DRINK } Katie Nelson's Summertime Sips

cocktail correspondent

Katie Nelson, the lovely and gracious head bartender of the Columbia Room, offers three imbibing options perfect for a variety of summertime scenarios — a delicious and easy-to-make cocktail for entertaining a few friends, a lightly boozy punch perfect for parties, and a non-alcoholic sipper for those who prefer the taste without the buzz.

This week, Nelson heads to New Orleans for the annual Tales of the Cocktail, where she and the Columbia Room team are contenders for the title of Best American Cocktail Bar. Best of luck, Katie and crew!

Cocktail with Friends

Katie says: “There's nothing better during the summer than to have a couple friends over for a drink or two (or three, who's counting?). Caipirinhas, the national drink of Brazil, are super refreshing and easy to tailor to particular taste, so why not capitalize on the bounty of summer fruit? Keep a container of cracked ice on the table with a scoop, along with enough single serving shakers and muddlers to go around, a bottle of cachaça, a carafe of simple syrup, a bowl of quartered limes, and a selection of your favorite "smush-able" fruits (I like mango, blueberry, raspberry, peach, pineapple, or a combination of two). Each person can shake their cocktail to order and design the drink exactly to his or her taste.”

Katie muddles fresh fruit into her caipirinha.
photos by Ashlie Hughes

serves 1

2 ounces cachaça (Katie suggests Leblon)
1 ounce simple syrup (make your own by mixing equal parts boiling water and sugar, stir to dissolve, let cool)
Half a lime, quartered
3 - 4 pieces additional fruit of your choice (optional)

Fill your drinking glass with cracked ice. Add lime quarters, fruit (if using) and simple syrup to your shaker, muddle, add cachaça, then fill with ice from your glass, cap the shaker and shake vigorously. Uncap shaker, pour all contents back into your glass, voilà.

Punch for a Party
Katie says, “My southern side smiles when I sip an icy glass of sweet tea, and this lightly boozy rendition will be sure to please a group. The Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry gives a rich flavor of raisin and date, which complements the sharp tannic aspect of black tea. Serve this delicious iced tea on a hot day for a picnic or a backyard barbecue. When many friends are there, better have a couple pitchers prepared so all that needs refilling is the ice bucket and your glass.”

Sherry gives Southern sweet tea a new party purpose.

PX-sweetened Iced Tea 
serves 20

3 quarts strong black tea
1 750 ml bottle PX sherry
1 1/2 cups fresh-squeezed orange juice (if desired)
Blackberries, orange peel, mint, to garnish

Combine liquid ingredients, chill or serve immediately over lots of ice. Garnish each glass with a blackberry, sprig of mint, and orange peel.

Summertime Alcohol-Free Option
Katie says: “I like to have a few shrubs on hand during the summer for an invigorating, non-boozy pick-me-up. Making shrubs goes back to colonial times and is a handy way to keep the flavors of spring and summer fruits accessible all through the year - some of my favorite choices for shrub recipes are strawberry, peach-ginger, and celery-fennel. Bonus: they don't need to be refrigerated if kept in a cool, dark spot. To mix your drink, add about 2 ounces shrub to a tall glass with ice, top with sparkling water or ginger ale, and plunge in a metal spoon-straw to stir/sip - tastes better than lemonade, and works as a helpful tonic for hangovers (though in that case, I might also add a slug of the ‘hair of the dog’).”

Basic Shrub
4 1/2 cups chopped fruit
1 cup vinegar of your choice (Katie likes balsamic for strawberries, rice or champagne vinegar for peach or celery and fennel)
1 cup or more of sugar, to taste

Heat chopped fruit with vinegar in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Once fruit has started to soften, remove from heat and pass fruit and vinegar through a blender or food processor. Return to saucepan, resume heating over medium low heat, add sugar and blend until dissolved. Taste to adjust sweetness level, may need more sugar. Turn off heat, let cool, cover, then let shrub sit in a cool place at the very least overnight, but preferably one week or more. The longer it sits, the more mellow it will be.

Ashlie Hughes is pursuing her longtime dream of writing about food and travel. During her free time she enjoys trying new restaurants, searching for the perfect cocktail, and daydreaming about traveling the world. She writes a column titled The Aperitif and other articles for Patch.com.