Liquids: Summer Cocktails

Walking down Boylston Street the other afternoon, I got to thinking about the absurdity of summer business attire. It must have been around 88 degrees, and my suit pants were stuck to my legs at midcalf, revealing a snazzy pair of striped socks I bought in Rome. All around me men were mopping their foreheads with the backs of their hands. Meanwhile, women breezed by in sleeveless cotton dresses, as serene and comfortable as I was angry and disgusted.

That’s when I decided I needed a drink and promptly headed to Excelsior. There I found bar manager Jason Cooper, who knew exactly what to prescribe. With the Havana-like humidity in mind, he proposed a mojito with a twist: the “Bajito,” made with fresh basil in addition to the drink’s signature mint.

Cooper began by pulling the mint and basil leaves from their respective stems and dropping the leaves into a cocktail shaker glass. He added a few slices of fresh lime and some powdered sugar and muddled the concoction into a thick paste with a wooden stick. Then he topped it with ice and added a good amount of Mount Gay dark rum (another twist, since the mojito is traditionally made with white rum). What made it very different from a mojito was its lack of sweetness (no simple syrup), its depth of flavor (dark rum), and the summer scent the basil-mint infusion gave it. In a word, it was perfect.

The popularity of the mojito also has inspired Dawn Lamendola, beverage manager at Mistral, to create a “Melon Mojito” this summer by replacing the white rum with SKYY Melon vodka and the simple syrup with Frujá Mango liqueur. To this she adds splashes of lime and orange juice and fresh mint leaves. I expected that the Frujá Mango might make the drink too sweet, but it was quite balanced and, yes, refreshing.

Speaking of mouthwatering, Sean Moesman, beverage manager at the Boston Harbor Hotel, insists that this summer is “all about Champagne cocktails.” Sitting in the outdoor café at Intrigue, one of the hotel’s bars, Moesman tells me that the house favorite these days is the “Russian Berry,” made by combining Stoli Razberi and Stoli Strasberi in a Champagne flute, topping the mix with Pacific Echo sparkling wine, and garnishing it with raspberries.

Probably the last place I expect to find a summer cocktail worth mentioning is at brunch, but at Harvest in Cambridge, bar manager Brian Kirby has created the “Breakfast Martini,” which sounds to me like the breakfast drink of champions. “We wanted something with more zing than the typical mimosa,” says Kirby. Truth be told, the only thing it has in common with that tired brunch standard is fresh-squeezed orange juice, to which Kirby adds Stoli Ohranj vodka and Cointreau, a citrus-flavored liqueur. It sounds sweet, but the acidity of the oranges keeps the drink nicely light and balanced.

Not surprisingly, the most ethereal cocktail I found on my quest to keep cool was made by Ryan McGrale, bartender at No. 9 Park, who puts culinary twists on vintage classics. Case in point: the “Strawberry Water Daiquiri.” Before you skip this paragraph, know that this has nothing to do with the frozen concoctions you downed after the senior prom. The key is a strawberry jus made by steeping fresh strawberries in simple syrup, then puréeing them and passing the juice through a chinoise. The result is a seed-free juice that’s about as thin as water. To this liquid, McGrale adds Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale from Haiti (a full-bodied dark rum aged eight years), a splash of simple syrup, and a kiss of lime juice. It’s magnificent, though probably not worth attempting at home, given the effort involved in making the jus. Which means you’ll just have to pull up a stool next to me at No. 9—but keep the comments about my snazzy socks to yourself.

From Excelsior
4 fresh mint leaves
4 fresh basil leaves
5 slices of fresh lime
1 tbsp. powdered sugar
3 oz. Mount Gay dark rum

In a cocktail shaker glass, muddle the mint and basil leaves with lime slices and sugar. Top with ice and add rum. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.

Melon Mojito
From Mistral
2 oz. Skyy Melon vodka
1/2 oz. Frujá Mango liqueur
4 fresh mint leaves
Splash of fresh lime juice
Splash of fresh orange juice

Combine all the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass or over ice in a rocks glass.

Russian Berry
From Intrigue at the Boston Harbor Hotel
1 oz. Stoli Razberi
1 oz. Stoli Strasberi
3 oz. champagne
Fresh raspberries for garnish

In a champagne flute into which you’ve dropped a few raspberries, combine the vodkas (preferably chilled). Top with ice-cold champagne or sparkling wine. Note: Though fresh raspberries are perfectly fine, the ones at Intrigue are steeped in the flavored vodka to enhance their flavor.

Breakfast Martini
From Harvest
3 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
11/2 oz. Stoli Ohranj vodka
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1 whole orange slice (or wheel) for garnish

Combine all the liquids in an ice-filled glass cocktail shaker. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with orange wheel.