From the Ground Up: Summer drinks to remember
By ANN EVANS and GEORGEANNE BRENNAN
We often talk of the experience of different meals we’ve had, but in recent months we’ve both been struck by the extraordinary drinks we’ve had and how the memory of the experience can be reconstructed, sip by sip, at home.
Each of our collective drinks had one or more exotic ingredients in it that made it seem particularly special and perfect for the settings in which they were served. In Ireland, at The Dromoland Castle Hotel, Georgeanne sipped their Anniversary Champagne Cocktail, delicately flavored with St. Germain Elderflower and Lychee liqueurs, while watching the last of the suited huntsmen return — all mounted on matching white horses and followed by spotted hounds.
The castle’s origins date to the last high king of Ireland, and the ghosts of nearly ten centuries can be easily be imagined, if not seen — clearly, a very atmospheric place to have a special champagne cocktail.
Just miles away as the crow flies, Ann rediscovered Pimm’s cup. Married to an Englishman, she’s sipped Pimm’s on many occasions, but this summer she was reminded once again of how refreshing a drink it is. Staying at the 16th century Wilton Court Hotel in Herefordshire, England, along the River Wye, she snuggled down in its cozy bar, which used to be the magistrate’s court.
With its low-beamed ceilings and Tudor-style architecture, overlooking the river and rose gardens, it seemed the ideal place to order a Pimm’s Cup, the quintessential English cocktail, which includes Pimm’s No.1, a blend of gin, quinine, citrus and spices, plus fresh lemonade and borage. Each sip tasted of England and summers past.
On across the channel to France, yet another memorable Champagne Cocktail for Georgeanne, this time the aperitif maison of the celebrated bouchon, Daniel et Denise in the gastronomic city of Lyon. It was simple. Champagne with just enough dash of Crème de Violette to give the drink the palest of pale lavender hue and a whiff of violets, which happen to be her favorite flower.
Bouchon is a term given to Lyonnais restaurants that serve the traditional and hearty regional fare such as sausages, pork belly, tripe, pâtés, and quenelles in a cozy, familial setting. Denise et Daniel fits the description with its bright yellow dining room, the tables set with red and white cloths, and the walls hung with agricultural tools and clusters of framed photos and postcards. The house aperitif was elegant, in contrast to the rustic setting, which was no doubt intentional, announcing that while the fare to come would be simple (well, ok, not the foie gras en croute) it would be just as memorable as the drink.
Part of the fun of unusual drinks and cocktails is the ingredients that are used. More and more bartenders here — properly called mixologists — are not only using liqueurs such as St. Germain and Lychee, but also making their own fruit and herb syrups and bitters.
In Winters, Cole Ogando, who serves as both owner, preserver-in-chief, forager, occasional waiter and dishwasher, and mixologist typifies the new breed of independents. The setting at Preserve is urban edge, but the food and the drink ingredients are decidedly old world.
Cole, who grew up in Winters, knows where to find the abandoned orchards of dry-farmed apricots and figs — he makes preserves and jams from these. From his Spanish grandfather and Italian grandmother he learned the old ways of preserving, butchering, and cooking. He cures olives, makes sausage, and is beginning to make cheese. Fresh herbs come from their house, along with citrus and other fruits that get used in the food and drink preparations. Cole says about Preserve, “All the stuff we’re trying to do here was normal life for my grandparents.” He wants to make it part of normal life for his customers.
Sipping Cole’s and his team’s recent concoction, an Apricot Crusta — which incorporates their apricot preserves, lemon juice, housemade bitters, and housemade Ratafia, in this case apricot infused brandy, served in a martini glass rimmed with almond sugar — is at once a taste of the old and the new. One of the wait staff knew how to make bitters, a bartender had a recipe for the Ratafia, Cole made the preserves and he also did the research on Crustas.
Like Old Fashioneds, Crustas are one of the earliest cocktails, dating back to the middle of the 19th century, when the mixologists of that era started adding citrus and other elements to alcohol to create a new kind of drink — the cocktail. The Preserve collaborative effort has given it a contemporary, homegrown twist.
So, here’s to a summer of exceptional cocktails and exceptional sipping experiences to remember when the warm days of summer are gone.
This classic English signature summer drink seems to come straight from our gardens right now, all but the Pimm’s No. 1 – which is locally available in liquor or fine wine stores. For a non-alcoholic version, substitute ginger ale for the Pimm’s, and add a few slices of fresh ginger too, for more spice.
1/3 cup Pimm’s No. 1
2/3 cup lemonade (made with real lemons)
Borage – several leaves and a blue flower (mint, if borage not available)
3 slices of cucumber
3-4 slices of a quarter of an orange
2 strawberries cut into halves
Fill the glass with ice cubes. Too few and the ice will melt too quickly and dilute the drink. Then add Pimm’s No 1 (rule of thumb is 1 part Pimm’s to 2-3 parts lemonade.) Add lemonade. The borage leaves have a taste like cucumber and the flower tastes like honey – this is the classic herb. The alternative is fresh mint, which is perfectly fine. If using, crush it first. Add the fruit. Mix with a long spoon.
Makes 1 drink
Dromoland Castle Anniversary Cocktail
This pale amber cocktail was created to celebrate this year’s 50th anniversary of the Castle as a hotel, and is both rich and delicate at the same time.
A dash each of:
St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
Champagne (icy cold)
Chilled Champagne flute
Place the dashes of liquers and the brandy in a Champagne flute and pour in the Champagne.
Makes 1 drink
Here’s Ann’s version of ginger syrup which she often puts into a glass of Prosecco.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
Two 3-inch lengths of fresh gingerroot, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is slightly thickened, about 6-8 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let sit until cooled. Remove the ginger pieces. Strain syrup into a container with a tight fitting lid and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Will last up to six months in the refrigerator.
Makes 2 cups
Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of the award winning “Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” (2012.) They have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC. Their national blog “Who’s Cooking School Lunch?” features personal stories of front line men and women cooking school lunch. Reach the blog at www.whoscookingschoolunch.com and Ann and Georgeanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.