The Varnish, 2011

I stopped by The Varnish in Downtown Los Angeles late one night, looking for a spot to kick back and enjoy just one more sip that wouldn’t put me over the edge. With nothing specific in mind, I asked general manager Chris Bostick for something “tall and low-proof” and he obliged with a snap of the fingers, producing this stunning, friendly, and balanced delight.

It specifies Gran Clasico, made by Tempus Fugit Spirits up in Novato, north of San Francisco. It’s a bitter liqueur in the style of the great Italian amari like Montenegro and Ramazzotti. Track that down and the rest is probably already on hand: lime, orange, simple syrup, and the bubbles of your choice – seltzer, soda, or mineral water.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Mixers & Liqueurs: Gran Clasico, Simple syrup, Seltzer or tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Orange wedge

HOW TO

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 oz Gran Clasico
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled most of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:

2 oz seltzer, tonic water, or sparkling mineral water

Squeeze in the juice from one orange wedge and stir lightly to blend, then garnish with the orange wedge. Optionally, serve with a straw.

Milan, Italy (1860s)

Situation: you’re gearing up for dinner, but it’s still a ways away. A Negroni sounds great, but in this heat? Not exactly refreshing. You just want a little something to sip on, something tall, something… satisfying. Satisfying without knocking you on your ass, if possible. Americano to the rescue.

Back in the 1860s, Gaspare Campari (yes, that Campari) ran a bar in Milan, the Caffè Campari. Locals enjoyed a late-afternoon cocktail of half-Campari / half-vermouth cut with seltzer they called the “Milano-Torino” (vermouth being from Turin and all). As more and more Americans visited Italy during Prohibition for a break from the squares ruining the party back home, the Milano-Torino became their favorite. So much so, the barkeep at Caffè Campari renamed it the “Americano.” Try it out next time you need a vacation from the heat.

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Barspoon, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Mixers & Liqueurs: Campari, Italian vermouth, Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree), sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino), or seltzer
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange wheel

HOW TO

In a Collins glass filled with cracked ice, add:

1 1/2 oz Campari
1 1/2 oz Italian vermouth

Stir well to blend and chill, then top with:

1 1/2 oz tonic water, sparkling mineral water, or seltzer

Stir lightly to blend and garnish with an orange wheel. Optionally, serve with a straw.

Pimm’s Oyster House, London, England (1840)

The Pimm’s Cup tastes like an iced tea that’s been out mowing the lawn. Earthy, refreshing, and simple to assemble, the Pimm’s Cup is made for sipping outdoors on a warm day. Bonus: its low proof means you won’t get smashed if you want to enjoy a couple. For some unknown (but brilliant) reason, these are popular in New Orleans, not just England.

Pimm’s (a gin-and-botanicals sling) was originally sold in 1840 as a digestive tonic at James Pimm’s Oyster House in London’s financial district. Over time, its popularity grew among the British elite at garden parties and sporting events, then spread around the world along with the Victorian British Empire. Thirsty for something more than the original gin version (renamed “Pimm’s #1” as the new versions appeared), its bottlings grew to Pimm’s #2 (Scotch), Pimm’s #3 (brandy), Pimm’s #4 (rum), Pimm’s #5 (rye), and Pimm’s #6 (vodka). As go empires, most of these have been discontinued, leaving just the original version to hold guard.

Simply combine Pimm’s #1 and some lemon soda over ice and garnish with a lemon wedge and cucumber slice. Yes, cucumber – trust me. It enhances the earthy sweetness in the mix. Lemon soda can be hard to come across – look for Lorina (sweeter) or San Pellegrino (drier) brands. If you’re coming up short, a lemon-flavored mineral water like Perrier will work. As a fallback, some people mix with 7-Up or ginger ale, but these will make the drink much sweeter than intended. A Pimm’s Cup is as close to an RTD (“ready to drink”) as I’ll ever be likely to recommend.

Last time I was in England, pubs were serving these all summer (although tricked out with strawberry and mint along with the traditional lemon and cucumber) so it’s nice to see that (at least in Old Blighty), traditions still endure. Foist one of these on an unsuspecting friend and you just may begin a new tradition in your home.

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Mixers & Liqueurs: Pimm’s #1, Lemon soda (recommended: Lorina Original French Lemonade, San Pellegrino Limonata)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon wedge, Cucumber slice

HOW TO

In a Collins glass filled with cracked ice, add:

2 oz Pimm’s #1
3 oz lemon soda

Stir well to blend and chill, then garnish with a lemon wedge and cucumber slice. Optionally, serve with a straw.