Following the arrival of spring, cocktail menus have shifted from heavier, warmth-inducing drinks featuring amber-hued spirits, to lighter quaffs with hints of vanilla and the essence of elderflowers. These summer-time sips pair well with graduations, weddings and even fundraising initiatives.
This is not to say that Kentucky bourbon or a whiskey old fashioned are no longer in evidence, particularly with AMC’s Mad Men in full prime time mode, but the trendy smoke-infused concoctions and bacon-laced beverages of long winter nights must now be requested off-menu. Or, with The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, you can try your hand at crafting a rye whiskey old fashioned at home.
The seasonal spotlight is on clear spirit-based delights, drawing on and enhancing the merits of vodka, rum, and tequila. The unreasonably ever-popular gin has retained an ubiquitous presence as well. Fortunately for me, the herbaceous and floral notes of this oily, odiferous “neutral” liquor are occasionally neatly masked by, or perhaps supremely balanced with, other flavors such that even I can enjoy it properly. The Brotherly Love, a cocktail menu staple at Austin-based FINO, is a wonderful example:
The shift to pellucid liquors allows ample room for and experimentation with specialty liqueurs, handcrafted bitters, fresh herbs, tinctures and sodas to lighten the mood. Recently I’ve sampled the Vodka Amarga with fresh tamarind juice at Zandunga and a light concoction with coconut water at Javelina in Austin’s Rainey Street district. Homemade citrus liqueurs made with Meyer lemons, blood oranges or pink grapefruit can form a fruity foundation for colorful, refreshing, flavor-packed summertime cocktails. And champagne-based drinks are always in season.
If you agree that summer is the perfect time to sample refreshing beverages of all types, consider serving cocktails at an event you’re planning instead of wine or beer. Whether it’s a block party to bring your neighbors together or an awareness-raising function at work, try a “mix your own” cocktail station with featured recipes and supplies, and let your guests take turns at playing mixologist. Or consider a tended martini cart approach, allowing invitees to marvel over drinks prepared table-side. This trend has made appearances in both high-end restaurants and serious cocktail bars of late.
Perhaps simply going out with colleagues to revive or broaden your professional network is a goal. My love of alliteration, when toying with titles for what could become a locally-produced cocktail collection for charity (and searching for and ruling out existing titles), led me to discover Librarian Libations, a monthly “networking” event for librarians and information professionals in the New York City area.
Social gatherings, just for fun or with purpose, provide the perfect context for embracing the exploding cocktail culture. So cheers to trying some of the new cocktail spots near you this summer, or veering from the norm to experience exciting flavor combinations that might only be available through the sultry heat of summer. Enjoy!
By Jenifer Flaxbart. Jenifer is the Head Librarian for Reference and Information Services at the University of Texas at Austin. She received her MILS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and has lived in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Texas. Her interests include personal fitness, nurturing healthy habits in herself and others, mentoring staff and facilitating professional development, cooking, baking and cocktails. Jenifer has 19 years of supervisory and management experience, and she tweets @jflaxbart.