Back when I was a wee tot (of legal drinking age, naturally), a good summer buzz came in the form of a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler, or a Zima or four. If you wanted to get fancy, you dumped some tequila in some limeade and called it a margarita.
Since then, cocktails have evolved into an art form. We no longer have bartenders; we have mixologists. In New York City, where you can't swing a swizzle stick without hitting a $14 martini, craft cocktail lounges are the new hotness. Innovators behind the bar sling top-shelf liquor and fresh ingredients to reinvigorate the drinks of yore (the mint julep, the Sazerac) or to create something completely avant-garde (absinthe gummi bears, anyone?).
But in the heat of August, some members of Salon's staff felt nostalgic for fruit and fizz. So for this year's summer drinks story, we asked top mixologists to update those girl drinks of the past -- sweet, effervescent, refreshing -- for a sophisticated cocktail age. A friend of mine, less fond of vodka tonics and beer than I, always demands of her bartender, "Get me girl-drink drunk!" And that was our directive to the mixologists who participated in our contest. Their original recipes, and our reactions, are below.
Now, when we refer to "girl drinks," our tongues are firmly planted in cheek: These are gender-neutral concoctions. (One of my most macho male friends loves nothing more than orange juice and Malibu rum.) But each summons the frothiness of summertime. This is not what you sip while cradling your Jameson and listening to Tom Waits on repeat. This is what you sip with your friends as the sun melts like a Creamsicle behind the horizon, when everyone is all smiles and flip-flops and bikini tan lines, when the sand still crunches between your toes. Rest assured, though, these girl drinks pack a punch.
A note about our procedure: We invited former bartender Eamon Furlong and noted chef Aarón Sanchez (finalist on "The Next Iron Chef" and irrepressible charmer), co-owners of East Village's Paladar restaurant, to our Midtown office to make the drinks, adding their own girl-drink invention to the lineup. The panel of judges included culture editor Joy Press, news editor Mark Schone, staff writer Rebecca Traister, editor-in-chief Joan Walsh and me. Book critic Laura Miller cast the deciding swing vote.
The first four delicious drinks that follow are in no particular order. Last are the three that made our favorites list. We hope that, as you did last year, you'll share your own favorite summer drink recipes in the comments section -- and that you'll enjoy these amazing cocktails. We certainly did.
The Juliet & Romeo
Toby Maloney, former bartender at fabled New York haunts Pegu Club and Milk & Honey, now has his own speakeasy in Chicago called the Violet Hour. He designed this cocktail "with a wonderful woman in mind" and calls it the "perfect gateway drink for ladies who might not have tasted gin yet."
2 ounces Beefeater gin
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
3 drops rose water
3 drops angostura bitters
3 slices cucumber
3 sprigs fresh mint
tiny pinch of salt
Muddle cucumber, mint and the pinch of salt. Add rest of the ingredients. Add five Kold-Draft ice cubes. Shake. Strain. Garnish with mint leaf with one drop of rose water on top.
Reactions: Maloney confounded our expectations by offering a savory, rather than sweet, drink with a refreshing cucumber taste. "Salty, but I like it!" one judge commented, while another added, "I hate gin, but I love this."
Sample is yet another bar along Brooklyn's crowded Smith Street, yet it's as classy as it is narrow. Part-time indie rock impresario Lee Greenfeld is also a trusty booze slinger, who sent us the following treat.
1 slice of lime
2 ounces regular vodka
1/2 ounce fresh pineapple juice
splash of cranberry juice
Add in order, then add ice, gently stir and top with splash of soda water. Garnish with lime slice.
Reactions: "Light and not too sweet," said one judge. Echoed another, "Fruity, but it's not at all cloying."
The Pinky Fizz
A former Sicilian social club turned upscale speakeasy, Brooklyn Social is a place so cool even David Bowie has been known to hang there. Co-owner Matt Dawson shook things up a bit with the following.
1 medium egg white
1 1/2 ounces premium gin
1/2 ounce Aperol
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 small scoop ice cubes
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for a good long while. Strain into a small fizz glass. Top with seltzer.
Reactions: No one could quite get over the creaminess of this cocktail containing whipped egg whites. "Wicked," said one judge, obviously in her cups by now. "Pleasant and custardy," remarked another.
The Royal Blush, second runner-up
Eben Freeman at Tailor is the mad mixologist behind the aforementioned absinthe gummi bear; he has also made smoked Coke and paprika punch. He offered something a bit more traditional (but not entirely!) for us.
1 1/2 ounces vodka
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
5-6 mint leaves
1 teaspoon Morello cherry purée
2 ounces champagne
Place first three ingredients in cocktail shaker. Tear mint leaves in half and place in shaker. Shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Strain into martini glass containing cherry purée. Pour straight and carefully so as not to upset purée. Top with champagne in front of guest. Cocktail should change in color from green to pink!
Reactions: "There's a depth to this, a complexity of flavors," said one judge. "You wouldn't know it was cherry at first," said another. "There's a mystery to it."
Le Fraise Sauvage, first runner-up
Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas of Employees Only in Manhattan's West Village call this a "gorgeous champagne cocktail," and we couldn't agree more. This is Zaric's second appearance in the pages of Salon, by the way. Back in December 2007, the dashing Serbian taught us the proper way to mix an absinthe cocktail.
1 1/4 ounces Plymouth gin
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce strawberry purée
2 ounces Mumm Joyesse Demi-Sec champagne
Pour all ingredients except champagne into a mixing glass. Add ice, cover and shake vigorously for seven or eight seconds. Pour champagne into a chilled cocktail-martini glass and pour the cocktail over it. Garnish with half a strawberry.
Reactions: "Berrylicious!" exclaimed one delighted judge. "Fizzy and fruity, just what we ordered," said another. And the winner is ...
The Jalapeña, winner
We understand it's a bit suspicious, Salon's awarding first prize to the men who mixed our drinks -- Eamon Furlong and Aarón Sanchez of Paladar -- but their unique jalapeño and pineapple cocktail, a walloping mix of sweet and spicy, earned them the top spot.
1 ripe pineapple, cleaned and roughly chopped
1/2 jalapeño chili, roughly chopped (seeds and veins intact)
1 bottle silver tequila
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups fresh lime juice
Combine pineapple, jalapeño and tequila in blender and purée. Cover and refrigerate overnight, allowing flavors to develop. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and add lime juice and sugar. Adjust the flavor to taste (sweetness will depend on ripeness of pineapple). Serve chilled straight up or over ice. Garnish with pineapple slice and a jalapeño wheel. Makes approximately one pitcher.
Reactions: "The best ever!" said one judge. "This is like an appetizer and a drink all in one," proclaimed another. Yet a third merely replied, "Woo-hoo!" And a winner was crowned.