Sitting on the balcony or breezeway on a hot summer evening is fundamentally better with a refreshing cocktail! There will be no umbrella drinks on a beach for me this summer while covid-19 numbers climb, but I’m having fun mixing it up with garden fresh goodness in my cocktail creations.
The bounty from my herb garden, weekly Madison Area Growers CSA bag, and farm market stands and fields provide ample flavors for locally sourced deliciousness – muddles of blackberries or mint, rosemary simple syrup, ribbons of cucumber to name a few.
Here’s a list of garden fresh ingredients in the seven favorite cocktails I’m featuring in this post:
Cucumbers – Hendricks Gin & Tonic with Cracked Pepper, My Secret Garden
Rosemary – Rosemary Greyhound
Mint – Mint Julep, Blackberry Bramble
Blackberries – Blackberry Bramble
Basil – Basil Lemon Drop
Blueberries – Rose Lemonade Spritz
Thyme– Rose Lemonade Spritz, My Secret Garden
During the hot summer months, I always have a quart jar of simple syrup in the fridge. The shelf life is about a month, so I just make another batch of the 1:1 water to sugar ratio when I run low. I also keep a bag of commercial ice nuggets in the outside freezer. I like lots of ice and these pieces are easy to pack into a glass. Plus the clearness of the ice makes a prettier drink thank my cloudy frig cubes!
1. Hendricks Gin & Tonic with Cracked Pepper
After Ken’s round of golf at Old Head in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland in 2016, we met up at the course’s Lusitania Bar for a drink. The bartender recommended this drink “if you really like pepper” and a refreshing tonic drink. Sold. I loved the skewered ribbon of cucumber and pepper. It’s become my gin & tonic drink of choice.
Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic with Cracked Pepper
- 1 part Hendrick's Gin
- 3 parts Tonic Water Fever-Tree preferred
- 1 ribbon of cucumber threaded on cocktail pick or skewer
- Combine all ingredients in a tall glass filled with ice.
- Add grinds of black pepper to taste.
- Lightly stir and garnish with skewered cucumber ribbon.
2. Rosemary Greyhound
I really like this version of the classic grapefruit juice & vodka Greyhound. Rosemary simple syrup may sound strange, but its subtle flavor really improves the often sharp taste of the classic combo, in my opinion. It’s a lovely aromatic version. My Aunt Jane liked a Salty Dog in the evening when she lived in Florida. Too much salt for me.
Rosemary Simple Syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup
- 4 ounces grapefruit juice
- 1 sprig rosemary for garnish
Rosemary Simple Syrup
- Place water in small saucepan over medium low heat, add the sugar into the water & stir. Dissolve for about 5 minutes. (Do not boil or crystals will form.)
- Add rosemary sprigs to a pint glass jar with lid. Pour the warm sugar water mixture over the rosemary sprigs. Steep for 1hour.
- Cool, add lid, and store in the refrigerator up to 10 days
- Fill a tall glass with ice.
- Add vodka, rosemary syrup, grapefruit juice and stir.
- Ganish with rosemary sprig
3. Blackberry Bramble
This summer three friends and I caravanned to Berry Best Farm for a socially distant outdoor activity – blackberry picking! In addition to baking a scrumptious blackberry crisp, I had plenty to just eat, use in fruit salads, and experiment with a muddled fruit drink, the Blackberry Bramble. I’d never tasted it before, but it sounded delicious.
A few days after berry picking, I made a batch of the cocktails and a plate of canteloupe caprese salad for an appetizer, and we social distanced on the breezeway to sample the cocktail recipe. Success. Really refreshing, and not too sweet. Thumbs up from Hilary, Heidi and Diane!
- 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice In a pinch, Minute Maid frozen juice (thawed) may be substituted
- 6 large blackberries
- 1/2 ounce Creme de Cassis
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup Heat equal amounts water & sugar until sugar is dissolved; cool before using. Store covered in refrigerator.
- 1 1/2 ounces gin St. George Botanivore Gin preferred
- blackberries & sprig of mint for garnish
- Muddle the lemon juice and 6 berries in a rocks glass. Fill glass with ice.
- Combine Creme de Cassis, simple syrup, and gin in a shaker (or jar with lid) and stir to combine. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve)
- Add gin mixture to muddled berries and lemon, stir and garnish with the additional berries and mint
4. Mint Julep
Ken always makes Mint Juleps the day of The Kentucky Derby, but it’s also a favorite cocktail throughout the summer. Partly because I always grow Kentucky Colonel mint, but mostly because I’m a big fan of Maker’s Mark bourbon!
- 2 parts bourbon Maker's Mark preferred
- 1/2 part simple syrup (heat equal amounts of water and sugar until sugar is dissolved; cool before using. Store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator.)
- fresh mint leaves
- Add all mint and simple syrup to a julep cup or rocks glass and gently muddle.
- Fill glass with crushed ice and add bourbon.
- Garnish with additional mint leaves.
5. Basil Lemon Drop
I like this drink much better than a lemon drop martini – the herb & the ice make a huge difference on a hot day! And this drink has very special memories for me.
When I was board president of Southeastern Indiana Voices for Children, Inc. in 2015, we were preparing for their first big fundraising event, “When Life Gives You Lemons.” While in New York City at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, I found the Lemonade cookbook with all kinds of ideas for an event signature cocktail.
We landed on the Basil Lemon Drop featured in an issue of Better Homes & Gardens. The recipe made a pitcher of drinks and was easy to increase to mass quantities! Friends Pat and Susie and I made gallons of the cocktail base, and thankfully, the drink was a huge hit at the event!
Now I make the Basil Lemon Drop in the smaller quantity shown in the recipe below! This is my Sunday-afternoon-in-the-shade cocktail.
Basil Lemon Drop
- 1 cup vodka
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup simple syrup (heat equal amounts sugar and water until sugar is dissolved; cool before using. Store in covered glass jar in refrigerator)
- 2 large basil leaves
- additional basil leaves for garnish
- Chiffonade basil leaves and evenly distribute among four tall glasses. Muddle to release oils.
- Combine vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated)
- Fill glasses with ice and add vodka mixture.
- Garnish with basil leaves.
A quick word about a new discovery – not a product plug, just a great discovery. Fentimans botanically brewed soft drinks – a delicious addition to keep a drink light and refreshing!
My friend Heidi introduced us to Fentimans Gently Sparkling Elderflower when she hosted a very small outdoor dinner on the patio of the Niddy Noddy Inn. Six people only, plenty of social distance, and her new signature cocktail, the 710 Cooler. St. George Botanivore Gin, lemon, ice and the Sparkling Elderflower. Homerun.
6. My Secret Garden
This is an adaptation of the Secret Garden cocktail I like to order at Morton’s. I love the flavor combination of the Elderflower liqueur and lime juice, but I’ve decided it’s a bit stout for a hot summer evening. I followed Heidi’s lead and lightened it up with Fentimans Elderflower. That was the perfect addition to transform the cocktail into a summer sipper. If I’m staying in the air-conditioning, just coming out to check the grill, then the original (no ice or Fentimans) is still a keeper.
My Secret Garden Cocktail
- 2 ounces cucumber vodka
- 3/4 ounce St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur
- 1/2 ounce agave nectar
- 3/4 ounce lime juice
- Fentimans Gently Sparkling Elderflower
- 1 slice cucumber for garnish
- 1 sprig thyme for garnish
- Combine vodka, elderflower liqueur, agave nectar and lime juice. (Can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator in a covered jar or shaker prior to serving)
- Fill rocks glass with ice and add vodka mixture.
- Add Fentimans Sparkling Elderflower to fill glass.
- Insert thyme spring into center of cucumber slice and garnish drink. Serve.
7. Rose Lemonade Spritz
I love Prosecco, but again, for me it’s not a breezeway beverage on a hot evening before dinner. Delicious, but not particularly refreshing.
Keeping the bubbles and crispness, adding Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade with fresh berries really brightens the drink.
Rose Lemonade Spritz
- 1 part Prosecco
- 1 part Fentimans Rose Lemonade
- 10 blueberries (or sliced strawberries or raspberries)
- 1 thyme sprig for garnish (or sprig of mint)
- Place half of the blueberries in the bottom of a wine glass and fill the glass with ice.
- Add equal parts Rose Lemonade and Prosecco.
- Garnish with remaining blueberries and an aromatic sprig of thyme.
I think you’ll enjoy this selection of summer cocktails. They don’t taste “watered down”, but they are refreshing and won’t leave you flat if your thirst in the heat causes you to imbibe a tad quickly!
With social gatherings at a minimum this summer, I’ve enjoyed changing up the drink glassware to make the cocktail hours more festive. But trust me, you’ll enjoy these beverages just as much out of those red Solo® cups!