Soak up the Sun
NEW YORK (MainStreet)One of the best things about summer is how easy it is to get together with people. The rest of the year we have commitments, schedules, jobs and plans but somehow, from June to August, we all decide to find a way to make the time.
Even for cold weather people like yours truly, it's a reason to look forward to 90-degree heat, because with it comes picnics, dinner parties and a chance to see friends who might as well live in Mongolia most of the rest of the year.
Still, having people coming over raises a brand new question: what to serve them? Of course it's easy to pop open a few cans of beer and call it a day, but that's just not as much fun. Instead, here are a few suggestions I've picked up from around the world that just might make your next cocktail party a little more memorable, and well within budget to boot as you soak up the last few weeks of summer.
#1. Coconut and rum
Source: Sihanoukville, Cambodia Ingredients: Frozen coconut water, rum (or whiskey)
Forget the Jack-and-Coke and leave the Cuba libre at home; this is the new king of dark liquors. This simple drink is fantastic on a hot summer evening, with the chilled rum and coconut flavors mixing to create something smooth and tropical no matter where you are. For the best results, avoid the already flavored liquors like Malibu and stick to something straightforward like Bacardi instead. You don't want to overwhelm the drink with artificial flavoring.
Back in its home country of Cambodia, they serve this drink up in fresh, green coconuts. Bartenders simply chop the top off of the fruit with a machete, pour out a little of the sweet water inside and mix an equal amount of rum back in. Here in the U.S., however, green coconuts are harder, and considerably more expensive, to come by than in a land where they literally grow on trees. Instead I recommend using the packaged coconut water that has become so popular these days. Fill an ice tray to freeze it into cubes, drop them in glasses filled with a shot or two of rum then let the drink sit for a while so the ice has a chance to melt in.
What you end up with is fresh, cool and perfect for waiting out a summer heat wave.
#2. The Demi-Peche
Source: Paris, France
Ingredients: Peach (or any other fruit) flavor syrup, a good lager or wheat beer
This is a French version of the shandy, with a flavor all its own.
The demi-peche in French literally means "half peach." Although the name is slightly misleading, it's mostly on the money. Served in French bars and cafés across the country, this drink combines the simple pleasure of a good beer with some sweet, fruit flavor to give it a bit more of a kick. On our last trip to France, my fiancée, Laura, discovered this drink and never ordered an ordinary beer again.
Although the name does mean "half peach," you don't want more than a shot or so of flavor, otherwise the results become cloying. To make the demi-peche you start with a glass of good wheat beer or lager. I recommend a wheat, because they tend to have better flavor to begin with. From there, add a shot (or two centiliters to be precise) of flavored syrup. The original recipe calls for peach, and it works great, but don't be afraid to experiment. Other flavors work well too, especially berries. If the final drink is a little too sweet or strong for you, a little bit of orange juice will cut the taste back to normal.
#3 If You Want to (Love) Me, Kiss Me!
Source: Uvaia Guesthouse - Sao Paulo, Brazil
Ingredients: Orange Juice, Mint and Busca Vida or, in the likely event no one near you sells busca vida, substitute it with a mix of Honey, Lime and Cachaça
This drink, invented by a guesthouse down in Sao Paulo, takes its name from a line in Brazilian film that is, in its original form, unprintable here. I'll leave the real version to your imagination, but the results are out of this world.
Made from traditional Brazilian alcohol, the IYWt(L)M,KM! (there must be a better way to say that) is a citrusy, outstanding drink for beating the heat of either a Brazilian afternoon or a Manhattan evening. The original version uses a local liquor called busca vida, literally "looking for life" in Portuguese. It's a great base, but one that can be pretty hard to find up here in the States. Instead I recommend making your own.
Squeeze about one small lime's worth of juice into a glass. Then add a generous measure of cachaça, not on every supermarket shelf but almost certainly available at a good liquor store. Finally, mix in honey to taste; don't add too much, as you want the honey to accent, not crush, the flavors. Now you've got a bootlegger's version of busca vida. From there proceed with a decent measure of orange juice, some crushed mint and a generous portion of ice to keep the whole thing cool.
Just remember: no matter how it tastes, it isn't juice. This drink has a kick.
Source: Barcelona, Spain (and Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Ingredients: Red Wine, Everything but the kitchen sink
I could probably fill the rest of the Internet with competing recipes for good sangria and would more than happily try. Absolutely everyone who's ever made it has an opinion, and while they're almost always different, the good news is that it's really hard to make a version that's bad. Of course, making it really good is a whole lot harder.
Rather than take up the rest of your day debating about what to do or not do in making a good glass of sangria, I'll simply cut to the chase. There are hundreds of fantastic recipes out there, but my absolute favorite is served by the unbeatable Casa Dominick's in Ann Arbor. This recipe, based off theirs, is my go-to when I have friends coming over for dinner and just don't know what else to make them. I think you'll like it too.
Start with two and a half bottles of sweet, red wine. Don't break out the good stuff, just about anything reasonable will do. Add one .75L bottle of Manischewitz wine, Concord Grape flavor. Next mix in two and a half cups of cranberry juice (or schnapps for a bit more kick) and one cup of brandy. Again, don't spend your money on anything expensive. The flavor of the fruit and Manischewitz will overwhelm the drink, so as long as your liquor doesn't taste like lighter fluid, it'll do.
Cut in lemons, oranges and limes. This is to personal preference, but I recommend two of each. Finally, put the whole thing in the refrigerator to chill for several hours.
Enjoy, and Go Blue!
#5 The Lychee Martini
Source: Bangkok, Thailand
Ingredients: Ice Cubes (to chill), Vodka, Lychee Juice, Lychee Fruits, Splash Vermouth
Wow. I discovered this drink at a small bar off Khao San Road in Bangkok and very nearly never came home again. Now I'll admit that on this entry I'm cheating. This is supposed to be a list of easy, affordable drinks for your summer vacation, and to be honest, lychees and any lychee-products are pretty darn hard to come by.
Still, I'm going to cheat anyway, because holy cow, it's worth it!
This tropical fruit looks kind of like an oversized strawberry and has a sweet, sticky flavor that's perfect for sitting in the shade on a Bangkok afternoon. Mixed into a drink, it's just what you need to take you right into the evening.
Preparation is fairly easy. Mix ¾ cups vodka, ½ cup juice and the vermouth together in a large glass or cocktail shaker filled with ice until the whole thing is nicely chilled. Shaken or stirred is up to you. From there pour into two glasses (this recipe serves two) and garnish each drink with a single peeled fruit.
If I didn't have an article to finish, I'd be getting one right now.
#6. The Mediterranean Sunset
Source: The Cyclades Islands, Greece
Ingredients: Ouzo, Grenadine, Grapefruit or Lemon Juice
Despite their failing economy, the Greeks do a great many things very right. In fact, I've been to few other countries in the world where people know how to just enjoy their lives as well as they do over in Greece. Of course, pretty much anywhere you go, a lust for life tends to comes with a certain alcoholic know-how too, and Greece is no exception.
For the most part, this country takes its liquor straight. Ouzo is the national drink of choice, with occasional room for the God-awful raki, and it's generally served on its own in a small shot glass. Occasionally you may find it chilled or poured over ice, and to taste, you can cut the strong flavor down with water. But more often than not the strong, liquorice flavored liquor is designed for simply sipping in an evening marketplace.
However that's not to say that no one has ever played with the recipe! The Mediterranean Sunset comes to us courtesy of the island of Ios and takes a long-awaited swing at bringing ouzo back to those of us who don't want to drink just straight liquor. Pour a shot of liquor over ice in a tumbler, then fill the rest of the glass with your juice of choice. Garnish with grenadine and enjoy.
Just take a lesson from Athens and don't put it on your credit card.
--Eric Reed is a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.