The noted philosopher Robin Williams once declared: “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party.’ ” Sounds like an ideal excuse to try new drinks and to invigorate some old favorites.
The choices for spring sipping are as diverse as the flowers in May, ranging from refreshing chilled cocktails to brisk Roses to accompany nibbles on the deck. The fresh and floral aromatics of gin make it a popular choice for springtime sipping.
The contrast of juniper and citrus in the classic Gimlet create an absolutely perfect warm weather drink. Prepared with 2 ounces of gin to 1/2 ounce of Rose’s lime juice, chilled and garnished with a wedge of lime, the formula was apparently concocted by a British naval surgeon to get his sailors to ingest limes to prevent scurvy.
The silky smooth Bombay Sapphire develops its distinct flavor profile from distillation of its juniper berries with several different botanicals sourced from around the world including Italian orris root, Moroccan coriander, angelica root from Saxony, and cubeb berries from Java. It is lighter and more floral than many other gins, and has a complex flavor profile that seems to expand in the glass. A Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic is simply delightful on a warm day.
Easily the best martini I have had in recent memory was prepared with Oxley gin by the bartender at the Gibson, a Washington speakeasy. Only newly available in the States, Oxley is created using a unique cold-distillation process that took eight years to develop, with only 240 bottles produced in a day.
The flavor profile also is distinctive with soft initial forest, herbal notes with a touch of licorice that leads into bright citrus flavors including lemon and lime, and finishing with slightly spicy juniper and herbal notes without the oiliness found in other gins. Delightful on the rocks, also try Oxley in any of the classic gin cocktails such as Tom Collins (Oxley and club soda) or the Delilah (Oxley, Cointreau and lime juice).
Is there anything better than a great beer after a hot day? This summer try some of the widely available Belgium beers and be prepared to become enamored with these artfully crafted brews.
The triple fermented, wonderfully complex Duvel is made by a brewery that dates from 1871. Duvel is a classic golden ale with a lush creamy head that accentuates the malt, pear and banana aromas, and intense flavors of caramel, apples and malt along with a slight sweetness and hints of ocean salt. Delicious with sea foods and other summer dishes, it is best enjoyed if not served too cold. Lighter in style is Hoegaarden, a Belgium witbeer that is a marvelous summer thirst-quencher. Citrus and mild spice flavors predominate along with a clean, refreshing texture and finish that nicely complements Asian cuisine.
And then there is the Mint Julep, a combination of bourbon, spearmint, sugar and water garnished with a fresh sprig of mint. This is the traditional beverage of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, where is it is ideally served in a silver or pewter mug. Mint juleps likely originated in Virginia many decades beforehand and were popularized in Washington by Sen. Henry Clay in the mid-1800s.
There are numerous unique recipes that vary in proportions and whether the mint gets crushed, bruised or muddled with the sugar similar to a mojito. But all aficionados agree that a true mint julep can be made only with Kentucky bourbon. The Eagle Rare single-barrel, 10-year bourbon is deeply aromatic with toasty grain and bits of tobacco leaf and almonds. There is an underlying sweetness in this beauty alongside the citrus, oak and raisin flavors. From the same distillery in Frankfort, Ky., is its flagship bottling, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, an incredibly complex whiskey with vanilla, honey, dried orange and tobacco on a frame of leather and oak.
Roses were made for spring and summer. The best bottles have bright fruit flavors balanced with crisp acidity that pairs well with the lighter, warm weather meals. Nearly every red varietal has been made into Rose and new variations are appearing each year. They are meant to be chilled and consumed when young so look for the 2008s and 2009s including the delicious Domaine de la Mordoree La Dame Rousse Taval Rose 2009, from France’s Provence region. Bursting with fresh raspberry and cherry scents, it has dried cherry and berry flavors with a long crisp finish. At $10 a bottle the QUO Grenache Rose 2009 is a steal. Medium bodied with strawberry, cherry and cranberry flavors, it would be perfect with salmon, tuna or even a burger. Another bargain is from France’s Roussillon area: Cuvee de Pena Rose 2009 exhibits dry red berry, strawberry and hints of pepper and spice.