Berkshire bartenders offer tips on creating summertime mixed drinks


There's a lot of fun in the summer sun to be had with pitchers, and we're not talking about baseball.

Whether you're in the mood for an adult beverage or a mocktail, there may be nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than pouring a cool, colorful libation into a tall glass of clinking ice cubes.

And in this season of whimsy and beautiful garden produce, you might, perhaps, choose to garnish it with freshly sliced fruit, an herbal sprig or, for fun, a mini paper umbrella and a swizzle stick.

Some Berkshire bartenders who sling drinks at popular cocktail spots say "yes" to all of the above when it comes to sipping summer spirits.

"This time of year, people tend to look for something lighter, refreshing and citrusy," said Jordon Uselton, the new bar manager at Firefly New American Bistro in Lenox.

The 31-year-old Nashville native moved here a few months ago via New York City, and has learned to balance the trends while pleasing the local palate.

Uselton said ingredients like agave nectar, jalapeño and infusions have become popular crossover trends among his patrons. One of the summer's popular cocktails at his bar is the "Firefly Ice Pick," a house-made recipe of vodka infused with fresh strawberries and garden mint swirled with freshly brewed iced tea.

"People who come here like local, fresh, they like to support the Berkshires. Whether it's a local beer or something made with a local ingredient, they'll at least taste one," Uselton said.

Amy Mendes, agrees. The 26-year-old Hancock native works at Mezze Bistro + Bar in Williamstown, which has a seasonal, farm-to-table focus.

She collaborates and has trained with veteran bartender Walter Zamora of Allium, Mezze's sister restaurant and bar in Great Barrington. Mezze Restaurant Group proprietor Nancy Thomas said both Mendes, Zamora and other staff members have been working to batch and feature drinks using local ingredients.

"The first emphasis on our cocktails is that we always use fresh juice," said Mendes, who makes another drink, an "Amaro Sour," with honey from Lakeview Orchard in Lanesborough.

"People come here for that. The idea is why should the cocktails be any different than their food," Mendes said.

Thomas said "shrubs" are another popular style of drink to swing this summer.

"[It's] fruit, like local blueberries, cooked into a simple syrup with a bit of cider vinegar. The drinks are really refreshing topped with seltzer. You can add a spirit to the mix and have a fizz," Thomas said.

Both Mendes and Uselton said most of their single-serve cocktail recipes can be multiplied in batches, with the exception of drinks that call for freshly muddled fruits or egg whites. Here they each offer one from their respective repertoires:

Jordan's Rosé Sangria

"I love rosé. It's dry and the dryness of the wine goes nicely with the fruit. Just remember, since you're mixing it with other flavors you don't want to go out and get the most expensive bottle of wine," Uselton said.

One bottle of rosé (750 ml), chilled

1 4 cup (60 ml) Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or Cointreau

1 cup of chopped pineapple

A pint each of fresh raspberries and blackberries

A splash of brandy

A splash of leftover pineapple juice (optional)

Pour the rosé, Triple Sec and brandy into a clear serving pitcher, with a mouth large enough that you can scoop out the fruit. Stir in the fruit. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to serve, stir and add a splash of juice or sparkling water to taste, depending on desired strength. Garnish with extra fruit.


Amy's Negroni Bar

Her basic tendencies when serving summer drinks are to use classic, clear liquors that can be served in a tall glass with a splash of club soda.

"It should be fun, light, bright and shouldn't look or feel too heavy when you drink it," Mendes said. This concept thinks outside of the pitcher to serve a group.

A bottle each of gin, rye and a sparkling white wine (like Cava or Prosecco)

A bottle of Campari (an Italian liqueur)

A bottle of sweet vermouth

Ice to fill glasses

Orange peel twists or slices to garnish (optional)

Set up a bar area with all the bottles, glasses, stirrers, straws and a bucket of ice.

Each cocktail gets one part Campari and one part sweet vermouth over ice. Then you add a third liquor or the sparkling wine to get the following:

Add one part gin; get a classic Negroni

Add one part rye; get a Boulevardier

Add one part sparkling white; get a Negroni Sbagliato (translates to "messed up" or "mistaken")

Stir and enjoy.


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