Few pleasures are more rewarding than a flavorful cocktail or chilled light wine on a summer evening. The popularity never wanes. Ever-evolving, some become a little trendy which is healthy and normal.
There are time-honored rituals that add to the enjoyment. Home entertaining, whether a casual dinner or a big barbeque, merit a bit of tradition. The amuse-bouche is passed and trays of Champagne or sparkling wine are nearby. A cocktail station is prominent and you mix your own or, a talented good soul makes on demand Martinis, Manhattans, Cuba Libré’s or Gin with tonic.
If you are fortunate to have a genuine “life of the party” as a guest, you’ll know to have the Bourbon, simple syrup, bitters and burnt orange peel ready for the classic Old Fashioned.
I reviewed some specialty cocktails in highly-regarded bars and restaurants and was surprised by the variety and complexity. Many ingredients are profoundly esoteric. Personally, I like to know a little something about the spirits I am about to consume. However, today’s drinkers obviously have lots of expendable income and I say go for broke. You only live once.
Wines are another matter. Nature really controls what’s in the bottle. The label is somewhat regulated (varietal, vintage year, alcohol content) but the judgement is left for the palate. We rather safely assume that white and rosé wines are mainstays for this time of year. Champagne isn’t restricted to seasons or protocol, according to Sir Winston Churchill who often kept a bottle near the breakfast table.
Cocktails have such a romantic place in the modern experience. The Vesper, also known as the Vesper Martini, was made famous by James Bond. The cocktail was invented by none other than 007’s creator, author Ian Fleming. The drink first appeared in his book “Casino Royale,” which was published in 1953, and the cocktail is named for the fictional double agent Vesper Lynd.
When Bond orders the Vesper, he provides strict instructions to the bartender. So, those instructions should be followed by any who make it. Bond says: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
Any serious discussion of the Martini must include Franklin D. Roosevelt. Almost on cue each afternoon, he would mix a batch of “dirty Martinis” to serve along with conversation, an unofficial presidential happy hour. By the way, a Martini becomes “dirty” upon adding liquid from the olive jar.
Queen Elizabeth observes a cocktail ritual daily, enjoying a Gin with Dubonnet. Her Majesty’s drink is, not surprisingly, elegant and refreshing.
Ernest Hemingway’s novels provide a few compelling cocktail recipes. In “Across the River and Into the Trees,” Hemingway’s hero marches into the vaunted Harry’s Bar to order two very dry martinis: “Montgomerys: 15 to 1” he demands. This overpowering ratio of gin to vermouth is derived, apparently, from British Field Marshall Montgomery’s habit of outnumbering his enemies in similar proportions.
Hemingway would inform his friends that the correct way to make a Martini involved freezing the glass beforehand so it stuck to the palm, before sliding in “just enough vermouth to cover the bottom of the glass” and topping up with gin. The garnish, in a nod to the author’s love of Spain, was “Spanish cocktail onions; very crisp and also 15 degrees below zero when they go in”.
Say Rosé and visions of sipping on sun-splashed patios suddenly appear. Oregon’s King Estate has a winner with its Rosé of Pinot Noir. Color is pale rose with a nose of rose petal, bing cherry, strawberry, melon, lime zest and passion fruit. It’s also reasonably priced, something that should prompt having several bottles on hand for home entertaining.
Summer social life is equal parts friendship, food, wine and cocktails. Friends in Nashville recommended a few hours at the rooftop L.A. Jackson Bar. I ordered trendy-named cocktails without knowing anything about the ingredients. Trust is important and my confidence in the bartender was not misplaced.
Summer drinks, whether cocktails or wines, are essentials that serve spiritual needs. While there are no rules, laughter and polite conversation are appropriate as this is a time for shedding, even momentarily, tensions and seemingly insurmountable problems.
It’s summertime. Honor friendship and love with a filled glass and a toast.