As much as I’d love to support local restaurants by ordering a massive takeout happy hour spread and gallons of to-go cocktails every week, I have to remember that we’re on a budget – me and the magazine. I know we’re not the only ones watching our spending right now, what with the global pandemic and economic depression and all. But you didn’t click on this to be reminded of all that sadness, you clicked on it for a boozy escape!
I began the quarantine with a deep dive into wine and sangria, then transitioned to an exploration of tiki drinks. Delicious routes, both, but a bit pricey. I typically spend between $12-$30 on a bottle of wine from my go-to local wine shop, Arcadia Premium, which adds up if you’re knocking back a few a week. And tiki drinks often call for multiple types of rum, other liqueurs, fresh juices and accoutrements like orgeat and bitters. I’ll still mix up a Monday-night Mai Tai to delude myself into a vacation mindset for a few fleeting hours, but I’m pumping the brakes a bit on turning my kitchen into the Tiki Room after realizing how much I’ve spent on rum since March.
I have turned to another favorite spirit, gin, for budget-friendly cocktails that are easy, pack a punch and provide cooling refreshment in this infernal heat. (Are we just not getting a monsoon this year? Is that what’s happening? Really, 2020? This, too?) One of many wonderful things about gin is that it has so much flavor on its own – my beloved juniper, of course, but also other aromatics that vary from brand to brand – that you don’t have to do much to it to create a delightful drink. You can go the gin and tonic route with a squeeze of lime (and I do), but with just a few other ingredients you likely already have on hand or a technique twist, you can make bright, herbal concoctions that feel just a little more special. Here are two I’ve been sipping lately.
4-6 fresh basil leaves
1-2 oz. gin, depending on how strong you want your drink to be – I use Scottsdale’s Blue Clover Distillery gin because I love its balanced botanical mix
1 Meyer lemon or citrus of your choice – this would be great with regular lemon, lime, grapefruit, blood orange, etc.
Put the basil leaves and a handful of ice in a rocks glass or tumbler. Stir around with a drink stirrer, spoon or swizzle stick so that the basil gets a little bruised and mashed and the glass smells herbaceous.
Pour in gin. Squeeze in Meyer lemon juice to taste. I’ve had tiny Meyer lemons from a friend’s tree, so I squeeze the whole thing in. If you have a large one, start with juicing ¼ of it and keep adding more if you want more citrus flavor.
Squeeze in a little agave nectar – again, to taste. Add more if you like it super sweet, do barely any if you don’t like sugary drinks. Agave has become my hack for simple syrup. It’s just as pourable, but it is shelf-stable, lasts longer and can be used for more things than simple syrup. Stir to combine thoroughly.
Top with a splash of sparkling water and garnish with more citrus (or just plop in the citrus you juiced, which is what I do) and basil leaves.
Frozen Gin Fizz
I basically follow this recipe that Leite’s Culinaria adapted from the book Slushed! by Jessie Cross, again substituting a squeeze of agave nectar for the sugar. I use Tempe-based CaskWerks Distilling Co.’s gin because it is so bright and fresh.
This cocktail is great for those who like strong, dry and refreshing drinks, but don’t want to miss out on the fun of slushy cocktails, which are typically saccharine. Consume this with caution and be sure to drink a lot of water if you’re enjoying it in the sun because it is quite strong.
Pro tip: Sip your drinks with metal straws. They’re obviously a better environmental choice than plastic, but they also seem to cool your cocktail even more when it rushes through the cold metal tube to your mouth.