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Juices, shrubs, flavored vodkas put the summer in cocktails, mocktails
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Juices, shrubs, flavored vodkas put the summer in cocktails, mocktails

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Summer has arrived and with it comes patio parties and backyard gatherings. Though plenty of fun can be had while sipping on hard seltzer and wine coolers, you can kick up your event a notch with just a little extra effort.

Start with shrubs

Sarah McManus, co-owner of The Garlic Press in Normal, Ill., gave a hint of a drink trend that is sure to impress your guests.

She suggests using shrub to infuse wine or create cocktails. “It’s an old-fashioned way to preserve fruit made out of organic fruit and vinegar,” she said. “The cherry is popular. It’s sour cherry vinegar and organic cane sugar. It’s a combo of sweet and sour together and is a great mixture of cocktails.”

The Garlic Press is a specialty shop carrying everything from cookware and kitchen accessories to gourmet popcorn and home decor items that also holds  cooking classes and demonstrations. It carries a brand of shrub from Tait Farm Foods that is produced in Pennsylvania in a number of flavors. McManus particularly likes adding it to white wine. "You know how sometimes you get a bottle and open it and the wine isn’t quite what you hoped. This is a fun way to doctor it up. Add a splash of shrub.”

Shrub is also a great accompaniment to a mimosa bar if you’re planning a summer brunch. Put out your Champagne or Prosecco, several varieties of shrub (grapefruit, orange, cranberry, pear or rhubarb are good) and fresh fruit.

For summer cocktails, McManus also recommends Hot Ruby mixer, a cider made with cranberry and citrus and a blend of spices. She uses it for a drink called Ruby on the Beach.

Classics with a twist

Tom Alswager, owner of The Lazy Oaf Lounge in Madison, Wis., has found that you can easily summer-ize vintage or year-round drinks by using citrus flavored vodkas and fresh fruits as garnish. He suggests putting a twist on the classic Moscow Mule by adding pineapple juice and citrus vodka to ginger beer.

McManus also enjoys making seasonal mules, with a favorite using ginger and cranberry shrubs.

Alswager said most vodka brands have a flavored line. Examples include Absolut Raspberri and Citron; Ketel One’s Botanical Series with such flavors as Grapefruit & Rose, Peach & Orange Blossom and Cucumber Mint; and Svedka Mango Pineapple.

Make a mocktail

Noting the benefits of vinegar for gut health, McManus said shrub is great for non-alcoholic drinks, too. “You can add it to lemonade or iced tea or kids can put it in Sprite,” she said.

Flavored syrups that you’ll find at liquor stores also make perfect additions to  lemonade, iced tea, iced coffee, slushies and other cool beverages. Popular flavors for summer are peach, strawberry and lavender.

Keep it simple

If mixing more than three ingredients is too much for you, keep it simple. Jeff Bridges, owner of Bridges' Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith, Ind., recommends keeping easy mixes on hand including margarita, daiquiri and pina colada and also having ice cream to add some creaminess.

One of Bridges’ summer favorites is called Killer Kool-aid and is simple to make with just three easy-to-find ingredients: Southern Comfort, Amaretto and cranberry juice.

Simple syrup

Simple syrup is a staple in many cocktails, and it’s easy to make to add flavor to any drink. McManus said you bring equal amounts water and white sugar to a boil. “When the sugar has dissolved, add your infusion and simmer for about 15 minutes. Pull the pan off the stove and let cool. When it’s cool spoon out the vegetable, fruit and/or herb and store in a glass jar, labeled, in the fridge. Depending what you are infusing with determines how long to let it steep in the sugar syrup. It should last stored in the refrigerator for roughly a month or more,” she said. “I use about three to four jalapenos for a spicy sweet twist that is great with watermelon for a summer margarita. For ginger syrup, use about six inches of the root cut up into coins and for herbs use a good handful. Experiment with different produce, tweak it, infuse for longer or combine with herbs and fruit.”

Be prepared

Cocktail tools to keep on hand include a shaker and jiggger, zester, strainer and a muddler, said McManus. McManus also suggests keeping a bottle each of vodka, gin, brandy, tequila, scotch, bitters, club soda and tonic water.

Bridges adds that common juices such as cranberry, orange and pineapple, along with fresh lemons, oranges and limes, complete any home bar.

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