Happy Hour

Happy Hour: Summer Cocktails

Summer is right around the corner, and as St. Louis heats up, it’s a great time to get creative with your cocktails by adding seasonal elements. Here are a few things I’ve picked up over the years to make summer happy hours a little more festive.

cucumber ice cubes
These are relatively simple to make. Blend a cucumber, add a few cups of water and strain. Now you have cucumber water that you can pour into an ice cube tray. The cubes are a great addition to vodka or gin on the rocks and also can make drinks like a Negroni or Pimm’s Cup really shine. Plus, they look really cool in a glass.

Infusing your own alcohol is simple and cheap and can be really fun. Create your own flavor profile by letting your desired ingredient sit in a neutral or semi-neutral spirit for a few days. Infuse fresh vanilla beans in a neutral white rum for a daiquiri, or infuse your favorite tequila with jalapeños for spicy margaritas. The possibilities are endless, and making your own gives you better control of the flavor.

sparkling additions
Using sparkling beverages as ‘floaters’ can add a lot to an everyday cocktail. Prosecco is not just for mimosas; include it when you make sangria, or put it on top of a gin and juice. Stiegl Radler is a sparkling grapefruit beverage that is low in alcohol and perfect to use as a mixer, especially for a drink that is already grapefruit-based, like a Paloma or Greyhound. Sparkling mixers are a great substitute for soda or cheap, sugary mixers.

fresh juice
I mean, really fresh. Buy a cheap hand juicer, hand-squeeze your citrus and immediately make yourself a cocktail. There isn’t anything like it. The moment juice is exposed to oxygen, it starts to get bitter, so hurry up! Fresh squeezing eliminates the need for adding simple syrup, and some of the ‘fresh’ juices at the store have added sugar or, even worse, corn syrup. One of the best lemon drops I have ever had was made with 2 oz. vodka, 1 oz. Cointreau and 1 oz. fresh lemon juice, shaken up ice cold. Margaritas take on a completely different flavor profile with fresh lime juice—just be sure to use a nice tequila!

Most people skip these when making cocktails at home, but they do more than just make a drink look pretty. They connect your nose to your palate. Half the fun of drinking good wine is the smell, and cocktails are no different. Try to match your garnishes to the aromatics of the cocktail. Add a grilled orange to a Blue Moon; it creates an amazing aroma and is a unique replacement for an orange rind or wedge. Aromatic plant garnishes are great, too. Use things from your garden. A few basil leaves on top of a Bloody Mary really can add some complexity, and lavender on top of your favorite gin drink is heavenly.

Anthony Geary is sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis.