Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Writer Prepares (A Nice, Cool Cocktail)

It’s been a brutal summer. Normally, my part of the Northeast — northern New Jersey — rarely gets above the low-80s, and then only for a few weeks late in the season. When I moved up here from Houston years ago, I thought I’d left behind the feeling of breathing through a hot, wet blanket — and the palmetto bugs the size of container ships. The bugs didn’t follow me north, but we've had mid-90s heat and smothering humidity since late June. 

So what does a writer do when she doesn’t have air conditioning in her office? 

What any self-respecting writer does: She drinks.

Okay, not while working. I’ve never believed all those stories about storied writers who were blasted while turning out top-notch prose. So many of them carry the implication that drinking somehow made the writing better, rather than the writing being excellent despite the alcoholism. I know for damned sure alcohol does not improve my writing.

A refreshing summer cocktail, however, can be the perfect end to a sweltering workday. And as we head into August, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. Among the recipes I had available, I looked for three important characteristics: They had to be intended to be iced; relatively easy to make; and have flavor that popped. No bland or cloying drinks for us. Cool, easy, bracing, refreshing, those are the cocktails for a long, slow, sultry summer evening.

For my final choices, I consulted my über-cool neighbors across the street, who are cocktail enthusiasts (and one is a forensic anthropologist, so I have him on speed-dial for two reasons). They are the ones who introduced me to the work of Tom Richter, a bartender at The Beagle in New York City. My new personal favorite summer cocktail (Saints & Sinners) was passed along from him. [Tom also sells his own tasty tonic for a new twist on that summer staple, the gin & tonic, called Tomr’s Tonic.]   

Before we get started, a note on measurement. Most shot glasses are 2 oz (not 1 oz). You can test that by filling your shot glass with water and pouring the water into a 1/4 measuring cup. If the water fills the cup, it's 2 oz. 

Here are the cocktails my friends and I settled on:

The Dark & Stormy

A writer just has to start here, with that name. This is a Bermudan cocktail created in the early 1900s. Relax and stop worrying about that opening sentence for your book.

Pour over ice in a chilled glass:
3 oz chilled ginger beer (or more if you want to reduce the alcohol ratio)
1 oz dark rum
Stir; garnish with a slice of lime
[Ginger beer is non-alcoholic and available in larger liquor stores and supermarkets.]

The Negroni

Created in the days of silent films (this one's for Kate), this is extra easy to make for more than one person: The proportions are 1-1-1. The shaker also provides a bit of theater if you make this for guests.

The basic recipe for one cocktail (add more ice if you're making a shaker-full):

Place a half-dozen ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Add:
1 oz good gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth

Make sure the shaker lid is secure and shake until your hands get icy cold. When they start to hurt, that’s when it’s ready.

Strain into a chilled martini or highball glass (I like mine in a highball glass with ice, but a martini glass — or as in the picture, an old-fashioned champagne "coupe" — makes a nice presentation). Garnish with a twist of lemon or orange. If making a twist is too much trouble (and it can be), forget the garnish. 

Note: You could also muddle (crush) some slices of peeled orange in the shaker before adding the ice for a bit of extra flavor and some light (tasty) pulp in the drink. And a rationalization that you're drinking healthy. 

Saints & Sinners (or Saint & Cynar)

This delectable concoction requires sparkling wine (which won’t keep long in the fridge after opening), so it’s probably best for when you have friends over.

To a tall mixing glass (or a pitcher) with ice cubes, add:

2 oz St. Germaine (which is an elderflower liqueur)
1 oz Cynar
4 oz chilled dry sparkling wine (I recommend Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut; it’s inexpensive and tastes just fine)

Stir to chill well; pour only the liquid into a chilled highball glass with ice cubes in it; garnish with orange slice or orange twist.

Safety Note: Never use a shaker for this drink. We’re talking about a carbonated beverage here, which can explode if shaken in a closed container. (Think about what happens when you shake a carbonated soft drink.)

Enjoy!  Have a refreshing August!

Sheila York


  1. I enjoyed your post this lovely cooler A.M. today! Also a former southerner, I spent weeks in the swamps of VA and Carolina and have never felt the clinging sponge as much as this summer - my AC did not work well... so your drinks sound magic! tjs

  2. Thanks. If you have a southern favorite cocktail, please share it!

  3. When I lived in the academic community of Sewanee, TN, home of the University of the South - think the literary journal --The Sewanne Review... Andrew Lytle , the editor, was a friend. I also taught his daughters Latin , Drama and Modern Dance. He had parties at his "log cabin" on the edge of the mountain - and invited the various faculties - for straight Tennessee bourbon on the rocks - served in sterling silver cups with fine linen napkins. Ain't nothing to blow the woes of life away like good ole Tennessee bourbon!!!! Thelma

  4. And so easy to prepare. Container? Check! Napkin? Check! Mouth? Check!