Summer is here, and so is our thirst for cooling, quenching beverages like lemonade and iced tea. Also arriving on cue is an appetite for the fresh fruits and flavors of the season – from native strawberries to garden-grown basil and mint to tropical coconut. No wonder those ingredients are appearing in some of the season's most popular cocktails. We checked in with bartenders at a handful of our favorite restaurants and watering holes, and we asked for seasonal cocktail recipes.
From Manchester to Mystic and West Hartford to Washington Depot, what we got is an inspiring array of summer sippers ranging from a peach white wine sangria to a fresh strawberry mojito, and a coconut cooler to a rum-and-pineapple "Vacation." Home barmeisters, prepare to raid the fruit basket, pick herbs from the garden, and muddle your way through summer.
* * *
Fresh, local and absolutely delicious is the Strawberry Mojito being served at in West Hartford. The invention of chef/owner Billy Grant and his bartending staff, this libation is as refreshing to look at as it is to drink. Extra delicious sipped while people-watching on Grants' outdoor patio.
Grants Restaurant & Bar's Strawberry Mojito
3 or 4 native heirloom strawberries
5 sprigs fresh mint
1 teaspoon Sugar in the Raw
Dash fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 ounces Bacardi Limon
Splash club soda
Set aside one strawberry and one sprig of mint. Stem the remaining strawberries, and put them in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Remove mint leaves from remaining sprigs, discard stems, and add leaves to shaker. Add lime juice and sugar. Using a muddler or a long-handled spoon, bruise the fruit mixture. Add Bacardi Limon, and shake well. Fill a large cocktail glass with ice. Pour contents of shaker over ice. Add enough club soda to fill glass to the rim. Garnish with reserved strawberry and mint sprig. Makes 1 Strawberry Mojito.
Grants Restaurant & Bar is at 977 Farmington Ave., West Hartford. For more information, visit www.billygrant.com or call 860-236-1930.
* * *
John Harris, owner of the White Horse Tavern in Marble Dale, laughs when asked about the creation of one of his restaurant's most popular summer libations, the White Horse Summer Tea. "I invented it one night when I was playing with booze," he says. Harris drew his inspiration from a new product, Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, and the result is a new twist on the Arnold Palmer cocktail, a combination of tea-flavored vodka, lemon-flavored vodka, lemonade, and and a splash of cranberry juice. Perfect for enjoying outdoors on the White Horse's lovely deck overlooking the babbling Aspetuck River.
White Horse Summer Tea
2 ounces Firefly Sweet Tea vodka
2 ounces Ketel One Citron
3 ounces freshly made lemonade
1 ounce cranberry juice
Fill a high ball glass with ice. Add all the ingredients, mix, and garnish with a slice of starfruit and a slice of lemon. Makes 1 White Horse Summer Tea. (Asked about the generous 2-ounce pours, Harris says, "It makes one really good drink.")
White Horse Tavern is at 258 New Milford Turnpike, Marble Dale. For more information, visit www.whitehorsecountrypub.com or call 860-868-1496.
* * *
Coconut cocktails tend to be very sweet, but not so the heavenly Coconut Cooler served at Cavey's of Manchester. Created by bartender Jessica Cote, the cooler is a sublime combination of coconut vodka, sour mix, and fresh mint and lime juice – a beautiful balancing act of sweets and sours. Garnished with shavings of fresh coconut, you can almost feel the tropical island breezes.
Cavey's Coconut Cooler
4 to 5 leaves fresh mint
1 slice fresh lime
1 ounce Ciroc Coconut vodka
1 ounce fresh sour mix
Splash club soda
In the bottom of a high ball glass, muddle the mint and the lime. Add ice. Pour in the vodka and sour mix, and top with soda. Shake or stir to combine. Rim the glass with shavings of fresh coconut. Makes 1 Coconut Cooler.
Cavey's Restaurant is at 45 East Center St., Manchester. For more information, visit www.caveysrestaurant.com or call 860-643-2751.
* * *
When your bar manager is a former professional baker, you are dealing with someone who understands the nuances of flavor combinations and knows how to get the most out of ingredients. Carol Kerr, a bartender at Mystic's Bravo Bravo, formerly owned a bakery in Essex. Working with nighttime bar manager Kevin Rogers, Kerr came up with the restaurant's Peach White Wine Sangria, a best-seller that gets its tantalizing taste from the addition of fresh peaches, fresh ginger, and a splash of ginger beer. Multiply the proportions and make it by the pitcherful.
Bravo, Bravo's Peach White Wine Sangria
1/4 teaspoon fresh-grated ginger root
1 teaspoon sugar
5 to 6 slices fresh peach
6 ounces Pinot Grigio
1/2 ounce Peachtree Peach Schnapps
Splash ginger beer
In a small bowl, combine fresh ginger, sugar, and fresh peach slices. Stir gently once or twice to combine, and let meld as you make the cocktail. Fill a large wine glass with ice. Pour in the pinot grigio white wine and the peach schnapps. Spoon in the peach-ginger mixture. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with a slice of fresh peach, if desired. Makes 1 Peach White Sangria cocktail.
Bravo Bravo is at 20 East Main St., Mystic. For more information, visit www.bravobravoct.com or call 860-536-3228.
* * *
At the G.W Tavern in Washington Depot, summer can be spent outdoors on the shaded, brookside patio overlooking the Bee Brook. It's a great place to enjoy fabulous food, kick back and relax in the green surrounds, and sip a Basil Gimletto. The creation of bar manager John Vanden Bosch and his talented staff, including photographer Elizabeth Ann Stichter.
G.W. Tavern's Basil Gimletto
5 fresh basil leaves
Splash of club soda
4 ounces Absolut Citron
Juice of 1 lime (or about 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice)
Dash of simple syrup
Muddle the basil in the splash of club soda, then add ice, vodka, lime juice and simple syrup. Shake well in a martini shaker, and pour into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lime wheel. Makes 1 Basil Gimletto
The G.W. Tavern is at 20 Bee Brook Road, Washington Depot. For more information, visit www.gwtavern.com or call 860-868-6633.
* * *
This aptly named tropical taste treat is the creation of Heather Beaghen, one of the head bartenders at Farmington's Apricots Restaurant & Pub in Farmington. Order one up and take a seat beside the river. How's that for a mini-vacation?
The Apricot's Vacation
1/2 ounce Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
1/2 ounce Malibu rum
1/2 ounce Stolichnaya Vanilla vodka
Splash pineapple juice
Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour through a strainer into a martini glass. Garnish with a chunk of fresh pineapple. Makes 1 Vacation.
Apricots Restaurant & Pub is at 1593 Farmington Ave., Farmington. For more information, visit www.apricotsrestaurant.com or call 860-673-5405.