The careless, wonderful art of summer cocktails

Matthew Mead/Associated Press

AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch shares his favorite summer cocktail recipes for, clockwise from top, Trashy Red Wine Sangria, Vodka Watermelon Slushie, Pisco Sour and Gin and Bitter Lemon.

By J.M. HIRSCH
AP Food Editor

The art of the summer cocktail is something I take most seriously. Because several years ago I realized what surely is obvious to most people – but I can be a bit slow. Summer is better with a signature cocktail. Not a fancy dinner cocktail. Not a party cocktail. And certainly nothing that anyone who goes by the title “mixologist” ever would deign to make.

I’m talking about an everyday cocktail, something that can be thrown together after work or a day of swimming, then casually sipped – or even slurped – while standing at the grill or sitting by the pool or dock.

A good summer cocktail must be simple to assemble. It must be sweet and refreshing, but not cloying. It should have a crispness. It should welcome ice and not suffer noticeably as the ice melts. And it must be versatile enough to go with whatever is on the dinner menu.

Each summer, I seem to discover a new cocktail, which then becomes my summer cocktail for the remainder of the season. A few years back, it was my trashy sangria, which I could slosh together in under a minute. Red wine, sugar, lime juice and ice on nights I was feeling rushed. A bit of fruit and muddling were added on nights I wasn’t.

As complex as a true sangria concocted from far more (and better) ingredients that are allowed to meld for hours? By no means. But still refreshing and satisfying.

The summer after that it was my vodka watermelon chiller. Watermelon, vodka, ice, lemon juice and honey. Blend and done. Is there anything more refreshing than watermelon in August? And last year I discovered the magic that is gin and bitter lemon. Ice plus gin plus a splash of bitter lemon tonic. Add a slice of lemon and it’s heaven in the end-of-day sun.

This year it will be the pisco sour. Pisco is a South American brandy that has a clean, mildly sweet flavor. Traditional versions of this cocktail call for shaking it over ice with sugar and lemon juice. My take swaps in lime juice (which so loves barbecue) and rather than shaking it, I blend until frothy. Think frozen margarita, but so much better.

I also should add that proper stemware is essential for enjoying a summer cocktail. In my house that usually means either canning jars or recycled jam jars.

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