Simple Syrup, Complex Concoctions 

Ten drinks and coolers for a long hot summer.

Some people say hot drinks cool the body more effectively than cold ones: Cooling the digestive system spurs the body to heat it back up, raising one's temperature slightly instead of lowering it. But is half a degree worth forgoing the pleasure of an icy drink on a sweltering afternoon? Here are ten such treats to keep you fresh all summer long. Some you may have made before, but others are welcome additions to the summer beverage canon.

Many of the following recipes call for simple syrup, which takes ten minutes to make and can be kept in the refrigerator for weeks for all kinds of cocktails and coolers. It's a good place to start. Makes one to one and a half cups of syrup:

Two cups sugar

One cup water

Put both ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. As soon as the sugar dissolves completely, remove from the heat and chill.

Nonalcoholic Drinks

1. Sun Tea The essential summer drink of my childhood -- of course, it helped that we had a spearmint patch in the backyard that needed constant trimming. Here's my mother's recipe. Just let the sun do all the work:

Fill a large gallon-size clear glass jar with cold filtered water. Drop in six bags of black tea (Lipton's is fine) and a generous handful of spearmint leaves -- about two-thirds of a bunch of store-bought mint. Cover the jar with a lid or with plastic wrap and a rubber band. Put the tea somewhere it will get direct sun for four hours. Remove the tea bags and leaves, and chill in the refrigerator or over ice. Add sugar to your taste.

2. Yogurt Smoothies Making thick, satisfying, and healthful smoothies is so easy that even your children can do it. All you need to do is keep bags of frozen fruit in the freezer and milk and eight-ounce containers of vanilla or fruit-flavored yogurt in the refrigerator. Here's the proportion to make one sixteen-ounce smoothie:

One eight-ounce container yogurt

One cup frozen fruit

Half cup milk

You can combine strawberry yogurt and strawberries, or vanilla yogurt and blueberries, or peach yogurt and rasp-berries.

3. Ginger Beer Almost every household in the Caribbean has its own recipe for ginger beer. It's often left out on the windowsill to ferment for several days before serving. Here's my friend Christopher's recipe, which needs no fermenting. Makes six cups:

Half cup brown sugar

One cup grated fresh, unpeeled ginger

Six cups water

One vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

Juice of three limes

Put all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and let the beer steep for four to six hours. Taste and add extra brown sugar and lime juice to taste. If the ginger beer is too spicy, add more water. Strain and chill in the fridge. You can drink this over ice as is, or add a splash of good Jamaican dark rum.

4. Watermelon Agua Fresca Anyone who's learned their way around a taqueria in the Bay Area has tasted aguas frescas. Here's the recipe for a simple, refreshing one made with watermelon. Makes six cups:

Three cups strained watermelon pulp

Two to three tablespoons fresh lime juice

Two-thirds cup simple syrup; add more if desired (recipe above)

Three cups water (or sparkling water)

To make the watermelon pulp, cut a ripe watermelon into cubes and purée in a food processor or blender, then strain to remove the seeds. Pour the pulp into a large pitcher and add the remaining ingredients. Stir and taste for sweetness. Serve over ice with a sprig of mint.

5. Soda Lemon This Vietnamese drink is as tart as it is sweet. I rarely fail to order it when I'm out for pho. If you don't enjoy the graininess of regular sugar, use simple syrup (recipe above). Makes one sixteen-ounce soda:

Juice of two lemons

Three heaping tablespoons sugar (or four tablespoons simple syrup)

Soda water

Squeeze the lemons into a tall glass and add the sugar. Top off the glass with ice and soda water. Stir and drink through a straw. For a truly Vietnamese version, drop a salted plum in the soda and let it soften and release its flavor as you sip.

Alcoholic Drinks

6. Mojitos

Mojitos have overtaken daiquiris as the quintessential Cuban drink. This recipe makes a limey, minty, fizzy mojito, perfect for summer days by the barbecue. If you like it a little sweeter, just add a little more simple syrup. Makes one:

Leaves from three to four fresh mint sprigs

Half-ounce simple syrup (recipe above)

Juice of one small lime

Two ounces light rum

Club soda, chilled

In a highball glass or sixteen-ounce tumbler, crush the mint leaves with the end of a wooden spoon for twenty seconds, until they get thoroughly dark and release their smell. (However, don't overcrush, or the drink will become bitter.) Add the syrup, lime juice, and rum, and stir thoroughly. Top off with the club soda and ice cubes.

7. Caipirinhas What the mojito was to 1999 the caipirinha (kye-pee-reen'-ya) is to today -- fresh, bright, and painfully hip. To make a caipirinha, you need cachaça, a Brazilian spirit that's rum's harsher, more fragrant cousin. You can find it at larger liquor stores. Makes one eight-ounce glass:

One lime, cut approximately into eighths

Two tablespoons brown sugar

Two ounces cachaça

Ice cubes

Put the limes pulp side up in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass. Add the sugar, or more to taste, and crush the lime with the bottom of a wooden spoon. Add the cachaça, stir to mix, and toss in a few ice cubes.

8. Strawberry Daiquiri This is what the Canadian sketch-comedy group Kids in the Hall would call a "girl drink," frosty and fruity, but it packs a hell of a wallop. Make it when strawberries are at their peak. Don't omit the grenadine for the sake of convenience -- it amplifies the berry taste. Makes three large daiquiris:

One to one-and-a-half cups roughly chopped strawberries

Three cups ice

Juice of one to one and a half limes

One to one and a half ounces simple syrup (recipe above)

Half-ounce grenadine

Five ounces rum

Put the strawberries, ice cubes, lime juice, syrup, and grenadine into the bowl of a blender. Whirl until the ice is completely crushed and the strawberries are puréed. Add the rum, blend again, and serve.

9. White Sangria Many white sangrias are made with white wine and sugar. Use a sweet white vermouth instead for a deeper, more complex flavor. Substitute any light-fleshed fruit -- pears, honeydew melons, Rainier cherries -- for the apples or grapes, but by all means keep the grapefruit. It gives the sangria a pleasingly bitter finish. Makes about six cups:

One 1-liter bottle Cinzano Bianco or Martini Bianco

One cup pineapple juice or grapefruit juice

Juice of one lemon

Two pink grapefruit, peeled and sectioned

One green apple, sliced

One small bunch white grapes, halved

Combine the vermouth, the juices, and the fruit in a large pitcher and let sit for at least four hours in the refrigerator. Serve over ice.

10. Chinatown Mai Tai The mai tai is one of the few tropical drinks that gives you fair warning it's about to knock you for a loop. Cocktail purists will sneer at this version, but it loosely replicates the many I used to drink at Li Po, the dingy San Francisco Chinatown bar and reputed former opium den. To make it, you need a can of lychees in syrup, which will make five to six drinks. Makes one very potent drink.

One ounce dark rum

One ounce light rum

One ounce Cointreau or triple sec

Three ounces pineapple juice

One ounce lychee syrup

Juice of half a lime

One lychee

Combine all the ingredients in a glass. Add ice, stir, and serve. Take a taxicab home.


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