As the days grow steadily warmer and longer and the temptation of taking in the sun and relaxing through a long afternoon becomes more and more tempting, my thoughts turn to liquid refreshment to help the transition to summer indolence. Of course, while a chilled glass of lemonade or iced tea is often more than sufficient, sometimes the relaxing powers of a sobriquet will help to ease us into the close of the day. Frequently a cold beer or a glass a wine will provide this service, but on those days when industriousness and creativity are mixed with a desire for the finer things in life, a cocktail is in order.
As Bernard DeVoto wrote in his 1948 paean “The Hour — A Cocktail Manifesto,” the early evening “is an hour of diminishing, of slowing down, of quieting.” At six in the evening, “when evening quickens in the street,” there comes “a pause in the day’s occupation that is known as cocktail hour.”
In this, DeVoto is correct, though his view of what makes an acceptable cocktail is narrow. DeVoto rejects as a cocktail any drink that contains fruit juice, rum or sugar (something which I inadvertently find myself adhering to out of natural habit), and he places above all others whiskey (whether it be Irish, Scotch, Canadian or Bourbon) on ice (not “rocks”) and the gin martini. This not being 1948 and we not being writers for The New Yorker, here are some recipes for our late afternoon relaxations. They include some personal favorites, DeVoto’s praised tipples and a ridiculous adventure.
Martini—DeVoto gives his formula for the martini. He specifies a ratio of 3.7 to 1, gin to vermouth. Gin and vermouth ought to be matched to each other, and experimentation is key (I personally recommend Beefeater or New Amsterdam gin). The martini can be either shaken or stirred, though a shaker will make your life easier. Most important is the ice — there should be lots of it. Be sure to fill your martini glass with ice before you begin the mixing process (to chill it), and ice down your shaker or pitcher until it sweats. Throw that ice away, add new ice, and then either shake or stir. Martinis can be served straight, with cocktail onions or a spear of olives and a splash of (cold) olive brine.
Whiskey—Simply chill a tumbler with ice until it sweats, throw that ice away, add several ice cubes and pour a reasonable quantity of whiskey (about two shots).
Gin and Tonic—The gin and tonic is a great go-to drink when you cannot decide what you want; it is simple to make but with lots of room for experimentation. The ratio of gin to tonic water should be approximately one part gin to three parts tonic water (some people may like theirs stronger or weaker, though.) Chill your glass until it sweats, throw the ice away, add several new ice cubes, then add your tonic water. Let the tonic settle momentarily, and then add your gin, pouring it over the back of a spoon to help its distribution. Squeeze a slice or two of lime and then stir two or three times gently.
Whiskey Sour—The whiskey sour is an easy, tangy, working-class alternative to the gin and tonic. Chill your mixer and a highball glass in the manner described for the martini and add new ice cubes to the mixer. While there are many do-it-yourself recipes, I usually use a pre-made sour mix and a ratio of 1-1 whiskey and sour mix. If you want to make your own sour mix, mix 2/3 to 1 shot of lemon juice with a dash of sugar (sometimes powdered sugar can be easier to mix).
Soehngen Sloe-Gin—A local variant of the sloe-gin fizz, the Soehngen sloe-gin provides a gentle touch of class to any cocktail hour. Mix two parts seltzer water (or tonic if you prefer) with one part sloe-gin in the manner described for the gin and tonic. Then add a ring or two of lemon and an optional dash of Triple Sec.
For An Adventurous, Blended
The Flaming Ice Weasel—This recipe requires bravery, a sweet tooth and a blender. In the blender, combine several scoops of vanilla ice cream with a few (large) spoonfuls of black cherry yogurt, maraschino cherries (or raspberries or strawberries) and several shots of amaretto or chocolate liquor. Once it is blended, dish it up into bowls; create a depression in the top of each serving. Into this depression pour a dash of Bacardi 151, then light it on fire momentarily to allow it to slightly caramelize the top of the ice cream before blowing it out. Add whipped cream, nuts and more maraschino cherries on top as desired.