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6.24.11

Splendid Summer Drinks

Creative mixologists are using fresh garden ingredients to concoct tasty new cocktails that will truly wet your whistle.

Like many chefs dedicated to searching out the highest-quality ingredients, bartenders are reaching for fresh fruits and juices, garden herbs like cilantro and lemon verbena, and a few uncommon extras such as jalapeño, lemongrass, and chilies to give cocktails that extra kick.

“From the garden to the glass” is how bartender Jeff Raposa refers to this new-market mixology. “Whatever’s in season, that’s the big thing.” A seventh-grade social studies teacher by day, Jeff works as a private bartender in Los Angeles during the off-season and on the Vineyard each summer. He works small dinner gatherings and large cocktail parties in people’s homes, serving wine and beer and making specialty drinks. Bartenders, he says, “are rivaling chefs” in creativity, reaching for blood oranges and kumquats in the winter, watermelon and blueberries in the summer, to add a new twist to traditional gin, vodka, tequila, and whisky cocktails.

The summer before last, Jeff says, he had a huge barrel of fresh mint he clipped daily for making drinks. One night while working at a client’s home, he used the mint to make mojitos with fresh lime juice and rum, then grabbed some blackberries from the fridge, crushed a few into the mojitos, and served up a colorful new summertime cocktail.

When the client, an NBA basketball player, next returned to the Vineyard, he asked Jeff about making those blackberry mint mojitos again.

“Why not throw in a twist,” says Jeff. “It gives it an extra taste, and it looks really cool.” The good news, reports Jeff and other bartenders interviewed, is that all these things are easy to do yourself. These trends from restaurants and bars are spreading to homes. People can look to their own gardens to fuel their creativity, or even plant a cocktail-centric herb garden featuring lavender, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, or basil for drinks.

Richard Very, who runs the bar at l’étoile restaurant in Edgartown, says he works to take the classic cocktails to the next level by balancing them with the freshest elements he can find. His own mantra: “fresh ingredients – nothing prepared, nothing processed.”

L’étoile’s gin and tonic, for example, goes beyond the traditional cocktail poured over ice. He crushes some cucumber slices in the gin, and adds splashes of fresh lime and grapefruit juices, some mint, and just a small amount of tonic water. Those flavors make it very refreshing, he says. “It’s an awesome summer drink. People love it.”

He suggests looking to see what’s available around you to mix up your repertoire. With the abundance of ripe peaches in the summer, he adds fresh peach purée to margaritas, a drink variation that’s easy for people to try at home. He also serves a crushed-watermelon-and-basil cosmopolitan as a twist on the usual cranberry-vodka combination.

At l’étoile for the past three seasons, Richard views his job as bartender as a “mood stabilizer.” An avid clammer, oyster diver, and kiteboarder, he also doles out tips to help summer visitors make the most of their Vineyard stay.

Though he doesn’t reveal his own secret clamming spots, he does recommend using fresh clam juice to make a great Bloody Mary. It may sound strange, but the clam juice adds a heightened salty flavor that’s hard to describe, he says. It’s done out West and called a Bloody Caesar, though it’s usually made with bottled clam juice. On the Island, he says, why not use fresh clam juice? He suggests freezing fresh clam juice in an ice tray and popping the cubes out when you make a Bloody Mary (or Bloody Caesar).

For the home bar, Richard mentions a favorite bartenders’ tip: Make a few different simple syrups, the sweetener used in many cocktails, by adding flavors such as lemongrass, cinnamon, fresh ginger, or vanilla. Richard might add lavender to one simple syrup batch or lime and mint to another. This can also be done easily at home.

So this summer, when you head out to your garden or the farmer’s market, think about drinks as well as dinner.

The following fresh and fruity drink recipes, including one that’s alcohol-free were originally published along with this article:

Blackberry Mojito

Peachy Margarita

Eben Tide

Norton Point Lemonade

Plum, Cherry, and Nectarine Sangria