New Orleanians are continually reminded about the weather conditions present at this time of year by such unusual activities like opening up the Entergy bill and seeing the monetary results of trying to chill air that has been super-heated by our proximity to the sun; by visitors saying they love our town but would not want to live here as they wipe their brow with an already-soaked handkerchief; by opening a car door and feeling that whoosh of built-up hot air and humidity; or by simply stepping outside.
It’s interesting as I wait for my turn to leave an airplane after returning home to New Orleans and hearing the gasps of people up ahead when they first encounter our climate in the jet-way leading to the terminal. They are obviously impressed as every warning they have heard about visiting New Orleans in the summer is suddenly affirmed.
Because we all find so many more advantages than disadvantages about living right at sea level in a swamp, we tend to minimize the stifling effects of high levels of heat and humidity while enjoying the modern conveniences of air conditioning, easy availability of ice, wearing a minimal amount of clothing, and not going on long walk-abouts in early afternoon.
Other options for most of us are eating lighter, with drinking patterns following suit. It is still a mystery to me, and I bring this up way too often, I am sure, how people can drink big, bold red wines, full of tannins and with plenty of forward alcohol, in this weather. While I am a big advocate of drinking what you like, surely you like something else with the thermometer approaching 95. In this current season, Champagne, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, even Pinot Noir all make a lot more sense, at least to me, than something red and massive from Napa Valley. Love those wines in November. Just not now.
In the cocktail arena, I am very partial to Pimm’s Cups in air conditioned bars. Three bars in particular make a dandy Pimm’s, Kingfish, Napoleon House, and Bourbon O in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Other bars make good ones, and the drink really is pretty simple, it’s just these three do a notable good job.
But what really rings the bell for me is to take seasonal ingredients and then create a cocktail built around a change-of-pace spirit with fresh fruit. Vodka is always a good fall-back beverage; yet, I have two issues with vodka in this particular instance of hot and sticky weather cocktails. The first is that vodka brings nothing but alcohol to the party. Sometimes the fact that a drink feels strong with the alcohol in the spirit inflicting nothing of personality into the mix is just fine. When it comes to using fresh seasonal ingredients can be the case, but I still like something added.
Secondly, if you choose to add a great, well-made vodka to the drink, it usually does not really belong with a number of ingredients. Those top-level vodkas are excellent for martinis, but no need to “waste” the spirit by masking its presence with a multitude of ingredients.
Below are three cocktails that meet my summertime cool-and-refreshing criteria, fresh ingredients and a different spirit for each recipe.
(courtesy of Hendrick’s Gin)
12 or more fresh blueberries
4 tablespoons good quality gin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons ginger beer
1-2 mint sprigs
Place the blueberries, gin and lemon juice in a measuring cup or shallow bowl. Muddle everything together until every single blueberry is crushed beyond recognition.
Fill a chilled glass with ice cubes. Strain the blueberry-gin mixture over the ice.
Pour over the ginger beer, give everything a good stir, and garnish with mint to serve.
Watermelon Mint Cocktail
(Courtesy Rachel Ray Every Day, www.rachelray.com)
Makes one pitcher
12 cups seedless watermelon cubes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves
2/3 cup cachaça, or to taste
In a blender, working in batches, puree the watermelon, lime juice and mint until smooth. Transfer the mixture to 2 large pitchers. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Divide the liquor between the pitchers. Top with ice.
Whiskey Peach Smash
(Courtesy Dale Degroff, The Craft of the Cocktail)
1/2 fresh peach, cut into thick slices
3 or 4 fresh mint leaves
1 lemon wedge
1 ounce water
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces whiskey (Degroff suggests Canadian whiskey, but bourbon also works well)
1 sprig mint
1 thin peach slice for garnish
Muddle all ingredients except whiskey in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and whiskey. Shake and strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass and garnish with a peach slice and a sprig of mint.
It looks like we are in for a long, hot summer. Nothing new for us. Might as well make the most of it and enjoy the time. There are folks in other parts of the country dreading the imminent arrival of cold weather and sun-less days. We will be here drinking these cocktails to stave off the heat into November. I’ll take our way any day.