Summer cocktails that are pitcher perfect

June 8, 2011 

Summer time and the living can be just that little bit easier with pitcher cocktails.

Whether you're mixing up a batch of margaritas for friends in your backyard or ordering a round of mai tais for the table, pitchers are a quick and easy way to rethink your drink for a crowd.

At Spoonbar in the wine country town of Healdsburg, Calif., bar manager Scott Beattie knew early on that he wanted to serve cocktails by the pitcher. So he ordered a Kold-Draft ice cube machine capable of making big, dense cubes that keep drinks cold without diluting them.

It's also efficient. With the cubes and a really big shaker, "it takes just about as long to make one drink as it does to make five," he points out.

The drinks are shaken, strained and poured into a pitcher ready to go.

"It's been great, people really dig it," says Beattie, author of "Artisanal Cocktails."

Other cocktail enthusiasts also are shaking up pitcher-perfect cocktails.

At Philadelphia's Square 1682 restaurant, one night a week is dedicated to tiki cocktails and with the weather warming up and the patio open they've introduced a new tiki pitcher cocktail: Kama'aina Punch.

The drink blends gin, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, coconut syrup, pineapple juice and black cherry puree and can be given a little extra sparkle with the addition of prosecco.

"Everyone loves a pitcher," says Anna Schneider, general manager. "It's social, fun, basically happy hour in a bowl."

And Young Lee of the Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant and Lounge in Las Vegas makes a refreshing cucumber cooler with vodka, fresh lemon sour, white cranberry juice, simple syrup and cucumber puree.

Customers bellying up to Beattie's bar have an interesting option. They can trade in fruit from their backyards for restaurant credit.

The fruit is juiced and then the juice frozen to be used for a variety of things, including pitcher cocktails.

The program launched in February, with people mostly bringing in citrus, especially Meyer lemons which thrive in Healdsburg. Spoonbar plans to continue the program this summer with a call for plums, peaches, berries, apples and pears.

The program requires some work. Incoming fruit has to be checked and cleaned and you need storage space and a plan for use. Spoonbar brought in two extra freezers which came in handy the week they took in 1,500 pounds of fruit.

Customers get to make use of fruit that otherwise might just fall off the tree; Spoonbar gets a source of fresh, local produce. .

"It's a great way for people to utilize the fruit in a different way and contribute to their local restaurant and get some return for it," says Beattie.

Want to mix up your own jug of good cheer? Try these recipes:

ROOIBUS RELAXER

This red tea is punched up with fruity accents and a bit of rum. Adding the bubbles -- in the form of lemon-lime soda -- to each glass as you serve it allows you to enjoy this pitcher cocktail at your leisure without worrying about the whole batch running losing its fizz.

Start to finish: 30 minutes, plus chilling

Makes: 8 servings

8 bags rooibos tea

3 cups water

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/2 cup pineapple juice

1 cup peach schnapps

1 1/2 cups light rum

Lemon-lime soda, to serve

In a small saucepan over medium, combine the tea and water. Heat until simmering, then remove from the heat and steep for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a serving pitcher combine the pomegranate juice, pineapple juice, peach schnapps and rum. When the tea has steeped, remove the tea bags, squeezing to release any extra tea. Pour the tea into the pitcher and stir. Refrigerate until cold.

To serve, fill tall glasses with ice. Fill the glasses halfway with lemon-lime soda, then top with the tea punch mixture.

MINTED MARGARITA

Two classic summer cocktails -- mojitos and margaritas -- inspired this pitcher cocktail. The zesting of the limes ensures intense lime flavor to contrast the mint. Using a flaked sea salt on the rims of the glasses allows for a more subtle salting than a traditional table or kosher salt.

Start to finish: 10 minutes, plus chilling

Makes: 8 servings

1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1/2 cup water

Zest of 4 limes

3/4 cup freshly squeeze lime juice

2 tablespoons agave nectar

3/4 cup triple sec

2 cups blanco or silver tequila

Sliced limes, to garnish

Flaked sea salt, to serve

In a blender, combine the mint leaves, water, lime zest, lime juice and agave nectar. Blend on high until the mint is very finely chopped. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher. Discard the solids. Stir in the triple sec and tequila, then chill.

To serve, moisten the rim of cocktail glasses with a piece of lime. Dip the rims in the salt. Add ice to the glasses and pour the margaritas. Garnish with slices of lime.

HONEY PEACH SANGRIA

Sangria is a fruit-infused wine punch. Though often made with red wine, this white wine version is a delicious accompaniment to summer grilling. This recipe combines chardonnay with pureed frozen peaches and a touch of ginger liqueur.

Start to finish: 10 minutes, plus chilling

Makes: 8 servings

16-ounce package frozen peaches, thawed

1/4 cup honey

1 cup orange juice

750-milliliter bottle chardonnay, chilled

1 cup Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur

Soda water or seltzer, to serve

Fresh strawberries, for garnish

Fresh mint leaves, for garnish

In a blender, combine the peaches, honey and orange juice. Blend until smooth. Pour into a pitcher, then stir in the chardonnay and ginger liqueur. Chill.

To serve, fill glasses halfway with soda water or seltzer, then top with the sangria and stir gently. Garnish with fresh strawberries and mint leaves.

LEMONADE IN BLOOM

Lemonade and flowers -- two sure signs of summer. So we combined them in this refreshing floral infused lemonade. If chamomile isn't your, er, cup of tea, feel free to substitute another herbal variety.

Start to finish: 20 minutes, plus chilling

Makes: 8 servings

4 cups water

2 cups sugar

4 bags chamomile tea

1/4 teaspoon dried lavender

2 sprigs fresh basil

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup elderflower liqueur

1 cup vodka

1/2 cup gin

Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Add the chamomile tea bags, lavender and basil. Steep for 10 minutes.

Strain the tea mixture through a mesh strainer into a pitcher, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Add the lemon juice, elderflower liqueur, vodka and gin. Chill. Serve over ice garnished with basil.

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