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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Summer Cocktail Time

Lighter and less boozy libations, bottled and carbonated cocktails, punch bowls for sharing with a crowd, and more local and seasonal ingredients top the drink trends this summer at Atlanta’s restaurants and bars.

(left to right) Chris McNeill serves up summer cocktails, "Island Irie," "Seed's Moscow Mule" & "Smoke on the Water" at Seed Kitchen and Bar. Phil Skinner, pskinner@ajc.com

(left to right) Chris McNeill serves up summer cocktails, "Island Irie," "Seed's Moscow Mule" & "Smoke on the Water" at Seed Kitchen and Bar. Phil Skinner, pskinner@ajc.com

At Seed Kitchen and Bar in Marietta, mixologist Chris McNeill makes every effort to tune his cocktail menu to the restaurant’s seasonal approach to cooking.

“Cocktails in general have become much more seasonal,” McNeill said. “We’re using whatever ingredients are available and as local as possible, and that’s a lot easier in the summer.”

McNeill’s newest cocktail, Smoke on the Water, is a juicy mix of mezcal, muddled watermelon and cucumber, Lillet Rose, agave nectar and lime juice, served with watermelon ice.

Another summer favorite is the Island Irie, a Jamaican-inspired rum drink made with Cynar, lime and a strawberry-basil shrub — a sweetened vinegar-based concoction that adds a tart, acidic edge.

“It has a sweet and sour component that’s really refreshing,” McNeill said. “We like to use Banyuls sweet wine vinegar for our shrub. The Cynar is a liqueur made with artichoke and herbs that’s kind of bitter and we finish it with Jamaican jerk bitters.”

Even some more familiar summer refreshments get a few new twists.

“We might start with a classic, like the Moscow Mule, with vodka and ginger beer,” McNeill said. “But we add our own ginger-lemon syrup and a little Swedish herb bitters, and what can be sort boring, really gets a boosts of flavor.”

At Lure in Midtown Atlanta, Vajra Stratigos, the beverage director for Fifth Group Restaurants, designed a cocktail program in-synch with the newly opened restaurant’s fresh seafood concept.

“Seafood is very soft and nuanced, Stratigos said. “I wanted drinks that would highlight that and not overpower the food. And the other idea was, we’re opening a seafood restaurant in the middle of the summer, so I wanted it to be fun.”

With that in mind, Stratigos came up with a variety of mixed drinks, plus bottled cocktails and punch bowls, that play with fresh, tart and acidic flavors.

The Canne e Gatto is a bright, herbal mix of Uncle Val’s Botanical gin, honey syrup, Strega, lemon juice and Belgian-style wheat beer.

“That cat and dog drink has so many layers and so much going on, and it’s finished with a big sprig of fresh thyme,” Stratigos said. “And I like the playfulness of adding a cloudy ale.”

Speaking of playful, Lure’s “bottle shop” section of the menu features bubbly, light creations served in a six-ounce bottle paired with a Collins glass.

“You open your own bottle at the table with a church key and pour it into the glass, so it’s just really fun and interactive,” Stratigos said.

Among the current bottle selections: Micha Caliente, with lemon-lime soda, jalapeno vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry, and verdejo wine; and Blue-Eyed Boy, with Bombay Sapphire gin, mint, elderflower and peach bitters.

Crowd-pleasing punch bowls serve two-to-four or five-to-eight people. It’s Not Unusual combines Bacardi Solera rum, citrus, orange bitters, nutmeg, allspice and brown ale in what Stratigos calls a “pirate punch.”

Lara Creasy, beverage director for Atlanta’s No. 246 and JCT Kitchen & Bar, also had the experience of devising a drink menu for a new seafood restaurant when the Optimist opened in West Midtown in May.

“We definitely opened at the right time of year, because we were going for that casual coastal bar kind of feel, and that makes people think of the summertime,” Creasy said. “I think the trend has been toward boozy and heavy drinks. But what people actually buy in our restaurants is often lighter and more fruity and I think our list at the Optimist reflects that.”

Creasy’s Beach Shanty is a bright take on a beer-based shandy with Allagash White ale, Brinley’s Shipwreck spiced rum, lemon and ginger liqueur.

“I like beer cocktails because I think beer is a fine mixer,” Creasy said. “It’s like using a soda, because it has texture and effervescence. And depending on what you’re using, you can bring in wildly different flavors, like bitter or spicy.”

At the Optimist’s Oyster Bar, punch is served by the mug or the pitcher. Always available, Fish House Punch comes from a classic Colonial recipe, with Gosling’s Black rum, Hennessy V.S. cognac, black tea, sugar, lemon, and Leopold Brothers’ peach whiskey. But there are at least three other punch recipes offered most days.

“We do a lot of punch with seasonal fresh fruit,” Creasy said. “I recently made a punch with peaches, Reisling and Cocchi Americano.”

At Pura Vida, the lively Latin tapas restaurant in Poncey-Highland, Paul Calvert is known for his winning ways with rum, tequila and mezcal.

“One of the things I always try to do in the summertime is feature stirred drinks on my menu that are lighter in body and maybe a little lighter in alcohol. But I still want them to be interesting and powerful in terms of flavor.

Calvert’s Acuerde Espana combines 100-proof rye with a dry Lustau Amontillado sherry, plus Punt e Mes, Cherry Heering and Obsello absinthe.

“Just because it’s summer, doesn’t mean you should stop drink drinking whiskey,” Calvert said.”This is a brown, boozy stirred drink. But it’s lower in alcohol than your average Old Fashioned or Manhattan and it’s lighter in body, too. It’s crisp and clean but still complex.”

Greg Best, one of the best-know and well-regarded bartenders in Atlanta, has a straightforward philosophy when it comes to the seasonal cocktail menu at Holeman & Finch Public House in south Buckhead.

“It’s all about drinks that taste really good, that are exceptional in their simplicity, and that people won’t be afraid to try to make at home,” Best said.

The Holeman & Finch summer menu is topped by a cocktail called the Sour Account, made with Alma blanco tequila, Galliano, Lillet Blanc, lemon and Bitter Truth orange bitters.

“I wanted to take all that’s refreshing about a margarita and a Collins and fuse them. I was dead set on keeping that bracing acidity, because that’s what makes a real thirst-quencher. We build it over ice, top it with soda water, and garnish it with a sprig of mint. It’s super clean and bright.”

As a bonus, all the ingredients needed to reproduce the Sour Account at home are available up the street at H&F Bottle Shop. And the Bottle Shop also puts together kits for some of the drinks on the Public House menu.

Right now, there’s a kit for the Suppressor 00, from a series of especially light but complex cocktails. It includes Jurancon French dessert wine, Fruitlab Jasmine liqueur and Vouvray sparkling wine.

“It’s a very light on it’s feet cocktail,” Best said.

Seed Kitchen and Bar, 1311 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta, 678-214-6888, eatatseed.com

Lure, 1106 Crescent Ave N.E., Atlanta, 404-817-3650, lure-atlanta.com

The Optimist, 914 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, 404-477-6260, theoptimistrestaurant.com

Pura Vida, 656 North Highland Avenue N.E., Atlanta, 404-870-979, puravidatapas.com

Holeman & Finch Public House, 2277 Peachtree Road N.E., Atlanta, 404-948-1175, holeman-finch.com

By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog

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