A Fresh Twist on Poolside Cocktails
It is that time of year. The days are longer. Temperatures are rising and the humidity sticks to your skin. Mercifully, the pool is open. And the blender is working overtime.
Just like my beer-ordering habits, the cocktails I consume change from season to season. When summer rolls around, tropical cocktails, blender drinks and fresh fruit concoctions rule the day. While a winter cocktail should be designed to ward off the chill, a pool cocktail has to provide refreshment from the sun’s heat and help set the mood for maximum relaxation.
When it comes to summer cocktails, it’s a good idea to take your cue from places on the globe that have summer-like conditions throughout the year. If you are looking for a great poolside libation, take a look at what is being served at Caribbean resorts, in bars throughout Central America and the Mediterranean, or in domestic coastal hot spots like Southern California or Florida.
At SHOREbar in Santa Monica, CA, master mixologist Billy Ray says the view and the smell of the ocean call for “fresh, natural and clean” cocktails. That means substituting ingredients like agave and honey syrup for simple syrup. “Whether it is food or drink, people are concerned about what they are putting in their bodies,” Ray says. “There has to be a spa-like quality to the cocktails. People don’t want us to just crack open a can and dump the contents in a blender with a bunch of ice.”
The changes taking place at the best cocktail lounges mirror many aspects of the craft beer movement. Mass-manufactured ingredients are giving way to handcrafted spirits and mixers that have a farm-to-glass freshness.
“People don’t see what goes into today’s craft cocktails,” Ray says. “The bar staff has to be in early each day making fresh juices, because fresh lemon and lime juice will go bad in four hours. They will oxidize.”
This change in how cocktails are made is altering what we should expect when ordering classics like the daiquiri and margarita. Premade mixers usually contain a variety of flavoring agents and preservatives to extend shelf life. They are convenient and have a place and time. But when a bar staff puts in the effort to use fresh ingredients in a cocktail, there is an immediate shift in flavor and quality. Delicate, natural flavors come forward, and the bartender controls the levels of sweetness and tartness.
Ray points out that ice becomes an even more critical component when a cocktail is being served poolside. Bartenders expect that about 20-25 percent of ice will turn to water through stirring and shaking, helping to dilute the cocktail and balance the flavors. The key to using ice in the summer heat is making sure the drinker has control and does not end up having to either drink the cocktail too quickly or watch it turn to a watered-down mess.
“The key to any cocktail is the ice. It is the most important thing in the drink beyond the spirit,” Ray says. “Great ice is very important. Big block ice cubes are essential for a cocktail in summer. Dainty ice melts very fast if you are in the sun.”
So once you have gathered fresh ingredients and plenty of ice, the question becomes exactly which cocktails you should make. The answer for poolside sipping comes down to personal choice, but the reality is that this is a great place for colorful libations that make the heat melt away.
Nature Conservancy’s Bee Raw Blessed Honeycomb
Created by mixologist Ektoras Binikos of Michael’s in New York
1.5 oz Uncle Val’s Gin
1 oz Solerno liqueur
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz Bee Raw Basswood Honey Syrup
.5 oz egg whites
2 sage leaves
To create the honey syrup, mix one part Bee Raw Basswood Honey with one part water in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and then cool.
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a lemon twist and 2-3 drops of the aromatic bitters.
Created by Billy Ray at SHOREbar
in Santa Monica, CA.
1.5 oz Ciroc peach vodka
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz lavender syrup
3 drops rose water
Muddle 6 blueberries in mixing tin. Add the remaining ingredients and pack with ice. Shake and strain into an Old-Fashioned glass with ice.
The Swimming Pool
1 scoop crushed ice
.25 oz sweet cream
.75 oz cream of coconut
2 oz pineapple juice
.75 oz vodka
1.5 oz light rum
.25 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
Mix ingredients, except Blue Curacao, well. Pour into wide-mouth glass. Float the Blue Curacao on top.
Fancy Bourbon Punch
Created by Matt Wallace
1 liter Maker’s Mark bourbon
1 cup granulated sugar
Peels of 3 lemons and 1 orange
Juice of peeled fruit
1 liter of strong tea (preferably green tea)
250 ml sparkling wine (club soda can be used for a less-fancy version)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Combine sugar and citrus peels in the bottom of a punch bowl. Muddle together until sugar starts to clump. Let sit for about 2 hours, (while not necessary, this does add a little complexity).
Brew the tea for about 30 minutes, remove loose tea or tea bags, and allow mixture to cool.
Add the juice of the peeled fruit, tea and bourbon, and stir.
Top with sparkling wine just before serving and stir gently. Top with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.
From Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee
8 cups cubed watermelon
1 1/3 cups light rum
1.5 cups orange juice
.5 cup orange liqueur
.25cup powdered sugar
2 oz fresh lime juice
Freeze watermelon cubes for 8 hours. Puree the watermelon and remaining ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve in mason jars.
3 or 4 chunks of fresh mango
z agave syrup
1.5 oz dark aged rum
.5 oz fresh lime juice
Mint leaves for garnish
In mixing glass, muddle the mango and agave syrup. Top with ice and add rum and lime juice. Cover and shake until cold, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Float mint leaf.
Rick Lyke is a North Carolina-based beverage writer.