This Summer Drinks


As the temperature rises, eating lighter seems to come naturally, with chefs around town powering menus with an eye to fresh seasonal produce and creative flavor combinations.

As the temperature rises, eating lighter seems to come naturally, with chefs around town powering menus with an eye to fresh seasonal produce and creative flavor combinations.

Expert “bar chefs” are also finding plenty of inspiration in the garden, using seasonal herbs, fruit and produce to create both savory and sweet cocktails that brim with fresh summer goodness. Although brown spirits are never out of style, the lighter flavor notes of gin and tequila are front and center in spirited libations all around town.

Uber bartender Katie Loeb, whose keen flavor palate has informed cocktail lists at restaurants including The Trestle Inn, Amada and Oyster House, has been making her own cocktail ingredients for many a summer. Loeb doesn’t keep her secrets to herself. You can find 50 great ideas on the pages of her gorgeously photographed book Shake, Stir, Pour: Fresh Homegrown Cocktails, so ahead of the curve it’s not a bit dated despite being released three years ago. Check out Loeb’s Herbal Cooler, a tall drink of summertime spiked with mixed-herb syrup made from mint, cilantro and basil, easily grown in a window box or pot on the deck.

When it comes to figuring out what flavors go together in a shaker, keep it simple. Think about what ingredients you like to eat together — tomatoes, fresh herbs and chiles, or strawberry and basil, for instance. As to the type of spirit, think refreshing and light for summer.

“Once you get the proportion down for a summery drink like a classic Tom Collins, you can just mix and match the flavors depending on what’s fresh,” said Chris Chamberlain, portfolio manager/beverage development specialist for Philadelphia Distilling. A Tom Collins recipe is always the same: 2 parts gin, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lemon juice, shaken and served over ice with a seltzer topping in a tall Collins glass.

“If you flavor a simple syrup with blackberry and mint, you have a completely different drink. Strawberry and basil is another good combination. Or apricot and thyme. It’s really nothing more than an adult lemonade made with gin. Anybody can do it once you understand the mathematics of it,” said Chamberlain. “People can be as creative as they want to be. Just have fun with it.”

Another of Chamberlain’s favorite drinks is the Clover Club — what he calls “the Cosmopolitan of its day in the 1880s.” A Philadelphia original, the drink is made with gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup and dry vermouth. “It’s a light refreshing drink that will never go out of style.”

If you’re not sure where to start, take a recipe for a drink that you really like — perhaps a mojito or margarita. Then, following Chamberlain’s direction, use the recipes as a template, swapping out like ingredients as your imagination dictates.

Sassafras has been around the block for more than three decades in Old City, but stodgy it is not. Belfast-born lead bartender and co-owner Neill Laughlin shakes up plenty of goodness to set the stage for chef Matt Daggett’s seasonal comfort fare. One of Laughlin’s faves is the St. Rick, a bracing shake of Hendricks Gin paired with the elderflower floral notes of St. Germain, fresh lime juice, muddled basil and cucumber.

Voted America’s Best Hotel Bar by USA Today readers, Square 1682 spotlights a progressive cocktail program led by top shelf mixologists. This summer, Square sees a return of one of its original favorites with the Blue Sage, made with Corralejo Tequila, blueberries, sage syrup and lime.

Founded by Erin Wallace last year, Lafayette Hill’s Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery’s focus is on house-brewed and expertly curated beers. But the authentic Colonial-era inn also offers stellar summer libations. The Barren Hill Mojito is the best of both worlds, made with rum, mint, lemon, agave and Pilsner beer. Add some seasonal fresh fruit puree or German fruit syrup to put some extra summer in the glass.

 “Don’t hesitate to make your own syrups,” said Dan Abraham, creative director for Art in the Age, the Philadelphia producer of the all-organic line of spirits that includes Root, Snap Sage and Rhubarb. “There’s nothing to it — just equal parts water and sugar flavored with whatever herb or fruit you’re in the mood for. Heat that until the sugar dissolves, let it cool and it can stay in the refrigerator for weeks.”

If you haven’t tried Art in the Age spirits, their complex flavor profile can be hard to categorize “We use all whole ingredients, all our own juices and syrups,” Abraham explained. “Because they are so different, they can really energize your home cocktails.

“The portfolio mixes similarly to spirits most people are familiar with,” said Abraham. “Root mixes like a whisky or a spicy rye, Snap like a dark spiced rum, Sage like an herbaceous gin without the juniper flavor and Rhubarb falls between a citrus vodka and a floral St. Germain.”

Abraham and his team spend plenty of time dreaming up new cocktail recipes, like his current favorite, the Sage of Monticello, a martini-style drink made with Sage, fresh cherry tomatoes, celery leaves and bitters. “It’s very light — not as intense as a Bloody Mary but the perfect brunch cocktail,” he said.

Thanks to his extensive tequila program, Brian Sirhal, of Feliz Restaurants, thinks fruity margaritas come summertime. His current fave is the Santana strawberry margarita currently on the menu at Cantina Feliz in Fort Washington. “Summer drinks need to be fresher and lighter, a little less boozy and more thirst-quenching,” he said.

For a slightly lighter tequila flavor, he likes Espolon Reposada or Blanca tequila with its hint of agave and citrus. Although he’s a personal fan of smoky mezcal, that peat-forward specialty can be a little heavy in the summertime. “We experiment a lot with different fruit purees,” said Sirhal. “Watermelon is always a big hit.”

Although seafood is what first comes to mind at the mention of the Oyster House in Center City, the bar program is just as seasonally informed as the restaurant’s fish list. Gin is a specialty of the house, with more than 50 brands on hand all the time. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for the classic cocktail,” said bar manager Lindsey Krueger. “I think you need to know where you came from to know where you’re going. That’s our jumping-off point.”

“Part of what makes gin awesome in the summer is that it’s flavorful, light and citrus-forward,” said Daniel McLaughlin, the restaurant’s general manager. “Gin comes with its own herb and botanical combination. A lot of people got turned off by the really perfumy style of British gin. But if you haven’t tried gin lately, try it again. There’s so much good gin out there, you can almost have a favorite gin for each of your favorite cocktails.”

Hendricks is ever so smooth, what McLaughlin calls a “gateway gin.” McLaughlin likes the peppery minerality of Martin Miller’s gin and the citrus notes found in Philly’s own Bluecoat Gin. Hamen’s Old Time Gin is a little sweeter, so Krueger likes it with the house sling, akin to a Singapore sling but with fresh pineapple juice. For an everyday drinking gin, the well-priced Boodles, with its distinctive square bottle, is making a comeback.

And if you like your cocktails created with a northern Italian flair, Davio’s Philadelphia just introduced a slew of seasonal drinks inspired by traditional Italian aperitifs, twists on the familiar powered by gin, tequila and vodka, the holy trinity of summer spirits. 

Beth D’Addono is Special Sections’ chief New Orleans correspondent.

Summer in a Glass

Refreshing recipes for hot weather coolers

The Sage of Monticello {Source: Art in the Age}

2 oz. Art in the Age Sage

3⁄4 oz. lemon juice

1⁄2 oz. simple syrup

3 red, orange or yellow cherry tomatoes

3-4 celery leaves

Pinch of salt

Dash citrus bitters

Dash herbal bitters

Cracked ice

Muddle tomatoes and celery leaves in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients and shake well with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with celery leaves and a fresh cherry tomato. 

Italian 75 {Source: Davio’s Philadelphia}

1 oz. New Amsterdam Gin

½ oz. Cocchi Americano

Splash of simple syrup


Combine New Amsterdam Gin, Cocchi Americano and simple syrup in a shaker and strain into a martini glass. Fill glass with Prosecco and garnish with a sugared lemon wheel.

Santana Margarita {Source: Cantina Feliz}

2 oz. Espolon Reposado Tequila

1 oz. fresh lime juice

1 oz. triple sec

1⁄2 oz. fresh lemon juice

1 oz. simple syrup

2 oz. strawberry puree (see recipe below)

Combine all into mixing glass. Pack with ice and shake vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into margarita glass with salt rim. Garnish with lime wedge.

Strawberry Puree

1 pt. fresh strawberries stemmed

2 oz. simple syrup (add more or less depending on sweetness/tartness of strawberries)

Place strawberries and add simple syrup in blender. Blend ingredients until smooth puree forms.

Vespa {Source: Davio’s Philadelphia}

2½ oz. Tanqueray 10 Gin

1 oz. Grey Goose Vodka

½ ounce Cocchi Americano

Shake until extremely cold and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with thin slice of lemon on top.

The Clover Club {Source: Philadelphia Distilling based on a recipe in the Ideal Bartender Book (1917)}

1 1⁄2 oz. Bluecoat American Dry Gin

1⁄2 oz. dry vermouth

3⁄4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

3⁄4 oz. simple syrup

6 muddled raspberries

1 egg white

Add raspberries to a cocktail shaker, lightly muddle. Add the additional ingredients to the shaker with ice, then shake vigorously. Double strain into a cocktail Coupe and garnish with fresh raspberries.

Tom Collins {Source: Philadelphia Distilling}

1 3⁄4 oz Bluecoat American Dry Gin OR Bluecoat Barrel Finished Gin

3⁄4 oz. fresh lemon juice 

3⁄4 oz. simple syrup

club soda

Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, then top with club soda. Garnish with lemon wheel and choice of cherry.

Rhubarb & Thyme

1 1⁄2 oz. Art in the Age Rhubarb Tea spirit

1⁄2 oz. gin

1 oz. quality dry vermouth

1 oz. thyme simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water with 2 sprigs thyme)

1 oz. fresh lime juice

Shake all ingredients over ice, then strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.

The right gin is essential to a classic Tom Collins. We suggest using Philadelphia’s own Bluecoat brand. Photo by Jason Varney.



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