By Rebekah Peppler, The New York Times
A cooler’s primary summertime function is written directly into the name: It cools. The style of drink — often a lower-in-alcohol combination of liqueur or fortified wine mixed with a carbonated beverage — is served long and tall over plenty of ice, with the promise of some relief from the heat.
Refreshing as it is to drink, a cooler is also a refreshingly easy cocktail to make.
The formula is loose and open to interpretation. A cooler is made with vermouth or sherry, port or gin, lengthened with soda water, or topped with dry tonic or fresh fruit juice. The ingredient list is often short and the method to the point: Pour right into the glass, nary a shaker or mixing glass in sight.
“Coolers are the best drinks for this weather,” said Margot Lecarpentier, a founder of Combat, a bar in Paris. She recommends beginning your cooling happy hour with a simple and satisfying combination: a wine-based aperitif (such as a dry red or blanc vermouth), soda water and a slice of citrus. “It’s not as sweet as a spritz and works every time,” she said.
Once you’ve mastered this combination, invite experimentation. According to Lecarpentier, coolers provide an excellent entry point to cocktail making. “Mixology can be mysterious and scary,” she said. “But with coolers, it’s easy.”
There are plenty of ways to switch things up. Pour a flavored tonic. Swap in one citrus for another, or add a splash of cider vinegar. Try a few dashes of bitters, like classic Angostura, celery, chocolate or persimmon. Or add a rim: Lecarpentier suggests playing with salt, sugar or spices — such as Tajín, smoked pepper or sumac — depending on the drink.
Consider adding salt directly to your cooler to highlight its flavors or temper sweetness. A pinch of flaky sea salt, a dash of Worcestershire sauce or a splash of brine from cornichons or olives all work wonders to take a drink from fine to delightfully drinkable.
Even a final garnish can have a surprisingly strong effect. “You always have to think about the smell,” Lecarpentier said. “If you have a leaf of basil, it is so powerful at the nose you feel like you’re drinking it, but you’re just smelling it.” In a basil vermouth cooler, the fragrant herb is used not once but twice: first to infuse a bottle of dry vermouth and later as garnish.
You can also skip carbonation altogether and amplify a cocktail with juice. Lecarpentier often mixes fresh tomato, cucumber or pineapple juice into drinks; this watermelon-lime cooler combines fresh watermelon juice with bittersweet Lillet Rosé, gin, red bitter liqueur and lime juice.
For an aesthetically pleasing addition that is also functional, add slices of cucumber or citrus directly to the cocktail. A Porto cooler layers a bright display of lemon, lime and orange wheels around the inside of the glass. The longer the drink of white port, vermouth and tonic sits, the more intense the citrus flavor.
The summer heat can also slowly transform a cocktail built over ice. Ice from your own freezer rarely matches the quality of that in a professional bar, and so drinks mixed in the comfort of home can often dilute faster.
“The first sip isn’t going to taste like the last,” Lecarpentier said. “So I’m not scared of making drinks that are a little intense in the first sip because I know they’re going to evolve as you drink it.”
And, let’s face it, it is H-O-T outside. The cooler, in all its frigorific glory, offers icy relaxation. Refreshing to drink at every stage, the adaptable cooler should be considered this season’s long line of defense against the heat of late summer. You’re going to need it.
Recipe: Basil Vermouth Cooler
A double dose of basil — infused in dry vermouth and used as garnish — ensures this drink is fresh and herbal throughout. A splash of olive brine and a garnish with the olives add salinity and balance. Use the leftover basil-infused dry vermouth in a 50/50 martini, Vermouth Royale, a Fair Play or pour as is over a large ice cube and finish with a citrus twist. — By Rebekah Peppler
Yield: 1 (750-milliliter) bottle basil-infused dry vermouth and 1 cocktail
Total time: 15 minutes, plus 3 hours’ infusing
For the Basil-Infused Vermouth:
- 10 to 15 fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
- 1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry vermouth
For the Cocktail:
- 1 1/2 ounces fino or manzanilla sherry
- 1 1/2 ounces basil-infused dry vermouth
- 1/4 to 1/2 ounce mild green olive brine, such as Castelvetrano or Manzanilla
- 2 ounces dry tonic
- 3 ounces soda water
- 1 basil sprig
- 1 (3-inch) lemon peel
- 1 to 3 Castelvetrano olives
1. Make basil-infused dry vermouth: Place the basil in one hand and use the other to lightly slap the leaves, releasing the aromatics. Add the leaves to the vermouth either in the bottle or in a large, clean container. (You may need to pour out an ounce of vermouth to fit in all the leaves. If this is the case, pour the vermouth into a glass with an ice cube and garnish with a citrus twist. Drink while you infuse the rest.) Cover and set aside to infuse at room temperature for 3 hours. Strain the vermouth through a fine-mesh strainer, removing and discarding the basil leaves, and rebottle in the original bottle. Store in the refrigerator and use the basil-infused vermouth within 3 weeks.
2. Make the cocktail: Fill a Collins or highball glass with ice. Add the sherry, basil-infused vermouth and olive brine. Top with tonic and soda water. Place the basil sprig in one hand and use the other to lightly slap the leaves, releasing the aromatics. Garnish with the basil, lemon peel and olives.
Recipe: Watermelon-Lime Cooler
While coolers are often stretched with something sparkling, this rose-hued drink swaps in a pour of fresh watermelon juice. The inherent sweetness — and deep pink color palette — of both the juice and the Lillet Rosé is tempered with an ounce of gin and a splash of lime’s bright acidity. (If you can’t find Lillet Rosé, use Lillet Blanc or even a blanc vermouth in a pinch.) — By Rebekah Peppler
Yield: 1 cocktail
- 2 ounces Lillet Rosé
- 1 ounce red bitter liqueur, such as Campari, Cappelletti or Contratto Bitter
- 1 ounce gin
- 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
- 4 ounces fresh watermelon juice (see tip)
In an ice-filled highball glass, combine the Lillet Rosé, red bitter, gin and lime juice. Top with the watermelon juice and stir gently to combine. Serve immediately.
TIP: Although fresh watermelon juice, which can be made in a juicer, blender or food processor, keeps for 3 days stored in the refrigerator, it should be used soon after making for the best, brightest in flavor cocktail. Drink any extra juice as a shot with a squeeze of lime for a bonus dose of hydration or pour into ice cube trays and freeze to use in lieu of standard ice in another day’s cooler.
Recipe: Porto Cooler
The key to this citrus-forward nod to Portugal’s venerable porto tónicos lies in the citrus wheels that stack along the inside of the glass top to bottom. As aesthetically pleasing as they are functional, use any one citrus or mix of citrus, seeking out those with thin piths for glass-lining ease. Lime, lemon, orange, blood orange, mandarin, Meyer lemon, even kumquat are all excellent choices, depending on your personal preference and season. To keep the citrus rounds in place, use a wider-mouthed highball glass and alternate adding citrus and ice. Once the white port, vermouth, bitters and tonic are added, the citrus will gradually impart its flavor into the cocktail as it sits, shifting the cooler’s flavor as you drink. — By Rebekah Peppler
Yield: 1 cocktail
- 6 to 8 very thinly sliced citrus wheels, such as lime, lemon and orange, preferably using citrus with thin piths
- 2 ounces white port
- 1 ounce blanc vermouth
- 4 dashes orange bitters, or use Angostura
- 3 to 4 ounces dry tonic
In a wider-mouthed highball glass, tuck the citrus wheels around the sides of the glass, adding ice as you move up the glass. (The ice will help keep them in place.) Add the port, vermouth and bitters. Tuck a straw into the glass and top with tonic.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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