Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, the season for warm-weather drinking is officially upon us. For most people, this means spending the next three to four months slurping on white wine, clear cocktails, and light beers.
So let me start by saying this right up front: The next time I see an otherwise respectable grown man at a bar in the city pulling from a bottle of Corona Light, his wedge of lime bouncing sadly up and down, I’ll have to say something mocking. Or at the very least sarcastic.
This, then, is an intervention of sorts: Stop the madness! You don’t have to drink poorly just because it’s sticky outside!
The key to successful warm-weather imbibing comes down to two factors above all else: Balance and serving temperature. In the winter, a high-octane cocktail whose defining characteristic is its booze is just fine. Those frigid nights call for something a bit more warming. But this time of year, opt for a tipple a touch more tame.
There’s actually a precedent for this, and one that we all would do well to consider. A great cocktail is more than just a means to consume the focal-point alcohol. A “very dry” martini–hold the vermouth, please–is nothing but a frigid serving of vodka or gin with a garnish. It may be served in a martini glass, but Sinatra and Don Draper wouldn’t consider it a proper cocktail. So use the heat of the season as an excuse to explore the classic proportions: More vermouth–or other non-spirit-y component–will not just change the character of the drink (often for the better), but it will also cut down the alcohol a bit, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy two of them without ending up unconscious in Rittenhouse Square afterward.
You can also focus on wine-based concoctions, which are a great alternative to spirits-based ones. A classic champagne cocktail is always a treat this time of year, as is a smart sangria. Once peach season rolls around, I tend to drink far too many bellinis.(As with all of these, fresh fruit juices or purees are a must, and you should never resort to those store-bought mixes. Try to avoid restaurants and bars that do, too.)
When it comes to wine, especially red, temperature is key. There’s no shame in submerging your bottle of red in an ice bath for a few minutes. It’ll not only freshen up its fruit and spice notes, but the wine will feel lighter on your tongue, less oppressive in the heat. And don’t be afraid to branch out to uncharted territory and taste wines you haven’t before: Dense, fruit-rich California red zinfandel is always a great bet at a rib-centered barbecue, but so are the dry red wines of Portugal’s Douro Valley. And if you can find it locally, an expressive, gulpable Israeli syrah will surprise and charm you. For something a bit lighter, ask for spicy zweigelt from Austria and Beaujolais Cru from France. Look for bottles labeled Julienas, Moulin-a-Vent, Chiroubles, and Morgon for an unexpected treat. If you’ve only ever had insipid Beaujolais Nouveau before, you’re in for a surprise. And a really big treat.
As far as beer, you can’t go wrong with saison, as we wrote about a few weeks ago, or a clean-tasting kolsch, which is gracing area menus more than ever before. But don’t discount other brews, both the exotic and the familiar: A lambic is gorgeous on a sunny afternoon, and there are some spectacular local pilsners available these days. The choices are limitless. I’d just shy away from the high-octane bottlings that seemed to have hit their peak a few years ago. Who really wants a hangover halfway through your second bottle?
And for the love of all that is good and sacred in this world, don’t exclusively drink a Corona Light or other “light” beer. Go crazy: pop the cap off a regular one; you won’t look like Sherman Klump tomorrow just because you did. Or even better, take a pass on the overly familiar and opt instead for a Sol or a Pacifico. Or a Troegs. Or a Philadelphia Brewing Co. The price isn’t all that different, they’re perfect for lazy spring and summer weekends, and a little bit of change often does your soul–and tastebuds and liver–some good.
WHERE TO FIND THEM