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The Five Best Summer Cocktails

Summer demands a refreshing cocktail. It's too hot out there for your beloved spiced cider, so here are a few recipes to get you through the heatwave.

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1. Gin and Lemonade

There's not much to complicate this one. Fill a glass with ice, pour in 2 oz of quality gin and 6 oz of lemonade. I usually throw a couple of slices of cucumber in there too, just to add an extra layer of refreshment. The one note about this drink is that the ingredient quality does matter. A good quality gin (like that Hendrick's in the photo) is pretty important to this one. No one wants to sit on their porch sipping something that tastes like Pine-Sol. And, along those lines, once you've shelled out for the kind of gin that looks like it should come with a top hat and monocle, you're not going to want to waste it by mixing it with Sunny-D lemonade. The best lemonade is obviously homemade, but sometimes I'd rather just get to the drinkin' and for that, Simply Lemonade is the best alternative. They also make a raspberry lemonade that adds an interesting flavor to the mix. If you use that, just garnish with raspberries instead of cucumbers. Fancy!

2. Mint Julep

It's just not summer in the south without a mint julep. Southerners like mint juleps so much they created a special little silver cup for them. It's serves as both a way to say, "I'm rich enough to have completely unnecessary dinnerware", and to identify other rich southerners without much effort. I was once at a pub trivia night and the question was asked, "What is in a mint julep?" I had written down the answer before the question even finished. That is how ingrained mint juleps are in southern culture. But, even the unbiased and non-southern can agree, this is one delicious drink. A mint julep is a bourbon based drink that requires little to no expertise to make. The only ingredients are bourbon, simple syrup, crushed ice, and mint. The secret to the mint julep really is in its simplicity. If you have the ubiquitous silver tumbler*, chill it beforehand, if not just add a little extra ice. Add simple syrup to your own taste, as sometimes the premixed versions go a little too far to the sweet side. Garnish with mint, and a certain sense of smugness that your cocktail is ready to go while everyone else is still at the bar mixing.

*Note: If you don't have the silver cup, try serving it in a mason jar to keep the southern flair.

3. Pimm's Cup

Pretty much any time you find a recipe for a Pimm's Cup, it's measured to make an entire pitcher. This is not a coincidence; you will drink an entire pitcher. Supposedly these concoctions are a huge deal at Cricket matches, but having never seen one, I can neither confirm nor deny this assertion. I have a distinct feeling that someone drunk made this recipe up in the first place, as it has sort of a, "Throw in all the things!" feeling. That being said, this is actually my favorite summer drink. To make a Pimm's Cup, first, find yourself a pitcher. Then, fill it 1/4 full with ice and then put in a layer of orange slices (cut them like little half-moons so they soak up more deliciousness), a few lemon slices, and a layer of cucumbers (make the cucumbers full moons). Fill the next 1/4 and repeat the delicious layering. Keep on keepin' on until your pitcher is full of ice and good stuff. Pour in 1 cup of Pimm's and 1 cup of ginger ale or ginger beer, and 1 cup of Lemon Perrier*. Stir. When you serve them, make sure to add a sprig of mint, lightly crushed, to the glass.

*Note: If anyone ever tries to tell you there is Rose's Lime in this drink, punch them in the face and then hand them a Miller High Life. They completely deserve it.

4. Mojito

A mojito's deliciousness, for better for worse, is directly tied to how much effort you put into it. Premixed mojito? Bottom of the barrel. Do not buy premixed mojito. If you want one, either go to a bar that is willing to put the effort in and make a real one, or make it yourself. Making it yourself is always the best because:

a) sense of achievement

b) your reward is a cocktail

The only real requirements for this drink (other than the ingredients) are a sturdy glass and a muddler. If you don't have one, I suggest going out and buying one anyway. They're imminently useful for a lot of drinks. Drop about 10 mint leaves and a couple of lime wedges into the bottom of your glass and muddle them. Add another lime wedge and between one and three tablespoons of sugar (white or raw) and muddle again. Add crushed ice, 2 oz of rum and then fill the rest with club soda. Garnish with mint. There are a million trendy mojito recipes out there, they range from spicy versions to things that might have been a mojito before you put all that fruit in it. I heartily suggest at least trying the original first.

5. Vodka Thyme Lemonade

Martha Stewart has a version of this recipe, but she makes a thyme-infused simple syrup, and I prefer to infuse the vodka. Both ways require a little preparation, so this isn't exactly a spur of the moment cocktail. To make thyme infused vodka, take three cups of vodka, and add half a cup of fresh thyme. Put them in a jar and shake it up. I like to listen to "Shake It Up" by The Cars at this point, but that is not required. Put the jar in a cabinet (or somewhere else cool and dark) for three or four days. Be sure to visit it a couple of times a day to give it a good shake. When it's ready, just strain it through a coffee filter to get out all the icky bits and there you have it. Now get out your pitcher and fill it halfway with ice. Add some lemon slices and a few sprigs of thyme in whatever artistic fashion you'd like and then fill the rest of the pitcher with ice. Add 1 cup of your distilled vodka and two cups of lemonade. If that isn't enough to fill the pitcher, continue with the 1:2 ratio until it's full. Preferably serve this one in a tall glass, so you can put a sprig of thyme in for garnish along with a lemon slice.

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