Edible Drinks: Summer Cocktails
Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Emmet Kelty
New England is a tough place to live. Winter is far too long, and what happened to spring? It means we must embrace summer, using every day to its fullest.
My uncle Chris (Schlesinger) is one of the more humorous party planners I know. There is always a theme, and as with any great food theme, appropriate beverages must follow.
In the past he’s asked me to make him the simplest of highballs (they are easy and delicious, like Gin and Tonic or Tom Collins). But recently he has asked me to venture out and create something more theme-driven. Lacking basic listening skills, I always do something more complicated and inspired by the local farm stands where I grew up procuring dinner ingredients with my dad!
Think of each of the following cocktail recipes as a playful launch pad for innovation. There are long days in the summer when I finish work and a simple Campari and soda is the most satisfying drink available, but sometimes I want a touch more! With these recipes, I’ve created a framework for you to experiment with whatever ingredients are readily available.
Herbal syrups are all relatively similar. When I suggest shiso (also called perilla), don’t be afraid to substitute mint or tarragon instead—my mom always grows too much shiso, so it’s a favorite, but if you can’t find any, feel free to use whatever other soft herb you have. Blueberries are available earliest in New England—and help supplement the livelihoods of many a lobsterman—but raspberries are also delicious, and can be used as a substitute in the puree and cocktail below.
All of these drinks are easily translated into punch form—each recipe makes one cocktail, so multiply by the number of guests to make a whole pitcher. Add the effervescent ingredients as close to your guests’ arrival as possible, and garnish with the drinks’ prettiest and most vibrant ingredients.
Non-alcoholic options are always an important addition to any party. Having reached my mid–30's I've learned this more than ever, as my friends are more frequently pregnant than not! Both of the purees below can easily be used to make a virgin Bellini: just add non-alcoholic sparkling wine (yes, it tastes terrible on its own, but with a little help it can make quite the stunning drink) and serve in a flute.
Similarly, you can make the Bitter Blueberry Collins into a “mocktail” by mixing an ounce of puree with 1½ ounces lemon juice, and topping with soda water. And, if you have lots of leftover puree, you can always turn it into a seasonal daiquiri: 2 parts rum, 1 part puree, and 1 part lime juice.
The summer offers us the best opportunities to host friends and enjoy the New England bounty. Don’t be afraid to take these basic recipes and play around with them!