Some say that the perfect summer drink is a cold beer. Others prefer drinks with rum or gin, or the trendier Latino liquors tequila and pisco. In the 1930s and 1940s, the majority of the summer cocktails contained gin. The Silver Fizz, a classic 1940 gin cocktail with egg white, is making its way back to summer bar lists. Gin and Tonic, a popular summer wedding reception choice, was first made popular by the British living in tropical environments, since tonic contained the antimalarial drug quinine, now only found in minute quantities in corporate tonics.
But summer drinks are more than just two-note variety highballs or umbrellaed sugary beach drinks. Around town, some bartenders are using herbs and local liquors to put a creative spin on the classics or creating altogether new cocktails for the impending dog days ahead. Here's a current roundup:
The patio at Vivace (1100 Metropolitan Ave.) overlooks the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and is a popular stop for a Mojito Italiano ($8). This is not the traditional white rum mojito, but rather a highball with lime-infused grain, simple syrup, fresh mint and club soda. If you bring your dog, a communal water bowl is offered, too.
Also in The Metropolitan is Pisces Sushi Bar & Lounge (1100 Metropolitan Ave.), which offers the delicious Cucumber Fizz ($12). This summer standout has Hendrick's gin as a base with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, fresh cucumbers, lemon and club soda.
Brazilians have summer drinks covered with their national drink Caipirinha (if you don't speak Portuguese, that's ky/pee/REE/nyah). This cocktail has a base of Cachaça, a distilled alcohol made from fermented sugarcane. Amor de Brazil Steakhouse (2225 Matthews Township Parkway, Matthews) offers several Caipirinhas, including one infused with passion fruit, mint and fresh oranges ($7.95).
Over at Heist Brewery (2909 N. Davidson St.), bar manager Stefan Huebner created a cocktail with the right touch of drama to offset the pink. His Ol' #17 ($9) is a refreshing highball with Hendrick's gin, house-made sour mix, lemon soda, strawberry puree and garnished with a spring of rosemary.
Mixologist Maggie Ruppert at Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth (500 S. College St.) changes her cocktail list regularly. New for the warmer weather is the multilayered Pickled Up in Blue ($12), with American Harvest Organic spirit, blueberry mustard, pickled N.C. blueberry gastrique (a reduction), artisanal tonic and cardamom. Also on the list is the Pink Heelsplitter ($11), actually a deep pink-red color, with Muddy River rum (from Belmont), beet and chard syrup, fresh egg whites, lemon and lime, tarragon and rhubarb bitters.
If you are a fan of hop-forward West Coast-styled IPAs, bitter has a place in your world. Over in the heart of Plaza Midwood, you will find a twist on the traditional bitter Negroni. Andy Maurer at Soul Gastrolounge (1500 Central Ave.) created the Strange Negroni ($12) made with gin and Aperol (an herbaceous Italian aperitif) and white Lillet rather than the biting Italian Campari. This gorgeous orange drink is a perfect summer sip on Soul's second story balcony.
Nearby at The Peculiar Rabbit (1212 Pecan Ave.), bartenders Adam Cottrell and Dave Forbus have it going on with their new cocktail creations. First up is their spin on the traditional margarita. The Red Rider Rita ($9) uses blood orange, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and AviÓn tequila with salted lime foam and a lime wheel. Visually, their new Bloody Mary ($12, coming soon for summer) is hard to beat with its stack of pimento-stuffed celery stick, truffle oil deviled egg, steamed shrimp, smoked mussel and pickled okra — an appetizer on a stick. The cocktail has tomato juice, bacon (actual bacon), horseradish, pickle juice, Dijon and some Sriracha to kick up the heat.
While these drinks are on menus now, more will come as summer unfolds. Many bartenders plan to add the trendy Pisco Sour to their summer list, since four brands of Pisco will soon be available from the ABC. Also, look for cocktails like the Manhattan to have a dash or two of Fernet-Branca (also new to the ABC) rather than Angostura bitters.
Not all summer drinks need to be frozen or fruity, although the three-rum pineapple Zombie — named for the effects on the drinker, not the apocalypse — is fun. A balance of sweet and tart, even bitter, is revitalizing on the hottest of summer days.
More Drinking Summer Fun
Annual Memorial Day Weekend Bar Crawl Dynasty 5, King Ent, RoundTable Ent., and Sol Kitchen present this bar crawl with music by DJ Ngenius, DJ 360, and DJ Paradime. The crawl includes stops at Phoenix (6 p.m.-8 p.m.), Cosmos (8 p.m.-10 p.m.) and RE:Public (10 p.m.-2 a.m.). For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.barcrawl2013.eventbrite.com. $10 and up. May 25, 6 p.m.-2 a.m. District 300, 300 N. College St.
Micro Brews Cruise U.S. National Whitewater Center's Micro Brews Cruise series features a guided flatwater kayaking trip across the Catawba River to Hawk Island, where a dinner and beer tasting (a different brewery each week) follows. $55. May 29, 6 p.m. U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway. 704-391-3900. www.usnwc.org.
Charlotte Brewers Festival The festival will feature beers on tap from eight local breweries, including Birdsong Brewing Company, Four Friends Brewing, Heist Brewery, Hops Grill & Brewery, NoDa Brewing Company, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Rock Bottom Brewery and Triple C Brewing Co. Ticket fee covers entrance into the festival plus one 12-ounce beer and six 3-ounce samples. Additional tickets can be purchased for more samples. Food can be purchased separately from some of the breweries, as well as food trucks. Live music from Pocket Full of Strange at 1:30 p.m., and at 5 p.m. Josh Daniel and Friends, Ancient Cities and The New Familiars will take over. $15-$25. June 1, 1 p.m. Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, 215 Southside Drive. For more information, visit www.charlottebrewersfestival.com.
EpiCentre Charlotte Beer Festival The festival will feature more than 50 craft beers and live music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.charlottebeerfestival.eventbrite.com. June 1, 2 p.m.-7 p.m. Pavilion at EpiCentre, 210 E. Trade St.
Super Hero Bar Crawl A bar crawl in which participants dress as their favorite super heroes and super villains. $15. June 8, 5 p.m. Crawl begins at Fitzgerald's Irish Pub, 201 E. 5th St. For more information, call Carolina Nightlife at 704-516-2674.
Brew Stash Bash U.S. National Whitewater Center's craft beer festival. In addition to craft beer tastings, the event will include live music and a Brew Dash 6K that winds through the center's trail system. For $5, you can purchase a craft beer card that gets you four beer samples per card (non-samplers can enter for free and listen to the bands). The Brew Dash is $27. Brew Dash begins at 11 a.m., beer tastings from 1 p.m.-6 p.m.; live music throughout the day (Railroad Earth goes on at 8 p.m.). June 15. U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway. 704-391-3900. www.usnwc.org.