So, it’s now officially summer — not that we needed a calendar to tell us that. But if we did need an equinox-related excuse to indulge in some new, lighter drinks, let’s take advantage by taking one of the warhorses of San Antonio summers, gin and tonic, and playing with it a little. This simple variation should get the seasonal spirits flowing:
2 1/2 oz. gin — or more to taste (Tanqueray and Bombay both work.)
2 sprigs tarragon, chopped
4 oz. chilled tonic such as Schweppes or Fever-Tree
Shake the gin and tarragon together with lots of ice, strain into a tall, ice-filled glass, and top with tonic. Consider this a starting point for experimentation with what’s in your garden or at the Pearl or Olmos Basin markets. Mexican mint marigold is a great tarragon substitute, and it grows well here — plus the yellow bloom would be good garnish.
Iced tea is another SA summer (OK, year-round) staple, and you can have your way with it. (We suspect many a granny did.) Here’s one possibility that can be scaled up for pitcher-size, back-porch potions:
2 parts gin
2 parts brewed and chilled Earl Grey tea
A squeeze of lemon juice
A spoonful of sugar
Lime or lemon wheels for garnish
Stir the gin and tea together, add sugar, and stir until it’s dissolved. Either add lemon juice to taste or serve wedges separately. Pour over ice. You could use other teas, but think about their gin compatibility: Earl Grey works well because its bergamot flavoring ties into the gin’s botanicals.
Personally, I’m a Campari freak in summertime; the aperitif’s bitter tones help cut through sticky afternoons. A splash of Campari over ice, a glug of soda, a wheel of citrus and I’m happy — plus the drink is low-alcohol, and I prefer to save the really high-test stuff for warm-ups in winter. But there are many other ways to use Campari that up the ante a tad. Here’s a simple one:
Combine equal parts Pinot Grigio (or other dry white wine such as a Spanish Albariño) and Campari with ice in a highball glass. Stir, add a lemon twist. Great color, yes?
Scarcely more difficult, and equally refreshing, is this drink (it’s called The Bitter Heiress — gotta love the name) made from Lillet Blanc, an aperitif derived from Bordeaux wines fortified with orange-based liqueurs and a little quinine. (Lillet is also great just served on the rocks with a twist of orange.)
3 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. freshly-squeezed (we mean this) orange juice
One serious splash Campari
Two pieces of orange peel
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add all ingredients except orange peel. Stir until the shaker is good and cold. Strain into a highball glass. Here’s where it gets tricky: take one piece of orange peel and pinch ends together, squeezing towards the glass. Quickly strike a match (or have someone do it for you) and ignite the oils emanating from the peel so that they flame onto the surface of the drink. Or just forget all this and twist a peel over the glass, then drop it in. (The flaming is fun, though.)
But if you’d really prefer not to be measuring and mixing while it’s 99 F in the shade, here’s one with the other white liquor; it’s the classic Moscow Mule:
Roll a lime on the counter to wake up the juice, cut in half and squeeze one half into a tall glass. Pour in a shot or so of vodka, your choice. Add ice and stir. Fill with chilled ginger beer such as Fever-Tree or Reed’s, both available at Central Market. Or, just drink the ginger beer, the simplest summer quencher of all. •