The first summer cocktail I invented came from necessity, as most good things do. My sister, Chris, was visiting some years ago over the summer and we watched Grey Gardens or part of it. She has to this day never made it all the way through the disturbing documentary of the two reclusive formerly upper class women; a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, part of the Bouvier clan. We decided to retire outside after a bit to the back forty, which is a cement pad in back of my apartment building, for some late afternoon sun in beach chairs. In prep, we decided to glam up like the crazy Beale’s in the documentary. So there we were Chris and I sat wearing all the jewelry in my house, red lipstick, dark sunglasses and toasting to life and the absurd with An Evening with Edie, the cocktail I concocted for the evening. Our beach chairs tilted our view to the sunset above the row of trash bins, that moment began a summer ritual and a way to be or see life differently. The ritual of creating a libation each summer and a way to be in being able to look above the rubbish to see something beautiful; both exist in the same landscape but choosing what to focus on is important.
That was five years ago. I have kept the ritual of creating a new libation and a way to be in summer alive and well in my repertoire. The next summer I moved away from working with vodka as I did with An Evening with Edie, a berry version of a Cosmopolitan with a heavier base note and decided on checking out tequila. I wanted something lighter, more refreshing so in turning to tequila I added cucumbers, mint, club soda, and Rose’s lime juice and out came the Flying Nun. Here was my lighter, quirkier way to see what my summer brought, looking at things from above seeing the improbable and the impossible unfold, all good lessons to take forward.
The next summer during conversations with an old friend and former student, they recommended I use PIMM’S. PIMM’s No 1 Cup as it is known, is popular in England and used to make PIMM’s Cup: a drink that is a staple for Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show, neither of which I have attended. I was up for the challenge: I bought some of this reddish brown, citrus-herby-boozy-hell and started working. I started with ginger beer and then moved to pineapple cider and more crazy concoctions with each shake and stir. What should have been more fun wasn’t and my starter of PIMM’s was not to my taste. It took weeks and with each revision of the drink I sent the recipe to my friend to try out. They and their friends gave me feedback. I worked hard, it was tough stuff but eventually I paired it with some Limoncello Italian liquor and Italian blood red orange soda, and with a little fresh lime the Bloody Brit was born. I went through at least 3 or 4 total overhauls in trying to work with PIMM’S. What I learned there was not to assume I would always start out at a good spot or a level playing field. Sometimes I won’t, but I can still get to where I want as long as I use my imagination, tenacity, and of course, have a good cocktail and friends along for the sometimes arduous climb.
The following summer I wanted an easy start and I had a fairly intense interest in moonshine. I would think a sentence like that would have appeared in a whole other type of writing. The kind of story that Tennessee Williams, Fannie Flag, or Pat Conroy might have written in a coming-of-age tale in South Carolina perhaps?…but I digress. I did a little research and found a cool looking bottle of moonshine with good reviews. What surprised me was how smooth this stuff is…wow! I had some ideas around a slushy style libation and a bad choice of a not-too-ripe watermelon answered the call of duty. I cut up the little bastard and threw his bits in the freezer. I took watermelon, some of the left over Limoncello liquor, berries, Rose’s lime juice, and moonshine and mixed it up in a blender for a freezy-breezy-summery treat. The worst part of the drink was the name I picked, Summer in a Glass. Bland name for a delicious treat; I don’t know why I picked the name but never renamed it when I could and so the name lives.
There are rules to my rituals, traditions, what-ever-the-hell-this-is… I started with some things born out of curiosity, i.e. moonshine, an un-ripened fruit tossed in the freezer out of necessity, and lack of imagination when it came to the name. What Summer in a Glass showed me is with a little curiosity in the beginning helps even things out, and even stupid names and a lack of imagination in the moment can lead to something good in the end.
This leads me to this summer: year five of this tradition. I looked at what I had in my house and chose what I wanted to work with. I had a sparkling rose wine I like and that sounded like a good base. I never look to see what professional bartenders are mixing. I just try stuff based on what I have, what might taste good or if someone offers up an interesting idea i.e. hello-goodbye PIMM’S. This year I went back to vodka as it was still on the shelf from An Evening with Eddie and thought it might go with the rose wine as well as other things. I started to mix away on Memorial Day weekend with diligence. I am writing this the weekend after and I can say I am pretty close to what I want. There is a martini start, as in stirred not shaken, for cranberry vodka(the vodka from An Evening with Edie wasn’t quite right), some of that leftover bottle of Lemoncello swirled around ice and poured straight up in a cold glass, and finished off with the sparkling rose wine along with a few frozen blackberries. I think some Chambord might appear but so far no. I could switch out for the limon liquor. I try not to buy too much for these concoctions, and the cranberry vodka was an unseen purchase. Though as I started to work as a mixologist in the supreme amateur status, I can honestly say, “I wanted it, I really wanted it,” and gave in.
This year was simple yet complicated, each piece, every component really had to make the whole better, no digressions. I wanted it clear, shades of pink, effervescent and refreshing, just like I wanted my summer. I learned that sometimes simple things take a lot of tweaking, thought, and work; little things matter when it comes to clarity. That it takes focus in seeing the rosy side. That levity and light are sometimes added after the fact. I named it after a scene in a great old movie “Steel Magnolias” for two reasons: the first is a scene in the beauty parlor when Julia Roberts is asked what her wedding colors are and her mother played by Sally Fields says, “Pink and pink.” Julia Roberts comes back with, that pink is her signature color and these are two of the most beautiful shades of pink, blush and bashful. I was working with pink and shades of it and that line always comes to mind when I think pink. The second reason is that, like the movie title implies, these beauties are as strong as steel, and their beauty can be deceptive. My summer cocktail is pink, clear, and effervescent: pretty, albeit deceptive in that it is all alcohol and packs a punch. I am not sure what that means for my summer other than it might look pretty and there may be hidden depths, beauty, strength, and craftsmanship ahead. Cheers!