Great cocktails are made even better if fresh ingredients are used. The freshest ingredients are available during the summer, especially here in the Mitten State. A ton of drink recipes are available online. However, we wanted to make sure we got a local, seasonal twist on the best summer drinks to make at your home bar so we spoke with Melissa Cox from Key to My Cellar:
Awesome Mitten (AM): Help us learn a little about your adult beverage recipe development philosophies by telling us what tips and tricks you have for newbies. What should those who are just starting out know?
Melissa: Ditch the bottled juices– it’s all about fresh citrus. Take the time to use the real, fresh-squeezed thing. It makes all the difference.
Also, don’t be afraid to make the recipe your own. When mixing at home, you get to control the ingredients according to your preferences. There are recipe purists out there, but mixing is really about what you’ll enjoy.
AM: That’s great advice! So, of those recipes which you’ve developed, what one is your favorite?
Melissa: I’d have to say it’s the “Say No to Schnapps.” People often assume that gin’s the only spirit that’s appropriate for summer. But these are the same people who tell you not to wear white after Labor Day. Bourbon is a year-round drink, and I don’t mind going on the record about that.
I also like “Say No to Schnapps” because it takes full advantage of seasonal fruit and offers a great combination of flavors. To make this drink, though, don’t be afraid to muddle– it’s harder to break down the flesh of a peach than, say, a raspberry.
- 2 oz bourbon
- Fresh tarragon
- Fresh peach, sliced
- Ginger beer
In a shaker, muddle the ingredients, then shake with ice. Strain into your cup of choice. Top off with your favorite ginger beer.
AM: Speaking of raspberries, do you have any recipe suggestions which feature raspberries?
Melissa: Of course! I call it Much too Much, and it’s inspired by the Elvis Costello song, “New Amsterdam.” This one features gin (New Amsterdam, of course), raspberries, and Cynar, a bitter liqueur which has become increasingly popular. Its essential ingredient is artichoke, which I think is interesting. Here’s the recipe:
- 2 oz. New Amsterdam gin
- 0.5 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
- 0.5 oz simple syrup
- .25 oz Cynar
- 2 fresh raspberries
Muddle the raspberries in a shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe.
AM: These are great. What’s a simple recipe that you can recommend for picnics or barbeques?
Melissa: I’m partial to the Stone Fence. It’s a simple combination of either bourbon, rye, or dark rum, plus a dry cider. My absolute favorite cider is Pulsar from Starcut. Most hard ciders are too sweet for me. Starcut gets it right, though. Their ciders are well-balanced, plus they offer dry options like Pulsar which is great for mixing.
- 2 oz. dark rum, bourbon, or rye
- Starcut Ciders’ Pulsar
Pour spirit into a pint glass. Add ice. Fill the rest of the glass with Pulsar.
AM: Summertime picnics sometimes turn into evening bonfires. What recipes do you have that could make us think of bonfires or camping?
Melissa: This reminds me of another favorite, which I call Campfire Secrets. I developed it right after Two James’ Johnny Smoking Gun came out. Because I’m a fan of their spirits, I bought a bottle immediately. It’s great to drink straight, but I wanted to use it in different ways. Its smokiness lends itself to maple, so that was a great starting point. After experimenting with proportions and ingredients, I landed on this recipe:
- 1.5 oz Two James Johnny Smoking Gun
- .5 oz dark rum
- .25 oz Michigan maple syrup
Stir ingredients together; up or on the rocks– it’s your choice.
AM: OK, one more question. What’s your favorite summery, easy classic to make at home?
Melissa: The Last Word. A little trivia: The Last Word was developed at the Detroit Athletic Club. It features gin and lime, which is definitely a summertime flavor profile. This one is easy to make at home, but it’s also fun to order when you’re out. I like to order them at Chartreuse in Detroit, and at a great cocktail bar called the Last Word in Ann Arbor.
The Last Word
- 1 part green chartreuse
- 1 part gin
- 1 part Maraschino liqueur
- 1 part lime juice
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
AM: Thanks for talking about summertime drink recipes with us, Melissa.
Like Melissa’s recipes? Follow Key to My Cellar on Instagram (@keytomycellar) for updates. What’s your favorite summer drink recipe to make at home?