka, lemon juice, fresh strawberries and soda water. Dangerous as it is delish. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 576-9610.
Blackberry Smokestack: Jack & Tony’s has another take on tequila, muddling up fresh blackberries, Hornitos Resposado tequila, elder flower liqueur, agave nectar, grapefruit and lime juice. Grab a whiskey and soda from their vast collection of rare and unusual bottles, while you’re there. 115 4th St., Santa Rosa, 526-4347.
Graton Sunrise: Adjourn to the back porch of Graton’s favorite summer hang-out, the Underwood Bar & Bistro for this quirky quencher made with Hangar One Buddah Hand Citrus Vodka, housemade sweet & sour mix, Campari in a sugar-rimmed glass. 9113 Graton Rd., Graton, 823-7023.
Watermelon Basil Cooler: Creative cocktailing happens almost nightly at Barndiva throughout the summer. The man with a thousand and one recipes is Spencer Simmons, who makes use of tasty seasonal produce and top-shelf liquors in his concoctions. Head out to the patio for a cooler made with fresh muddled watermelon, white rum, Sauvignon Blanc (this is Wine Country, after all), ginger liqueur, a sprig of fresh basil and a squeeze of lemon. If gin’s more your style, Simmons is also doing a Prickly Pear Puree with gin, peach bitters, lemon soda and a hint of rosemary. 231 Center St., 431-0100.
Scott Beattie, the author of Artisanal Cocktails and the creator of many of Cyrus restaurant’s most unique drinks, says he has the perfect basic recipe for any summer drink. Start with 1.5 ounces of liquor (tequila and rum are obvious summer choices), add 3/4 of an ounce of juice (think citrus), and 1/2 ounce simple syrup (a boiled mixture of 2 parts sugar and one part water). Then start getting creative. Infuse the syrup with herbs (mint, lemon). Muddle in berries or other fresh fruit, then round it all out with soda water for a little fizz. But whatever you do, says Beattie, make it fresh. “Using better products just makes a better drink,” he said.
On the simpler side…
Pina Coladas: Gather up the family and spend the day poolside at the Rio Nido Roadhouse sipping pina coladas, mai tais and strawberry daiquiris. Tucked beneath a redwood grove near the Russian River, the roadhouse blender runs non-stop during the summer. Stay for the eclectic bands who jamming most weekend evenings on the outdoor stage. 14540 Canyon Two, Rio Nio, 869-0821.
Lillet: Less cocktail and more wine, Lillet is a fortified French apertif made with white or red wine and a hint of orange liqueur. Best served over ice, with a slice of lemon, it’s an easy-to-make patio sipper. Available at Traverso’s, 2097 Stagecoach Rd., Santa Rosa, 542-2530.
Rose Wine: It goes without saying that a little chilled pink wine can be the life of any barbecue or picnic. But, oh, what to choose? Ranging in hue from barely salmon to strawberry pink, roses can be range from fruity to sweet to tart. A few to try: Quivira’s 2008 Grenache Rose, Wine Creek Ranch; Toad Hollow’s Eye of the Toad Rose; J Vineyards Vin Gris Rose of Pinot Noir.
Summer Thyme: Cyrus Restaurant
3/4 oz. Thyme-Meyer Lemoncello
3/4 oz Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Thyme Simple Syrup
3/4 oz Seltzer
Sliced Lemon Cucumbers
Sliced Armenian Cucumbers
Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and serve over ice.
Peel 10-15 Meyer Lemons into a large container with a vegetable peeler- make sure the spray of the lemon is faced down into the container so the natural oils of the lemon don’t escape. Add 1 bottle of vodka (Cyrus recommends 100 proof Smirnoff), or neutral grain spirit, and seal the container so it’s airtight.
Keep in a cool place for three weeks. Strain the peels, and add a sprig of fresh thyme. Reseal the container for an additional 2 days. Strain out the thyme (we use a cheesecloth for this to remove all the stems). Add 1 pint of simple syrup. Close the container for one more week.
The Lemoncello adds a special texture and viscosity- If making it at home seems a little daunting, then buying one at a liquor store would work just as well. Loft Organic Lemoncello has an excellent line of different flavored Lemoncellos that would be delicious in this drink.
Thyme Simple Syrup
3 cups Sugar
3 cups Water
2 bunches thyme – roughly chopped.
Bring sugar and water to a boil. Remove from heat and add fresh thyme and cover. Let sit overnight. Strain.
This cocktail is available at Cyrus during the month of July and it’s particularly interesting to note that the thyme, lemon and Armenian cucumbers and sunflowers used in the cocktail are from Chef Douglas Keane and wife Lael’s farm.