This summer America went goofy for piña coladas. The perfect poolside concoction, composed of silver rum, slushy coconut and pineapple, was created in Puerto Rico in 1954 at the Caribe Hilton by barman Ramon Marrero—during the same era that Trader Vic was pumping out his eponymous tiki cocktails and when the margarita first hit Southern California. Puerto Rico is known for its excellent baseball players; in the shaking of the first piña colada, Marrero hit a grand slam.
Fruity cocktails are clearly nothing new, but when the mercury rises, there’s nothing that beats a cold, fresh-tasting cocktail, whether it’s sweet, tangy or cooling. This Labor Day, why not celebrate the final sweet days of the season with a round of the best cocktails for late summer?
More than a simple summery beverage, the piña colada has fostered the feeling of escape, vacation and ease for millions of drinkers the world over, whether on the deck of a Caribbean vessel or snug in a booth at T.G.I.Friday?s.
This summer, the piña colada received the official blessing of America?s top mixologists at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, where star bartenders from across the country competed to create America?s Best Piña Colada. The crowd?s favorite recipe was created by Matt Myers from the Bellagio, Las Vegas. Here you have it:
Piña Colada Recipe by Matt Myers, Bellagio, Las Vegas
1.5 oz. Bacardi 8-year rum
1 oz. Thai ginger syrup
2 oz. piña colada mix
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
3 mint and 3 kaffir lime leaves
1 oz. coconut water
Muddle the herbs, then pour all liquids into the mixing pint, shake vigorously and strain over ice into a tall glass. Enjoy poolside!
According to the Distilled Spirits Council, the margarita has been America?s top- selling cocktail for a few years now. Understandably, the majority of margaritas are consumed during warm-weather months of summer. Fun fact: the Spanish translation of “margarita” is daisy. In the classic cocktail lexicon, a “daisy” is a drink shaken with a prime spirit, fresh lemon, orange liqueur and sugar, the first one being invented with brandy. It?s easy to imagine a bartender in Mexico substituting tequila for brandy and then translating the name of the drink into Spanish, no?
The margarita and its principal player, tequila, are often associated with trouble or danger—or, at the very least, flirtation. Here’s another fun fact: tequila, being an agave distillate, is in fact the world?s only alcoholic “upper,” as all other distilled spirits are scientifically classified as depressants. Could that be why tequila makes us want to party?
If you?re in the mood to entertain at home and try a delicious, simple recipe for a margarita, here?s mine:
Backyard Margarita Recipe
1 750ml 100% agave tequila (Suggested: Cabo Wabo, Siete Leguas or Cazadores)
2 c. fresh lime juice (12 -16 limes)
1 c. fresh orange juice (4 oranges)
1 c. golden brown sugar
In a pitcher or a punch bowl, pour the tequila and brown sugar together and thoroughly blend until the tequila and sugar have integrated. Add the lime and orange juices and plenty of ice, then stir thoroughly.
On a recent Saturday night at Chicago?s newest hotspot, the Bedford, I noticed that every few minutes, a new patron would shout a request across the bar: cucumber and tonic, cucumber and soda—even cucumber and water. Then, on General Manager Pete Gugni?s cocktail menu, I spied the Bedford?s signature cocktail: the Cucumber Cooler.
“Pete,” I asked, puzzled by this frenzy, “What?s with the popularity of all the cucumber-flavored drinks?”
“Chicago is just crazy for cucumber.”
“Is it just flavored vodka?”
“Cucumber and anything,” Pete said. “Whether a fresh cucumber is muddled into a cocktail as in the case of our Cucumber Cooler, or a syrup is added to make a Cucumber Margarita or the Square One Organic Cucumber Vodka, it?s all hot right now.”
Back in San Francisco, I ran around town and glanced at a few restaurants’ summer cocktail menus, and sure enough, there were plenty of references to the creeping vine. It seems that as the thermometer climbs, America yearns for the crisp, fresh flavor of cucumber. This makes perfect sense: it reflects the burgeoning farm-to-glass movement in cocktails, whereby seasonality in ingredients is a focus as well as simply delivering flavors that fit the weather.
We may be approaching the calendar end of summer, but for much of North America, September is the best month to be outside, especially as the blistering weather calms down. Restaurant patios are still open and we have a few weekends left to entertain, or be entertained, and enjoy a late summer cocktail. Embrace the season, get goofy or even flirtatious while summer is still here.
Editor’s Note: What will YOU be drinking this Labor Day?
Duggan McDonnell owns and operates Cantina, the San Fran-centric cocktail lounge dedicated to Latin spirits and California cocktails. He operates Liquid Think Tank, a beverage consultancy, and co-founded San Francisco Cocktail Week and the Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail. He also co-founded and serves as CEO and Master Blender of Campo de Encanto pisco, winner of the Ministry of Production’s Gran Medalla de Oro Best in Show gold medal (the highest honor for any pisco).
Duggan’s many accolades include a Best Mixologist of the Year nomination at Tales of the Cocktail (twice) in New Orleans, and Leader of the American Cocktail Revolution from Food & Wine. A featured expert on the TV show “Great Cocktails,” Duggan also served as the spokesperson for the got milk? 2010 holiday cocktail TV campaign. He’s designed cocktails for the Sundance Film Festival and Aspen Food & Wine, and has consulted for spirits companies including Tequila Don Julio, Grey Goose Vodka and Cabana Cachaca.