Summer Cocktail: Back Porch Spice

This was the weather yesterday.

Yes, I live in Chicago.

We have “beaches” here, next to Lake Michigan, and there just so happens to be one at the end of my street.  Sometimes the lake looks murky and brown, but sometimes it looks blue as the Caribbean.  Yesterday was one of the latter, and the weather was beyond perfect.

Everyone was out in it.

It was a day for cooking outdoors…

for flying kites…

for building sand castles….

for bringing the hammock to the park…

for buying ice cream from the Monarca lady ringing her bells up and down the path…

and for generally enjoying the gorgeous place we live in.

But not, apparently, good for swimming.  (According to these signs, at least.)

evil fish are there
and evil germs, too

Faced with all this gorgeousness, like any self-respecting person, I decided it was the perfect day for a cocktail.

One of my all-time favorite flavor combinations is lemon and thyme; and it seems to go especially well with summer cocktails.  I am a confirmed Bourbon girl for the most part (as you may have noticed), but on hot, sunny days like this one, nothing quite hits the spot like a well-made gin cocktail.

This is a recipe I devised for a recent event, inspired by two separate cocktails: one, called “Spice“, by Ryan Magarian, and the other called a “Back Porch Swing”, from Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz’s amazing book, “The Art of the Bar“.

The overall effect is indeed like a dry riesling; sweet and tart are both in perfect balance, with enough depth of flavor to beguile, but not overwhelm.  It’s cool and crisp, and exactly what I want to drink when the sky is a blue as a turquoise.

cranberry juice, thyme simple syrup, pear nectar

I love the combination of the thyme simple syrup with the honeyed tones of the pear nectar, both offset with the bright sourness of lemon juice, and the slightest tang and pink hue from the splash of cranberry juice.

shake it so hard that your hands freeze

My gin of choice here is a newcomer to the market, called Broker’s, an inexpensive and mild – but intriguingly spiced – gin.  I did try it with my house favorite, Hendrick’s, but found it a bit too harsh.  Use whatever your favorite mixing gin happens to be.

One caveat for mixing cocktails: proportion is crucial.  When cooking most dishes, one is able to fudge a teaspoon here or there; but in cocktails, if the balance is off by more than a mote, the entire nature of the drink changes.  I have a favorite measuring shot glass, with measurements delineated at 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, and 1 jigger.  When in doubt, use tablespoons, and be precise.

i use this so often

Having said that, if you’re mixing cocktails in batches (which this drink lends itself to quite well), the proportions can be fudged a bit more than if mixing just one or two at a time.  I’m giving directions for each below; use whichever fits your needs best.

A word of warning, however: don’t be surprised if you end up making a large batch of the mixer for yourself, to keep in your fridge for summer cocktail emergencies.

Back Porch Spice

The standard rule for mixing cocktails is that if fruit juice is included, it must be shaken.  So it is written here.

1 part thyme simple syrup (recipe below)
1 part freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 parts pear nectar (such as Looza or Hero brand)
4 parts gin
1 splash cranberry juice
Thyme sprigs for garnish (optional)

1.  In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients.  Add ice, and shake hard until shaker is frosted over.  Strain into a glass.  Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired.

Back Porch Spice For a Crowd

The standard rule for mixing cocktails is that if fruit juice is included, it must be shaken.  So it is written above.  When mixing cocktails for a crowd, however, it is far easier to simply direct guests to stir the mixture over ice.  After one or two, even the most dogmatic won’t mind one bit.

1 cup thyme simple syrup (recipe below)
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (from 4 or 5 lemons)
2 cups pear nectar (such as Looza or Hero brand)
1/4 cup cranberry juice (or just enough to color the mix a lovely shade of pink)
Gin, as needed

1.  In a decorative bottle, combine thyme simple syrup, lemon juice, pear nectar, and cranberry juice.  Shake gently to mix.

2.  Set bottle of mix out next to bottle of gin, with the following instructions:  Combine 1 part mix with 1 part gin, over ice.  Stir well, and enjoy.

Thyme Simple Syrup
Makes about 1 cup

1 cup cold water (filtered, if possible)
3/4 cup (heaped) white granulated sugar
3 to 4 sprigs thyme

1.  In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar.  Over medium-high heat, stir just until sugar is dissolved.  Add thyme, and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

2.  Remove from heat, cover, and let cool at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.  Strain, and refrigerate.  Syrup will keep indefinitely under refrigeration.

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