Summer on the Rocks

Keith Wagstaff

Everyone loves a sip of something cool during the dog days of summer – even if you’re far away from a tropical locale or a breezy resort. The key to a refreshing drink? “Fresh squeezed everything,” said Jason Littrell, a bartender at DRAM, a cocktail and tiki bar in Brooklyn, N.Y.

These drinks are new twists on classic recipes created before the advent of high-fructose corn syrup and bar-guns loaded with soft drinks and sweet-and-sour-mix. The preservatives and chemical additives in packaged juice can wreck the characteristics of a cocktail. Whether you need pineapple, lemon or lime juice or even veggies, it all tastes better when you press it yourself.

“If you want to have something that is really good, it has to be fresh,” Littrell said. “We fresh squeeze everything every day; it’s absolutely imperative.” Take a lead from high-end bars and get your hands ready for some squeezing to make one of these summer cocktails today.

The key to a refreshing summer drink? “Fresh squeezed everything.”

N.Y. bartender Jason Littrell

The Eastside

The Eastside is all about summertime veggies and herbs (cucumber and mint). It’s a “go-to drink for New York bartenders,” Littrell says.

Recipe: A pinch of mint 3 slices cucumber 1 oz. lime juice 3/4 oz. simple syrup *2 oz. London Dry gin (such as Plymouth)

In a glass, muddle (mash together) the cucumber slices. Add the lime juice, simple syrup and gin. Gently rub the mint between your fingers to release its oils. Top the drink with the pinch of mint, Littrell said, and “you’ve got serendipity.”

Variations: For a “Southside” cocktail, skip the cucumber. Without the cucumber or mint, you’re looking at a standard Gin Gimlet.

Keith Wagstaff

Behind God’s Back

Behind God’s Back is a common saying in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. It refers to something far away that you don’t want God to know about. You may not want God to know about this drink, but you’ll be glad you do.

Recipe: 1 oz. lime juice 1/4 oz. cane syrup 1/4 oz. cinnamon syrup 1/4 oz. orgeat (almond syrup) 2 oz. St. Lucia rum (such as Chairman’s Reserve) Angostura and Peychaud bitters *Mint

Combine lime juice, syrups and rum in a glass and mix the ingredients by rubbing a glass swizzle stick or spoon between your hands “like you are making a fire”. Add two dashes each of Angostura and Peychaud bitters. Top with crushed ice and garnish with a “lavish amount of mint,” Littrell said, to create a beautiful drink.

Keith Wagstaff

A Straight Daiquiri

Most people don’t understand a true daiquiri, imagining you need a special machine at home to make a slushy drink. But, Littrell said, it is “one of the oldest drinks in the book … one of those drinks that bartenders judge other bartenders by.”

Recipe: 3/4 oz. lime juice 1/2 oz. simple syrup *2 oz. Caribbean rum (such as Ron del Barrilito)

This is Littrell’s version of the classic. Mix it up, serve it over crushed ice, and enjoy. Or, for a variation try Littrell’s Difford Daiquiri: Cut the simple syrup by half and add a quarter ounce of maraschino liqueur (such as Luxardo Maraschino).

Keith Wagstaff

Key Ingredients

Keith Wagstaff

Simple syrup can be used in a variety of drinks, from cocktails like the Eastside to a summer refresher like iced coffee. It sweetens your drink without coating the bottom of your glass with sugar granules. It’s as easy as the name implies: Boil equal parts water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. And, that’s just for starters. “There’s infinite room to be creative with the simple syrup,” said bartender Jason Littell, by adding ingredients like mint, cinnamon or orange peels to infuse the syrup. Once cooled, the syrup will keep in the refrigerator in a glass container for up to one month.

Littrell offers an easy trick for making crushed ice at home: Fill a pillow-case or burlap bag with ice and hit it with a hammer or rubber mallet until the ice is in equally sized pieces. Crushed ice is preferable to the cubed alternative, because it makes mixed drinks “very very cold,” Littrell said, “and generally very delicious.”

For more exotic cocktails, check out your local Thai market or farmer’s market for new (to you) fruits and vegetables. If you’re confused about what to do with that oblong fuzzy fruit you purchased, check out the “Flavor Bible” or the “Food Lover’s Companion,” two books that Littrell said will teach you everything you want to know about flavor and food pairings. And for more cocktail know-how, take a look at “The Essential Cocktail.”