In terms of sheer thirst-quenching perfection, the summer of 2010 belonged to gin. And cucumber. You might attribute that trend to Hendrick's, an upstart gin from Scotland with strong cucumber overtones, but two of the best cocktails we enjoyed this year fell back on old-school Beefeater and Gordon's. Both are variations on a classic, and both hopscotched the Atlantic, drawing inspiration from London and the United States.
George Orwell once wrote a delightful column on the perfect London pub, the Moon Under Water, a place where it was always quiet enough to talk and the barmaids knew most customers by name. But the Moon Under Water did not exist, a figment of Orwell's imagination in the absence of the real thing. Luckily for us, Bobo, an elegant semi-subterranean bar in Manhattan's West Village, does exist'a perfect New York bar with a subtle English influence. Its London Calling was this long, hot summer's best thirst quencher, a riff on a Tom Collins in which the quartet of Beefeater gin, bitter lemon (a soda flavored with quinine and lemon), simple syrup, and rhubarb bitters is perfectly in sync. A long slice of cucumber cut on a diagonal accentuates its spry garden freshness. For fall, bar master Adam Rothstein has adjusted the London Calling by replacing the rhubarb with celery bitters and the simple syrup with a piquant rosemary syrup. He calls it Norwegian Wood. Like the London Calling, it's a keeper.
Across the East River, the speakeasy-era trappings of Brooklyn's Clover Club set the mood for for the Southside Fizz (London Style). As with Bobo's London Calling, Clover Club has taken a classic template'in this case the gin fizz'and improved on it. 'Southside' refers to Prohibition-era Chicago'bootleggers there preferred to cut their gin with lime and mint; North Siders went for ginger beer'and London Style is represented by a crisp slice of cucumber. It's a less complicated drink than the London Calling, but no less successful, in which a sprig of mint atop the glass provides a wonderful kick-start to an evening. A Southside uses lime juice as opposed to bitter lemon, and there are no bitters, but the pitch-perfect proportions are a terrific showcase for gin's flexibility. You would hardly know it was there if you weren't told, making it all too easy to order a second.
For two delicious gin recipes, see page two.
1. London Calling
4 chunks muddled cucumber
2 ounces Beefeater gin
1/2 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers rhubarb bitters
Fever-Tree bitter lemon soda*
Shake gin, syrup, bitters, and lemon juice. Top with bitter lemon soda.* Strain into a collins glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a cucumber slice and rhubarb blade (if in season).
* If you can't find bitter lemon, try substituting San Pellegrino Limonata.
2. Southside Fizz (London style)
2 sprigs mint
1 1/2 ounce Gordon's Gin
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce lime juice
3'4 ounces soda
Muddle one sprig of mint with the lime juice and simple syrup in the bottom of a glass. Add gin and shake well. Pour into a glass with ice, top with soda water, and add a slice of cucumber. Garnish with the remaining sprig of mint.