With Labor Day here, many would think it time to put away the barbecue grill and pack up the party. Not so.
CHILL THE GLASS: And get to work.
We’ve gathered a collection of spirited beverages for this wonderful weekend, which we can’t do without a good vodka. Those looking to splurge for the top of the top shelf may want to consider Triple 8 Vodka, from my hometown of Nantucket, or perhaps Hangar One from San Francisco.
But after extensive market research on vodkas (read: copious taste testing), there are two bottles that are the best bets for your buck. Tanqueray is best known for their gin, but their Sterling Vodka is perfectly serviceable at around $17.99. A more widely accepted vodka near this price is Ketel One, which rings in at $20.99, but is very good for name recognition.
The BLUEBERRY COSMO is a twist on the most culturally pervasive cocktail of the last decade. It’s a martini in a little pink dress; the stuff that martini bars’ fortunes have been made on. But we’ll switch things around, using four ounces of vodka of course, one-quarter of a fresh lime, but not Triple Sec — instead use an ounce of Gran Gala, Citronge (made by Patron), Cointreau, or even Grand Marnier. And for the main flavor, not the traditional cranberry juice but two ounces of blueberry juice instead. (The good ones, including the locally sourced brands, are generally available in the health food section of the grocery store. See, cosmos are healthy!)
Shake (or stir, if you must), strain, and pour into a chilled martini glass garnished with a lime wedge or lime leaves. Real men may not have to drink cosmos, but they certainly should be able to make them.
Another classic summer drink that has suffered from over-saturation and rampant misunderstanding is the MOJITO. A proper Mojito takes a lot of handwork, but the result is well worth the effort. Skip the mixes and shortcuts, and go for the whole show. Pick out a good rum — like the ones by Mount Gay (check out their Eclipse, an amber rum), or Cruzan, from St. Croix, available for $10.99 or less.
After the rum comes the fresh mint, and lots of it. Roll up 12 to 15 leaves for each drink until the pile resembles a little cigar. Put the pile in the bottom of a glass (I use a lowball, but some prefer the more elegant highball) with a big wedge of lime and some sugar. And now, the most important part: muddling. Mash everything together with a wooden spoon; I often use the handle. It will make a paste with the sugar and release some of the oil out of the lime rind. Pour in the rum and add ice to the top of the glass. Shake well, and top with club soda. Or go really upscale and use a sparkling wine such as Cristallino, which is a Cava from Spain. Coupled with the amber rum, it will make a truly special drink to celebrate the summer weather, even as it wanes.
Another classic rum drink is the DARK AND STORMY. Traditionalists will insist on Goslings Black Seal Rum and authentic ginger beer; at the other end is Mount Gay and ginger ale. Find the middle with Cruzan’s dark rum, made from Blackstrap molasses, and mix with Stewart’s brand ginger beer.
If you’re unlucky, you’ll find there's nothing like celebrating the “working man” by ... working. But you can bet that after it’s all said and done, one of these cocktails will be well deserved and hit the spot.