With a successful Memorial Day weekend now under our belts (along with untold quantities of pulled pork and potato salad), the summer entertaining season is officially open. To best prepare for everything from weekend barbecues to warm, quiet evenings on the deck, it's helpful to lay in a stock of summery spirits so no glass need ever go empty. Here are a few things I make sure to keep on hand for summer entertaining.
At home in any number of fizzy, refreshing drinks, gin is perhaps the perfect summer spirit. Classic drinks of the season include such venerables as the Tom Collins, the Gin Rickey and of course, the Gin and Tonic, along with a number of cooling relatives.
There's no shortage of styles of gin on the market with which you can mix these drinks, but for tall, citrusy drinks such as these, delicate, floral gins lose all their lovely nuances. Instead, I prefer a classic London dry-style gin, which has enough of a juniper backbone to maintain its flavor and give some strength of character to the drink. Tanqueray is excellent in such drinks, as is another classic London dry, Beefeater—or, if you prefer a gin that's a bit more newfangled but that still retains this classic style, Beefeater 24 is made with a botanical mix that includes tea and grapefruit, and mixes brilliantly in citrus-forward drinks.
For some reason, Margaritas taste especially good while nursing a light sunburn, but that's not the only reason to break into the tequila during the summer. The Paloma and the fruity Paloma Brava are fantastic for backyard get-togethers—the cookout I attended on Sunday is proof of that—and the spirit also features in other summer coolers such as the Diablo.
Have a good blanco tequila on hand for Margaritas, as they'll give the drink more of a peppery bite—Don Julio and 7 Leguas are favorites around my house. For Palomas and other drinks that benefit from a little more richness, a good reposado such as those from Partida or Espolon work well.
Experts have already weighed in on good rums to have on hand for assorted drinks, but a couple of points bear repeating: Flor de Cana 4-year-old white rum has a nice touch of richness that can give a daiquiri a little more character; Cruzan, from St. Croix, has a white rum that has a touch of creamy richness while still being bright enough for these summery drinks; and for a white rum with a really unique and engaging flavor, Banks Five Island is spectacular.
Another favorite summer drink of mine is dead simple: rum and coconut water; for this, you'll want an aged rum with a little (but not a lot) of gravitas to it - Mount Gay Extra Old, Matusalem Gran Reserva and Appleton Estate 12-year-old are all great choices, as is an aged rhum agricole such as Rhum JM VSOP. And finally for a Dark & Stormy—that long-sipping mixture of dark rum, lime and ginger beer - you'll need something heavy and robust; Gosling's Black Seal is the classic choice, but the drink is also quite nice with rich rums such as Zacapa or Zaya.
Yes, vodka. I'm generally more of a gin and rum kind of guy, but occasionally during the summer I'll make one exception: the Moscow Mule, a refreshing mix of vodka, ginger beer, and fresh lime.
Of course, almost any gathering is sure to have guests who prefer a vodka and tonic or vodka and soda, so it's worthwhile to have a decent bottle or two on hand. Russian Standard is a clean, lean vodka in the classic Eastern European mold; for something with a creamier texture and a richer body, along with a soft buttery, nutty flavor (yes, flavor in a vodka!), Karlsson's Gold is a good choice.
While brown booze is more closely associated with the cold months, a scorching afternoon can be rendered more tolerable with the careful application of a well-made Mint Julep or its close cousin, the Whiskey Smash.
For drinks like these, I prefer the softer, more mellow character found in wheated bourbons: Maker's Mark is the easiest to find and has the benefit of being delicious, but other wheated bourbons worth seeking out include Old Fitzgerald (aim for the 100-proof bottling) and W.L. Weller 12-year-old bourbon.
Those are a few spirits I'll keep around the house this summer. What are a few of your favorite summer drinks, and what bottles do you make it a point to have on hand when guests arrive?