Drinks are transformed by homemade syrups, fresh fruits and herbs. Here are recipes for two such libations: Peach Smash and Watermelon Tarragon Margarita.

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“Summer afternoon . . . those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” – Henry James

 

SUMMER AFTERNOONS and evenings deserve beautiful drinks. Not just a cold refreshment, but a concoction that captures the essence of summer with vibrant colors, textures and smells. And, of course, a killer combination of flavors. The best drink is like a summer garden: fragrant, lush and dizzyingly wild. To step up the cocktail game this season, all you need are fresh ingredients and a wee bit of advance preparation.

Drinks are transformed by homemade syrups, fresh fruits and herbs. It takes just a few minutes to juice citrus, make a syrup or macerate herbs. These simple steps are what put the “craft” in craft cocktails. As with cooking, use the freshest, ripest ingredients possible.

I like to have a couple of seasonal syrups on hand to use for cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages. It takes about three minutes to make a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water. From there add a favorite herb or flower like basil, mint or lavender. There’s a garden full of possibilities. After the syrup steeps, just strain it and put it in a bottle. Syrups can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks, if you don’t use them before then.

Try different syrups with different spirits and fruits. Here are two recipes that embody summer, full of fruit and flavor. They both call for a homemade syrup that can be made in advance. The Peach Smash is a riff on the traditional southern drink made with whiskey or bourbon. For a lighter version, I chose gin and added a splash of sparkling water. The other recipe marries tequila and watermelon in a midsummer margarita laced with tarragon.

Both of these can be made by the pitcher or by the glass. When serving, fill glasses to the top with ice, then pour the drink and garnish with herbs or fruit. Quintessential summer afternoon.

Watermelon Tarragon Margarita

1½ ounces silver or blanco tequila

1½ ounces fresh watermelon juice (purée seedless watermelon in a blender and strain)

1 ounce tarragon-lime syrup

½ ounce fresh lime juice

Orange bitters

Lime wedge and/or tarragon sprig for garnish

1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and stir with ice.

2. Fill glass with ice. Strain margarita into glass and garnish.

Tarragon-Lime Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Juice of one lime

Zest of one lime

½ cup fresh tarragon leaves, loosely packed

1. Put sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve, then remove pan from heat.

2. Add lime juice, zest and tarragon. Stir, allow to cool.

3. Strain into bottle and store in refrigerator.

Peach Smash

½ fresh peach, sliced (with or without the skin)

½ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ ounce basil-mint syrup

1½ ounces Aviation gin

1 ounce Lillet

Splash of club soda

Basil sprig for garnish

1. Muddle peach slices with lemon juice and syrup.

2. Add gin and Lillet. Stir with ice.

3. Pour into a glass with splash of soda and garnish.

Basil-Mint Syrup

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup water

½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn into large pieces and tightly packed

½ cup fresh mint leaves, packed

1. Put sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve, then remove pan from heat.

2. Add herbs. Stir, allow to cool.

3. Strain into a bottle and store in the refrigerator.