When I was a 19-year-old stationed in San Antonio in the U.S. Army back in the ‘80s, somebody introduced me to what was called “Texas Tea.” (Back then, the drinking age in Texas was only 18.) What looked, smelled and tasted almost exactly like Southern sweet tea was really a concoction of over five liquors and Coca Cola. I absolutely loved it, so imagine my frustration after I moved away from Texas and I tried ordering my favorite Texas cocktail, only to get a strange look from every bartender whom I asked for one. Finally, one smart bartender figured out that what I wanted is really called a “Long Island Iced Tea” everywhere else in the country.
1 oz. vodka
1 oz. tequila
1 oz. rum
1 oz. gin
1 oz. triple sec
1½ oz. sweet & sour mix
Splash of Coca-Cola (to top it off with)
Mix ingredients together over ice in a Collins glasses or Imperial Pint glass. Pour into a shaker and give one brisk shake. Pour back into the glass and make sure there is a touch of fizz at the top. Garnish with a lemon slice.
Though the Long Island Iced Tea was my first favorite that I discovered in Texas, nothing goes better with spicy Tex-Mex dishes than a tangy, salt-tinted lime Margarita. Here’s an upper-end recipe for this classic cocktail:
1½ oz. tequila (100% blue agave)
1 oz. Grand Marnier orange liqueur
¼ oz. lime juice
Regular salt (to line the rim of the glass)
Shake tequila with Grand Marnier and lime juice; strain into a chilled, salt-rimmed Margarita glass filled to the brim with crushed ice. To salt the rim properly, just pour a little salt on a small plate, wet the rim of the glass with lime juice, then tip the rim down into the salt. Carefully place the crushed ice in the glass using an ice scoop or spoon so you don’t disturb the salt on the rim.
Another Latin-inspired cocktail that I love in the summertime is, of course, the famously minty and fizzy Mojito! The original Cuban recipe calls for spearmint, and that is what I like to use, fresh from our herb garden. Also, though granulated sugar was originally used (that would be a given in old Cuba with all the enormous sugarcane plantations that powered the Cuban economy at one time), I like to use simple syrup instead of granulated sugar because it’s easier to mix.
Lots of people fear simple syrup, thinking that it’s too difficult to make. You can buy commercially-bottled brands of simple syrup, but it’s so easy to make yourself. Just heat ½ cup water for one minute in the microwave on the high setting, then stir in ½ cup white granulated sugar (mix well, until sugar is dissolved). Allow to chill in the refrigerator until nice and cold before using. It’ll get viscous, but not too thick. Here’s my recipe – ¡Salud!
Mr. M.’s Mojito
6 – 10 fresh spearmint leaves
2 teaspoons simple syrup or plain, granulated sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice (I use ReaLime bottled brand)
1½ oz light/white/clear rum (I use Bacardi)
In a tall, narrow glass, crush half of the mint leaves with a spoon, making sure to coat the inside of the glass as well as you can. Add the simple syrup/sugar (it’s easiest to make with simple syrup) and lime juice; stir thoroughly. Top with ice. Add the rum and mix. Top off with chilled club soda (or seltzer). Add a lime slice and the remaining mint leaves.
Another of my favorite summertime cocktails which calls for simple syrup is one that I have just adopted this summer called “The Bramble.” Mrs. M. emailed an article to me from the New York Times which explained that this blackberry goodness is quite popular in Great Britain.
Its ingredient list is simple, but calls for one odd liqueur called crème de mûre, a blackberry liqueur from France. I must have called every liquor store in this part of the state looking for it, but nobody has even heard of it here before! I finally stumbled upon a bottle of imported, French blackberry liqueur called “Murrelle” at Sendik’s, and it works great for this!
Mr. M.’s Bramble
2 oz. gin
1 oz. lemon juice (I use ReaLemon bottled brand)
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. Murrelle liqueur, or crème de mûre (if you can find it).
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake together the first three ingredients and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice (see note below), mounded high. Drizzle the Murrelle/crème de mûre over the top, then garnish with a slice of lemon, two blackberries on a fancy little plastic sword and serve with a short straw in the glass.
The New York Times article said that crushed ice is important for this drink “for the dilution” (I really don’t know what that means). If you don’t have an icemaker in your fridge at home with a crushed-ice setting, that article suggested that you can smash ice cubes in a clean dish towel or make it by whacking each cube with the back of a heavy spoon (I could just see ice chips flying everywhere in my kitchen if I did that!).
Where a cocktail recipe calls for fresh lemon or lime juice, there’s nothing wrong with using bottled brands from the store. I actually prefer using ReaLemon and ReaLime brand because I find freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice to be way too tart for my liking, plus I do not care for the pulp. At the same time, I also find organic brands of bottled lemon and lime juice to be too tart (Whole Foods’ 365 brand, for example, just doesn’t taste very good to me, and it’s also quite pulpy).
Have a nice summer, everyone — and please drink responsibly!