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Like the adulthood of the mayfly or an X-Factor winner’s career, the British summer is finished almost as soon as it’s begun. As a result, there’s a hilarious national tendency to overreact to the merest hint of warmth by putting on our skimpiest clothing, encasing ourselves in sunblock, barbecuing the entire contents of the freezer and enacting a hosepipe ban. It’s easy to mock, but in a country where sunshine one day is no guarantee there won’t be hailstorms the next, and where complaining is a national sport, it’s rather endearing how every year we tell ourselves this time it’ll work out, that this year we’ll finally have a Proper Summer.
In that spirit of doomed optimism, and in the full knowledge that while this article is being written on a balmy bank holiday weekend, it could well be snowing again by the time this gets published, we present to you ‘The Vada Guide to Summer Drinking’ – tasty libations that’ll improve your mood whatever the weather.
Obviously, one could very pleasurably get through an entire summer – and life in general, come to think of it – drinking nothing but gin and tonic. It may have a reputation for being the tipple of choice for Telegraph readers with stripy lawns, but a well-mixed G&T is a thing of beauty. And even a badly-mixed one made with supermarket own-brand ingredients still hits the spot on a hot day, as long as it’s still chilly and fizzy. (A warm, flat G&T, mind you, is a heartbreaking waste of time and ingredients.)
Pimm’s and lemonade is another classic mixed drink that only really seems appropriate in summer, while if your tastes are a little more rough and ready, lager shandy might be old-fashioned but it does the job. Though for the love of God, mix it yourself – pre-mixed lager/alcopop hybrids like Carling Zest and whatever that lemony Foster’s stuff is called are the devil’s work. If you’re averse to mixed drinks altogether, a good Czech pilsner (think Budvar or Staropramen) or German weissbier (Erdinger, Schneider Weiss) are much nicer than most of the fizzy yellow horsepiss that gets sold under the name of beer, and while purists may react with horror (as purists usually do), serving red or rose wine over ice is popular across the Mediterranean.
But you didn’t read this just so you could hear about basic mixed drinks and my Grumpy Beer Nerd opinions about mass-market lager. When you’ve got a little time to spare for preparation, cocktails are the perfect complement to a lazy sunny afternoon, or alternatively a way to feel better as you look out at the relentless drizzle. With that in mind, here’s six of the best – three easy crowd-pleasers which you can make in bulk at short notice, and three slightly more complex ones to mix for yourself.
Ingredients: 1 part vodka, 2 parts cranberry juice, 3 parts grapefruit juice
Instructions: Stir together and serve in a tumbler over ice.
A tiny bit fancier than a straightforward mix of spirit and one sort of juice (though only barely), a Sea Breeze is fresh, sharp and fruity, its sourness a good counterpart to greasy barbecued food. It’s easy to mix yourself and a doddle to scale up to larger quantities, and easy to modify the ratios according to personal preference – personally, I like it heavy on the grapefruit, but tastes vary.
Variations: If all that citrus is too much, swap out the grapefruit juice for apple to produce the equally refreshing Apple Breeze. Either vodka and cranberry or vodka and grapefruit are classic mixed drinks by themselves; gin and grapefruit makes a Greyhound, or if you salt the rim of the glass, a Salty Dog.
Sex on the Beach
Ingredients: 2 parts vodka, 1 part peach schnapps, 2 parts orange juice, 2 parts cranberry juice.
Instructions: Stir together and serve in a tumbler over ice.
Like playing frisbee or going all day without wearing socks, drinking a Sex on the Beach seems to only feel right during the summer, and mixing it yourself saves you the awkwardness of having to order one from a bar. It’s a little stronger and a little sweeter than a Sea Breeze, but just as simple to mix.
Variations: Take out the orange juice and you’ve got a Woo Woo. If you feel the mix needs to be stronger and sweeter still, or you like the idea of a drink that tastes like Fruit Salad sweets, a shot of Amaretto is a common addition.
Ingredients: 1 part white rum, 1 part sweetened cream of coconut, 3 parts pineapple juice.
Instructions: Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker or blender, add ice and shake or blend until smooth. Garnish with fresh pineapple and drink while wearing Wayfarers and a white jacket with rolled-up sleeves.
It’s a little more work than the previous two, but wielding a cocktail shaker makes you look like you’re really putting in an effort, and nothing says summer quite like the combo of rum and tropical fruit. Plus drinking it will instantly make you feel like you’re in a fabulous 80s melodrama and that at any minute Joan Collins will turn up and push someone into a swimming pool.
One thing to be aware of – ‘sweetened cream of coconut’ is not the same thing as the ‘coconut cream’ you find in the international food aisle at supermarkets. You’re more likely to find it with the other cocktail mixers or possibly even in the baking section.
Variations: If the hunt for sweetened cream of coconut proves fruitless, a Belizean Pina Colada substitutes condensed milk, whereas a Staten Island Ferry mixes the pineapple juice with Malibu to produce the same taste but minus the creamy texture. If rum’s not your thing, then vodka, Kahlua and Amaretto are all interesting alternatives (though I wouldn’t recommend using all three at once).
Ingredients: 4 parts white rum, 3 parts lime juice, 6 mint leaves, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and soda water.
Instructions: Put the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice in a tall glass and lightly crush together. Add ice cubes, pour over rum, fill to the top with soda water. Garnish with mint and/or a slice of lime.
Both sweet and sharp, refreshing and potent, a Mojito has a bright, clean taste that’s an excellent accompaniment both to food and to lazing around in a hammock all day. You can buy a special bartending device called a ‘muddler’ to do the crushing, but given that it’s essentially a fancy stick, the non-spoony end of a wooden spoon will do just as well.
Variations: The simplicity of the recipe means it goes nicely with flavoured rums or vodkas – or alternatively, the alcohol can be left out altogether for a sophisticated soft drink. If you’re feeling more adventurous, use spiced rum and brown sugar for a Dirty Mojito.
Ingredients: 35ml white rum, 4 fresh strawberries (hulled and roughly chopped), 20ml fresh lemon or lime juice, 2 tsp white sugar, dash of strawberry liqueur.
Instructions: Put all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Crush lightly with a muddler/stick/end of a rolling pin or whatever, shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Alternatively, put in a blender with a generous handful of ice and pour into a tumbler.
Tasty, fruity, and if you drink enough of it, technically one of your five a day. You can leave out the liqueur if you’d rather not make the investment in something so specific, although it does improve the drink no end (and you could always use what’s left over for making desserts).
Variations: Other fruit daiquiris follow the same basic combo of rum, sugar, lime, some fruit and a complementary liqueur to boost it – raspberries and bananas are particularly good. Alternatively, a plain daiquiri leaves the fruit out altogether.
Ingredients: Light beer, tomato juice, lime juice, a dash of the savoury/salty sauce of your choice – Worcestershire, Tabasco, soy sauce and Maggi seasoning are all popular choices.
Instructions: Wet the rim of a large glass with a wedge of lime and dip in salt. Squeeze rest of lime into glass. Put in a few ice cubes, add dash of sauce and a couple of generous shots of tomato juice. Top up with beer.
The idea of a beery Bloody Mary might sound strange, but the Michelada’s a very popular drink in Mexico, where you’d think they know a thing or two about drinking in hot weather. Spicy yet cooling, both savoury and sweet, it goes particularly well with barbecues and summer salads, and makes you look infinitely cooler than drinking a bottle of Corona with a wedge of lime in the top.
Variations: It’s open to all kinds of experimentation in terms of which beer you use and which sauce you find gives it the best kick. One common variant is to use Clamato, which is apparently a combination of tomato juice and clam juice (stop laughing, ‘clam juice’ is a real thing) you can buy in cans in North and Central America, but that might be a step too far.
So now you’re informed, why make do with bad booze? Whatever the weather, we guarantee these drinks’ll make your summer one to remember! (Not a guarantee. Vada reminds you all to drink responsibly. The author accepts no liability for drunken mishaps, cocktail-shaker-induced repetitive strain injury, or the inability of alcohol to overcome an all-consuming sense of ennui.)