Summer Cocktails to Quench Your Wanderlust
Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
July 31, 2015
In August, while Karl the Fog is summering in the Bay Area, San Franciscans may dream of getting away to more tropical destinations to sip icy rum cocktails on sun-soaked beaches. But fortunately, we don’t need bananas, pineapples, and coconuts to take a taste adventure when the sweet and juicy flavors of summer abound right in our backyard.
On August 5, you can celebrate the height of pluots, muskmelons, figs, and other California-grown seasonal standouts in the most drinkable way possible at Getaway in a Glass: Summer Cocktails of the Farmers Market. Since 2008, CUESA and the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) Northern California chapter have partnered to offer this innovative cocktail series drawing on the bounty of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
“I feel like CUESA has had a huge influence on the bar scene in the Bay Area,” says Summer-Jane Bell, president of the local USBG and founder of the new app TrophyCocktail. “So many bartenders have learned about seasonality, and even hyperseasonality. They’ve had the opportunity to push the boundaries and think outside the box.”
At a recent CUESA bar lab, 17 local bartenders experimented with everything from calendula flowers to Armenian cucumbers to create drinks that will transport guests to destinations near and far. For his Italian-inspired cocktail, Elmer Mejicanos of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana plans to highlight blackberries and basil in a balsamic reduction, while Jessica Maria and Tabatha Von Mohn of the Hotsy Totsy Club will integrate fresh corn milk in their homage to the Americas.
To whet your appetite for next Wednesday and inspire your own farm-to-glass journeys, here are a few summer cocktail tips and tricks from master mixologist Summer-Jane.
No fruit is off limits. Stone fruit is at its peak in July and August, providing a rainbow of peaches, nectarines, plums, and everything in between, all delicious muddled into cocktails. Berries are a quick go-to because they’re ripe and ready to go from the farmers market; just throw them in the shaker tin and shake to let the ice break them down. Melons provide excellent flavors but are labor-intensive to muddle, so try juicing instead, then strain. Don’t forget to try heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers for more savory flavors.
Keep in good spirits. In the summertime, people gravitate to clear spirits (tequila, rum, vodka, gin) because they’re lighter and seem more refreshing. Bourbon, another essential in any summer liquor cabinet, pairs beautifully with mint, strawberries, figs, and peaches.
Lighten up. Another summer trend is low-ABV cocktails, which use a lighter alcohol base such as sherry, fortified wine, or vermouth. During the heat of summer, take it slow and stay hydrated!
Amp up the herbs. Summer abounds with fresh herbs that provide bold flavors and aromatics to cocktails: basil, mint, cilantro, parsley, lemon verbena, and tarragon, to name a few. Consider riffing on a mint julep by experimenting with other herbs, or mince up some herbs to create a flavored salt to rim your margarita glass. Garnish with fresh leaves to heighten the aromatics.
Blend it. The perfect antidote to summer doldrums, the frozen daiquiri is making a comeback this summer, according to Summer Jane. “You can throw any fruit in the blender and make a cocktail,” she says. Try to think beyond the classic strawberry version, and throw some raspberries, blackberries, and stone fruit in the mix.
Fire up the grill. To get that hint of smoky BBQ, grill up some stone fruit and muddle them into your drinks. Alternatively, consider using mezcal, a smoky alternative to tequila.
Make it last. “I like to figure out how to extend the life and beauty of summer produce,” says Summer-Jane. “Making a jam, shrub, infusion, or tincture allows you to preserve those flavors after the season is over.” These tricks of the craft cocktail trade can also simplify your cocktail making so you don’t have to break out the muddler or blender. For a quick infusion, chop up some fruit and let it sit in the spirit for a day or so—strawberry in vodka or plums in bourbon, for example. Create a potent tincture by letting an herb (or maybe a chili, for spice seekers) sit in high-proof alcohol for a few days, then use a couple drops in your cocktail. To use a jam in your cocktail, thin with a little hot water, and strain through a fine-mesh sieve to prevent chunks.
Recipe by John Codd & Greg Saavedra, Gaspar Brasserie
Melons are the quintessential summer fruit to us. They have it all: savory texture, sweet and bright flavor, and always moist and refreshing. A melon also is not something that one person can tackle for a meal. Melons are for sharing: everyone around grabs a long rind and digs in.
Like melons, rum is a classic spirit for summer. The dark Demerara notes and long-aging process that Zaya undergoes are a perfect match for the melon’s flavors, enhancing the sweetness of the melon, and showcasing the rum’s oak influence with a lingering vanilla note.
Of course, there’s no summer party without some maniac in the corner with a blender. At this CUESA event, that will be us, turning out our dense icy cocktail, ideal for sipping under a lean-to after a long day of fun under the domineering summer sun.
1.5 ounces Zaya rum
.75 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
.25 ounces simple syrup
3-inch slice of fresh Charentais melon
Add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup and an equal volume of cobbled ice in a pitcher, and blend! Garnish copiously with leftover melon.
Get tickets to next Wednesday’s Getaway in a Glass: Summer Cocktails of the Farmers Market. Proceeds from the night support CUESA’s educational initiatives and the USBG’s professional development programs.
Cocktail photos by Amanda Lynn Photography. Summer-Jane photo by Valter Fabiano.