Summer Cocktails Made Simpler

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O, what’ll it be tonight? How about a Smoke Signal made with
bacon-infused rye, chipotle syrup, cold-brewed coffee ice and porter?
Or the Grillo Canción, an exotic and possibly deranged member of the
Collins family that fuses pisco, cumin syrup, citrus and celery
bitters? Or maybe a Knot Twist would hit the spot: a two-ounce riot of
malty genever, smoky Scotch, smokier mezcal, absinthe, maraschino and
bitters, stirred into accord and set before you like a dare?

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Yana Paskova for The New York Times
A sip of a Campari sour cocktail.


Interactive Feature

Three-Ingredient Summer Cocktails


Guadalajara Sour (June 22, 2011)

Take 3 (June 22, 2011)

Absinthe Frappé (June 22, 2011)

Live Basil Gimlet (June 22, 2011)

Cherry Caipirissima (June 22, 2011)

Sumo Collins (June 22, 2011)

Campari Collins (June 22, 2011)

The Handyman Collins (June 22, 2011)

Bitter End (June 22, 2011)

White Port and Peach Cobbler (June 22, 2011)

Spellbinder (June 22, 2011)

Italia Libera (June 22, 2011)

Simple Syrup (June 22, 2011)

Summer Drinks Guide: Recipes, Articles and More

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Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
The Italia Libera.

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Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
The Live Basil Gimlet.

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These are just three of the strange and wonderful concoctions at Scott
& Co. at 47 Scott, a 24-seat bar in Tucson that serves some of the
country’s most creative cocktails. Sprung from the imagination of
Ciaran Wiese, these newfangled refreshments highlight an ascendant
caste of bartenders, more akin to doctoral candidates than
service-industry workers, whose command over the ever-expanding canon
of mixed drinks spawns not only variations on the classics but also
variations on the variations. Thanks to practitioners like Mr. Wiese,
we live in an age of cocktails that isn’t gilded so much as trimmed in
platinum, reinforced with titanium and tipped with mercury.

But there’s a flip side to this creative efflorescence, looming large
as summer tightens its sweaty grip and demand for refreshment grows:
The gap between zeitgeist cocktails and stuff you might actually whip
up at home has become a chasm.

While obscure ingredients are partly to blame, the sheer number of
items found in many drinks presents a psychic conundrum all its own.
No matter how refreshing the payoff, there’s a point where assembling
a drink overtakes your ability to enjoy it, such that you’re left
contemplating a counter strewn with oddball spirits and sticky
dribbles of heirloom citrus juice, inhaling wispy fumes of the
lavender-snakeroot bitters you spent three weeks infusing, pondering a
cocktail that’s fading rapidly, wondering, “Was all this worth it?”

That’s why we asked some of the top bartenders (old hands and
newcomers, free-thinkers and classicists) to create streamlined
coolers built for easy summer drinking. Our parameters were stringent:
three ingredients, no fancy infusions.

We didn’t count straightforward garnishes like twists, fruit slices
and herb sprigs, and we also allowed sugar, seltzer and simple syrup.
(By the way, a batch of simple syrup, made by stirring sugar in an
equal amount of water until it dissolves, is a handy thing to keep
around in hot weather.) Our goal was simple: loads of refreshment,
minimal effort.

“I’m happy that there are guys out there who are doing weird things
and innovating and making new drinks,” said St. John Frizell, the
owner of Fort Defiance in Brooklyn. “But that’s not for me.” Before
opening his bar, he spent 18 months honing his skills at Pegu Club,
the Manhattan cocktail lounge that has spawned some of the city’s most
forward-thinking mixologists.

When it came to devising his own list, however, he chose simplicity.
Today his signature drink is a Tom Collins. He also makes a cucumber
rendition and a 24-ounce jumbo version called Sumo Collins, but that’s
about as far as he cares to push this timeless blend of gin and fizzy

“You could add seven more ingredients, but that’s not going to make it
better,” he said. “It’s just going to make it more complicated.”

He is not the only one partial to minimalist refreshments. At Momofuku
Ssam Bar in Manhattan, the new cocktail list celebrates a trio of
three-ingredient classics — the sour, the old-fashioned, the manhattan
— that function as formulas as much as they do drinks. Trade Campari
for bourbon, add fizz, and your whiskey sour becomes a bracing,
low-proof Collins.

You’ll also find formula-driven concoctions at Spoonbar in Healdsburg,
Calif. Despite his fondness for elaborate garniture — eruptions of
shiso and blue nigella inspired by “Little Shop of Horrors,” tangles
of cornflowers and wild fennel fronds arranged like psychedelic
Christmas trees — the bar’s manager, Scott Beattie, deploys a sour
recipe as foolproof as it is flexible: an ounce and a half of liquor,
half as much lime juice and a half-ounce of sweetener. For a mojito,
he swaps the gin and basil in his summer gimlet for rum, mint and a
splash of seltzer. For an amplified margarita, he rotates in tequila,
cilantro and agave nectar. “I love that ratio,” he said.

Sometimes a simple cocktail offers a breather on a list crowded with
ambitious concoctions, its modesty acting as a merciful comma in a
monologue brimming with ten-dollar words and knotty phrases. Italia
Libera, a riff on the Cuba Libre that shares space with salted
chipotle Demerara syrup and house-made orgeat on Chaim Dauermann’s
summer menu at ’inoteca e liquori bar in New York, removes Coke from
the usual equation and forges an unlikely alliance between overproof
rum and amaro. It nails the sweet spot between simplicity and
innovation, fusing two stubborn ingredients with sugar, citrus and
seltzer to create a drink that honors the original by improving it.

Other combinations succeed by recasting familiar ingredients in a
fresh, seasonal light. Absinthe Frappé, from the bartender Lydia
Reissmueller, of Central in Portland, Ore., yanks its namesake
ingredient from the clutches of Serious Mixology and jostles it with
cream and fine ice for a triumphant cooler that’s equal parts whimsy
and decadence: a push-up pop for the speak-easy set. Guadalajara Sour,
a riff on the whiskey-based New York Sour by the mixologist Michael
Bowers at Modern Hotel and Bar in Boise, Idaho, brokers a novel
friendship between tequila and rosé, two summer staples with more in
common than you may realize. Surprising but not perplexing, it’s a
smart drink that wears its erudition lightly.

Bobby Heugel is not an obvious source for breezy recipes you can bang
out on a whim. An owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, he recently
spent six weeks plowing through 36 bottles of gin, rum, aquavit and
fortified wine to perfect his formula for a blend of dry and white
vermouths infused with mustard greens. His new summer menu includes a
take on milk punch made with buttermilk, Chartreuse and maple syrup; a
rum-and-sassafras julep garnished with roasted okra seeds steeped in
Angostura bitters; and a pecan-and-popcorn-rice horchata whose
inaugural batch took 18 hours to fabricate. He makes cocktails with

But his maximalist instincts pay off in simple concoctions, too.
Instead of sweetening his White Port and Peach Cobbler with sugar, he
uses a rich honey syrup that tempers the funk of fortified wine while
amplifying the tang of ripe fruit. “We’re making the drink a little
more interesting without making it complicated,” he said.

Tonight in Tucson, Mr. Wiese will make cocktails with espresso
tincture, peach vinegar and Portuguese-style milk liqueur. When his
shift is over, he’ll probably order what he often does: a shot of
Campari topped with IPA.

Served over ice with a twist of lemon, it’s bound to infuriate
Italians and beer geeks alike. Which is fine, because it also happens
to be delicious, an offhand work of genius that ripens as the ice
melts and the ale warms, as bitter citrus fuses with floral hops, as
juicy bursts of grapefruit explode like sunsets pancaking on the
horizon. It’s that tasty.

Sometimes the best summer cocktail is the one you don’t have to think

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