The last lazy, hazy, boozy days of summer
By BRAD BESKIN
Summer is in full effect down here in Austin, Texas. It’s HOT, folks. I mean air you can wear, four showers a day H-O-T. Still, I love summer. BBQ, sunroof, pool time, and, of course, summer cocktails. We’ve turned summer porch sitting and cocktail sipping into a varsity sport down here (mostly because it’s too hot to do much else).
But, alas, the heat has wreaked havoc on one of my favorite ingredients. My poor mint is in really rough shape. To be honest, it was pretty much decimated after Derby Day. BUT the point is that I’m now stuck buying two sprigs per pack from the store for $5.99. No, thank you! So I’ve turned to a trusty second who loves the heat and packs a flavorful punch. In this, I’ve reworked for you some of my favorite summer cocktails with basil.
First: about the ingredient. There are several species and subsequent varieties of basil. The two we’ll use, sweet basil and Thai basil, are part of the same species of plant. Sweet basil is what you’re used to in Italian food; you know what it tastes like. Thai basil has a sharper, less sweet, and almost sour flavor with anise notes. The point here is that you should taste them, learn what you like, and use them. Then go and find the others, like lemon, cinnamon, and holy basil, to see what those do. What follows are recommendations, so let your palate be your guide.
Sweet Basil Negroni
1 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Campari
4 – 5 Sweet Basil Leaves
I love the way the bite of Campari and the balance of vermouth combine in this classic. The rework here is easy: just add basil (and it works for many other simple classics). Smash the basil leaves between your hands once, then drop them into your mixing glass. Add the remaining ingredients, fill with ice, and stir for ~30 revolutions. Double strain (to keep the basil bits out) into a chilled glass, garnish, and head to the porch. Some folks like to add a little soda to the top of this one for some pep.
2 oz Gin or Vodka
Half oz Lime
1 oz Tamarind Juice
1 tbsp Thai Tea Leaves
A healthy handful of Thai Basil
Let’s up our game a little with this one, whose flavors all work deliciously with our star ingredient. The tamarind adds some complexity to the flavor, and the tasty tealeaves create a beautiful orange color. Combine your ingredients (but NOT the Prosecco) in a shaker with ice and shake heavily for 10 – 20 seconds. Double strain into a chilled glass, top with Prosecco, garnish, and return to your pool float.
Thai Basil Blackberry Julep
3 oz Bourbon
1 oz Basil Blackberry Syrup
No mint? No Problem! No one said the julep was the exclusive domain of one herb.
For syrup: puree four cups of blackberries in your food processor. Check the volume, then bring it to a simmer on the stovetop in a shallow pan. Add equal volume of turbinada, stirring constantly until dissolved. Remove from heat, add basil, and stir. Cool mixture, then strain it thoroughly through fine mesh and cheese cloth. This will keep in the fridge for a few days.
For your cocktail: Combine bourbon and syrup over crushed ice. Top with more ice, garnish, and sip blissfully. You’ll probably need a straw…or a napkin.