The Writer Prepares (A Nice, Cool Cocktail)

It’s been a brutal summer. Normally, my part of the Northeast — northern New Jersey — rarely gets above the low-80s, and then only for a few weeks late in the season. When I moved up here from Houston years ago, I thought I’d left behind the feeling of breathing through a hot, wet blanket — and the palmetto bugs the size of container ships. The bugs didn’t follow me north, but we've had mid-90s heat and smothering humidity since late June. 

So what does a writer do when she doesn’t have air conditioning in her office? 

What any self-respecting writer does: She drinks.

Okay, not while working. I’ve never believed all those stories about storied writers who were blasted while turning out top-notch prose. So many of them carry the implication that drinking somehow made the writing better, rather than the writing being excellent despite the alcoholism. I know for damned sure alcohol does not improve my writing.

A refreshing summer cocktail, however, can be the perfect end to a sweltering workday. And as we head into August, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. Among the recipes I had available, I looked for three important characteristics: They had to be intended to be iced; relatively easy to make; and have flavor that popped. No bland or cloying drinks for us. Cool, easy, bracing, refreshing, those are the cocktails for a long, slow, sultry summer evening.

For my final choices, I consulted my über-cool neighbors across the street, who are cocktail enthusiasts (and one is a forensic anthropologist, so I have him on speed-dial for two reasons). They are the ones who introduced me to the work of Tom Richter, a bartender at The Beagle in New York City. My new personal favorite summer cocktail (Saints & Sinners) was passed along from him. [Tom also sells his own tasty tonic for a new twist on that summer staple, the gin & tonic, called Tomr’s Tonic.]   

Before we get started, a note on measurement. Most shot glasses are 2 oz (not 1 oz). You can test that by filling your shot glass with water and pouring the water into a 1/4 measuring cup. If the water fills the cup, it's 2 oz. 

Here are the cocktails my friends and I settled on:

The Dark & Stormy

A writer just has to start here, with that name. This is a Bermudan cocktail created in the early 1900s. Relax and stop worrying about that opening sentence for your book.

Pour over ice in a chilled glass:
3 oz chilled ginger beer (or more if you want to reduce the alcohol ratio)
1 oz dark rum
Stir; garnish with a slice of lime
[Ginger beer is non-alcoholic and available in larger liquor stores and supermarkets.]

The Negroni

Created in the days of silent films (this one's for Kate), this is extra easy to make for more than one person: The proportions are 1-1-1. The shaker also provides a bit of theater if you make this for guests.

The basic recipe for one cocktail (add more ice if you're making a shaker-full):

Place a half-dozen ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Add:
1 oz good gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth

Make sure the shaker lid is secure and shake until your hands get icy cold. When they start to hurt, that’s when it’s ready.

Strain into a chilled martini or highball glass (I like mine in a highball glass with ice, but a martini glass — or as in the picture, an old-fashioned champagne "coupe" — makes a nice presentation). Garnish with a twist of lemon or orange. If making a twist is too much trouble (and it can be), forget the garnish. 

Note: You could also muddle (crush) some slices of peeled orange in the shaker before adding the ice for a bit of extra flavor and some light (tasty) pulp in the drink. And a rationalization that you're drinking healthy. 

Saints & Sinners (or Saint & Cynar)

This delectable concoction requires sparkling wine (which won’t keep long in the fridge after opening), so it’s probably best for when you have friends over.

To a tall mixing glass (or a pitcher) with ice cubes, add:

2 oz St. Germaine (which is an elderflower liqueur)
1 oz Cynar
4 oz chilled dry sparkling wine (I recommend Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut; it’s inexpensive and tastes just fine)

Stir to chill well; pour only the liquid into a chilled highball glass with ice cubes in it; garnish with orange slice or orange twist.

Safety Note: Never use a shaker for this drink. We’re talking about a carbonated beverage here, which can explode if shaken in a closed container. (Think about what happens when you shake a carbonated soft drink.)

Enjoy!  Have a refreshing August!

Sheila York