Goodbye Summer? Not When These Drinks Still Taste So Good

photo by Rafael Barquero via Unsplash

photo by Rafael Barquero via Unsplash

Labor Day approaches, but there’s still a lot to love about these summer sips

As I write this, there’s a cool breeze fanning through my window the likes of which hasn’t been felt in Brooklyn in months. It’s welcome after all the heat and humidity, but at the same time it feels a bit too soon. I’m not quite ready to ditch my sundresses and sandals for sleeves and closed toed shoes, and I’m honestly not tired of the combinations of refreshing libations I’ve been enjoying this season either. There’s plenty of time for cozying up to full body red wine, brandy and whisky sooner than we think. For now, I’m happy to sip these favorites before sweater weather kicks in. 

Bee’s Knees 

The name of this refreshing and not-too-boozy early 20th century cocktail is both a reference to its essential ingredient of honey, but also a play on a popular 1920s era slang term meaning “the best.” As in, “That dress on you is simply the bee’s knees, dahling.” I love it because it’s delightful with just about any type of gin, even barrel aged ones. Good honey makes all the difference too. I recently tasted a splendid one at the bar at the Intercontinental Barclay in NYC, which has its own bee reserve on the roof.

Try a Bee’s Knee’s made with Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin (double gold medal winner in the 2019 NY International Spirits Competition). The gin is made in Vermont using the farm distillery’s own raw honey, which lends a clean, floral aromatic to this dry style. Their honey is also commercially available to use in the cocktail. 

Keep this on your radar: during the week of September 23rd - 29th, participating bars and restaurants will collect $1 from every Barr Hill Bee’s Knees cocktail sold to donate funds to nonprofits supporting the important mission to save bees and other vital pollinators. You can see a list of participating venues here

courtesy Caledonia Spirits

courtesy Caledonia Spirits

  • 2 oz dry gin

  • ¾ oz lemon juice

  • ¾ oz honey syrup (1:1 syrup made with honey, preferably a good quality raw one)

Vigorously shake all ingredients with ice until well chilled and frothy. Strain up into a chilled coupe, or Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with lemon wheel if desired. 

Fortified wine or vermouth with a splash of soda water or tonic

I always keep a bottle of port, madeira or sherry in my refrigerator to serve chilled, or with a bit of fizz to stretch out the treat, sometimes even with a splash of bitters. 

Some of my favorite combinations of late:

  • Capitoline Rosé vermouth and soda with a lime twist: This dry, aromatic beet-pink vermouth made in Washington, DC doesn’t need much extra assistance, but a bit of lime gives it a refreshing pop of tanginess. 

packing up the bubbly for more summer fun! photo by Amanda Schuster

packing up the bubbly for more summer fun! photo by Amanda Schuster

Anything bubbly

I’m not going to turn my nose up at Champagne, but as a wine and spirits writer, I am constantly getting to taste delicious alternative sparklers too. Some I’ve had the pleasure of popping open lately:

  • Mionetto Cartizze DOCG and Prestige Prosecco DOC Extra Dry: We’re all familiar with Mionetto’s Prosecco in the iconic gold label (this is a year round go-to at my family gatherings), but these are a bit different. As part of the winery’s luxury collection, the Cartizze, produced in that DOCG from glera grapes grown in the steep hills of the Valdobbiadene, has medium bubbles with pear and quince flavors and a satisfying toasty finish which makes it an ideal sipper to keep the palate occupied while waiting for the BBQ to heat up. For those looking for an even drier variant, the zippy Extra Dry from the the Prestige Collection, is produced at a certified organic winery in the town of Vazzola in the hills of Treviso.

  • Chandon Brut and Chandon Brut Rosé: The California version of this celebrated Champagne estate fell off my radar for a bit, but I was glad to have a refresh. Now wrapped in festive American Summer Limited Edition foils, these refreshers in either pink or dry white are one of the easiest things to reach for (the anti-Labor part of Labor Day) in a variety of settings (especially at brunch) or as a base for bubbly cocktails or punches. 

  • Nyetimber Classic Cuvee MV: Years after this English countryside winery was visited by a local British alcohol professor, it’s finally sold on American shores. As I was popping the cork, I couldn’t help imagining the excrutiatingly tense wine bottle opening scene with John Cleese as Basil Fawlty serving the hotel inspector (James Cossins) in Fawlty Towers. Like that kind of good British humor, this sparkler is dry, charming, and worth repeat visits. Also, pro tip, if you’re still not sick of Pimms Cups either, try some Pimms or Sipsmith London Cup, with cut up summer fruits—berries, peaches, etc.—topped off by Nyetimber and a big rock. Cheerio! 

photo by Amanda Schuster

photo by Amanda Schuster

Chablis and oysters

Sure, just about anything cold and dry—beer, Champagne, chilled white vermouth, gin, etc.—is a good pairing with oysters. But want an OUTSTANDING oyster pairing? After a recent field trip to the Billion Oyster Project, an oyster conservation and educational facility on New York City’s Governors Island, I was introduced by oyster guru Rowan Jacobsen to the nuances of various crus of William Fèvre Chablis with different kinds of oysters. It made an enormous difference in both my appreciation of this white Burgundy wine and the oysters themselves, which to me were always just down to which coast they came from. 

Some highlights (all wines Chablis from William Fèvre): 

  • Grand Cru Le Clos Domaine 2017: the lychee and tart stone fruit flavors bring out the creaminess of Disco Hama from Discovery Bay off the coast of CA

  • Grand Cru Bougros “Côte Bougerots” Domaine 2015: the sweet lemon sugar icing-ness somehow of the wine manages to bring out both citrusy and savory broth notes (like chicken matzo ball soup!) of Summerstone oysters from the coast of WA state. 

  • Premier Cru Montmains Domaine 2017: the wine’s citrusy notes bring out the sweetness of Eel Lake oysters from Nova Scotia 

  • Premier Cru Vaulorent Domaine 2015: the rich, buttery, lemon curd characteristics of this Chablis are butter-matchy with Navy Points from Huntington Bay, NY and also cut some of the brininess of Wellfleets from Cape Cod 

  • Champs Royeaux 2018: though still a bit young, the wine’s fresh acidity cut through the sweetness of Pacific Northwest Baywater oysters, (though to be honest, that oyster was pretty dang delicious with each of these wines!)

Cheers to more summer sipping adventures yet to come!