The official summer solstice is in the rear view mirror, and fireworks are peeking over the tree line in the distance, which means it is time to start thinking about what cocktail will make the rest of summer perfect.
The perfect summer cocktail should be lightly sweet. Not so sweet you get a stomach ache, but just enough to substitute for a dessert. It should be refreshing and cold. No coffee cocktails here.
It should feel just a touch exotic, so you can imagine you’re on vacation even if the only sand you’re dipping your toes in is in your mind. It should reflect that iconic American summer night you’ve seen on the big screen—hot days, humid nights. The threat of dry lightning dissipates into red and purple streaked skies just after sunset.
A key component to the perfect summer cocktail is the ease of creation. You’ll want to be able to make one for yourself or whip up a batch for an impromptu patio party at a moment’s notice. I try to work within the three-ingredient guideline with some flexibility to improvise.
Luckily for you, the loyal readers of the Cheers! North County column, I’ve been doing some research. I’ve drunk more funky mojitos than I know what to do with, but that isn’t it. Too many ingredients and they tend to make a mess. I’ve sampled vodkas with fancy seltzer.
I’ve considered the old fashioned. I’ve gone off the beaten path to ask wizened old-timers what has kept them going year after year. In the case of my 99-year-old grandfather, Melvin, it has been a weekly can of ice-cold Busch Light, but that isn’t the destination we’re seeking.
I’m writing this on July 4th. America seems to be in the throes of an identity crisis—wavering between extreme self-confidence and teenage angst over whether it wants to sit at the table with the jocks or goths or stoners or preps. Perhaps it is merely coincidental that I came upon the perfect summer cocktail while considering the whole of America amid a 4000-mile cross-country road trip.
The perfect summer cocktail doesn’t have a fancy name. Whiskey, lemonade, and a few muddled mint leaves in a glass with ice. It’s perfect.
I prefer a solid but not too fancy American straight whiskey, but you could make it with rye, wheat, corn, or bourbon whiskey. They sell a pre-made organic lemonade at the grocery I like, but any fresh-squeezed lemonade will do. Big, fat mint leaves are best. I suggest avoiding the pre-packaged ones from the store and asking around the neighborhood. Someone has to have a mint plant gone wild nearby. If not, maybe it’s time for you to invest in one.*
Make yourself a whiskey lemonade. Find a patio—preferably with a sunset view—and kick the flip-flops off to the side. Take a small sip. Feel time slow down around you. Summer is only around for so long. Make it last.
- 2 ounces whiskey (or roughly two fingers high if you wrap your hand around the glass)
- four big mint leaves (or 10. Up to you.)
- 4-6 ounces lemonade
Step 1: Toss a few mint leaves into a glass with a splash of lemonade. Muddle. Muddlers are just little sticks or pestles that you use to lightly beat up the mint leaves, releasing their aroma and essence into the cocktails. If you don’t have a muddler, any spoon will do.
Step 2: Add a handful of ice. I don’t like to fill the glass because it waters down the drink a little too much, but it will depend a bit on the glass size.
Step 3: Pour in the whiskey. Measure it if you want.
Step 4: Top with lemonade.
Step 5: Garnish with some more big fat mint leaves. Crack them in half or slap them on your wrist to release that lovely mint smell.
You should be ready to drink. I had to stretch a bit to get to five steps! The beauty of this summer cocktail is that it is flexible. Want to get fancy? Make lemonade with fresh-squeezed lemons from the neighborhood stand. Want some bubbles? Top with a splash of club soda. Need more sweetness? Drip a little grenadine down the side of the glass. The possibilities are as infinite as the fireflies reminding us there is magic in the hour just before darkness.
*Don’t like mint? That’s cool. Try rosemary or another herb that is more suited to your palate.
Check back next week for my favorite morning cocktails, including recipes! Stream the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast on the Coast News Podcast page, and be sure to follow and share your drinking adventures with Cheers! North County on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.