Summer is winding down, and it’s scorching hot and sticky humid outside. It’s time to get serious about relaxing and chilling with friends and have a cookout while the kiddos have that final pool party before it’s back-to-school time – for Hillsborough County that’s August 10th! Maybe a night with some adult friends over for cocktails, laughs, and a game night is in order? Either way, we’ve got to make the most of the gorgeous summer as it fades and share it with our friends while we can.

It’s also a great time to use up some herbs that are probably starting to bolt from the heat! There are some awesome drinks that sample heavily from your herb garden. They can be made “adult” with a little liquor or wine but are tasty enough to enchant you if served without, too. These drinks are the key to making the most of the hot days we have left, and are a fun way to drink your garden, too!

Drink Pick #1 – Basil Sangria

This is a citrus-flavor based white wine sangria with that heady basil scent and flavor – perfect for cooling down on the porch with friends and family. I borrowed the basics from the Food & Wine website but I have some suggestions and modifications to take it up a notch for those of us that love drinks with a bit more of a fruity flavor. This recipe makes about 12 small drinks as shown, but you can easily make more or less with a few adjustments. The simple syrup also saves well in the fridge if you need to keep some for drinks on a later date!

You’ll need (per 12 drinks):

  • ¼ c. sugar
  • ¼ c. water
  • 8 basil leaves with stems or 8 thai basil sprigs from the garden
  • 1 lemon, zested by peeling in 3” strips
  • 1 orange, zested by peeling in 3” strips
  • 2 bottles chilled Pinot Grigio*
  • ¾ c. brandy*
  • ½ c. fresh orange juice (no pulp)
  • Chilled club soda or ginger ale
  • Ice
  • Thin slices of orange and lemon for garnish

(* only for the “adult version” of the cocktails)

The recipe is great as is, but some folks like a little more fruit, where the original might feel lacking! Some optional adds to step it up:

1) thin peach or nectarine slices, either as just garnish, and/or add one to the simple syrup for some extra fruit flavor

2) blueberries muddled in the bottom for some color & flavor, can also add to the simple syrup and crush – it will make your drinks a little blue in color

Foodie notes: Genovese (broad-leaf) basil has an initial subtle peppery flavor which then turns sweet and has a great aroma. Thai basil has a strong anise “licorice” flavor. Both work well with this drink!

Make Simple Syrup:
Add water and sugar to small saucepan (I like non-stick or glass), and bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Careful not to overheat it too much or too fast, of the sugar will burn, changing the flavor. Take syrup off the heat. Add Basil sprigs, lemon zests, and orange zests, stir, and let cool about 20 minutes, infusing the syrup with flavor. This is where you’d add any of your fruity add-ins, too, if you’re choosing to. Remove the spring, rinds, and fruit (except the blueberries if you used them) after cooling.

photo by Buff Strickland
You’ll create:
Mocktails: When cool, mix in the orange juice into the simple syrup, and divide the mixture into 12 small glasses of club soda or ginger ale, with ice. Garnish with orange and lemon slices, with a sprig of basil on top. Can add peach/nectarine slices or a couple of blueberries if you used the optional fruit or you want a pretty finish.
Cocktails: To make the adult version, combine wine, orange juice, brandy, and simple syrup in a pitcher and stir. Pour into 12 glasses with ice and slices of orange and lemon (and peach/nectarine or blueberries, if you wish), top with a splash of club soda or ginger ale, and garnish with basil sprig.

The garnish is important to give extra basil scent while you’re drinking – the sense of taste is highly influenced by smell. Yum!

Drink Pick #2 – The Classic Florida-Cuban Mojito

You don’t get much more refreshing than a mojito. And Tampa has huge ties to the Cuban homeland that we can’t help but want to celebrate. This recipe is the original recipe for the Cuban National Cocktail. Technically you’d need a highball glass, but a mason jar will work too, ya’ll. A little finesse goes a long way here.

You’ll need (per drink):

  • 1 lime
  • Granulated sugar
  • Your favorite clear rum (most use Bacardi)
  • Shot glass to measure rum per cocktail
  • Soda water
  • Ice
  • Muddler tool
  • Several Mint sprigs from the garden

Foodie notes: The Citrus power of lime juice mixed with the cooling, sweet mint leaves has a pleasant contrast on the tongue that will make you drink it a lot faster than you think – so refreshing and sweet! Make sure you give your keys to the host and call a cab after a few of these!

You’ll create:
Mojitos have 2 main flavors, lime and mint. Start with the lime, cut it so that you half one half slice and two quarter slices. Squeeze the juice of the half lime and one of the quarter limes into the glass, reserve the last quarter for garnish. Add 8 medium to large mint leaves and 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar to the bottom of the glass. Using the muddler, gently crush the mint and sugar and lime together. The best method to release the mint oil is to press down and twist a few times until all the mint leaves have been touched but are still whole. It takes a little practice, so make lots of cocktails to get the hang of it! Add 2 shots of rum into the glass and mix to dissolve sugar. Add cubed or crushed ice, keeping the leaves on the bottom of the glass if you can. Top up the glass with soda water or club soda for that fizzy finish.

You’re almost done! For the best flavor, take the last lime quarter and rub the rim of the glass with it. Then take a mint leaf, fold it, and rub it around the rim of the glass as well. Some folks drop the lime in the drink, others place the lime wedge on the glass edge. Sink a sprig of mint into the glass. Lime and mint pair so well together. Enjoy!

Drink Pick #3 – Cilantro Martini

With citrus vodka, gin and fresh ginger, this tingly cilantro cocktail is invigorating. Some folks think the ginger is a little too strong and take it out, that’s OK too. If you want to live a little on the wild side, leave it in and see what happens!

You’ll need (per drink):

  • ¼ c. Fresh Cilantro from the garden
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • A few thin slices of ginger (from the garden if you have it!)
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • Cocktail Shaker
  • Muddler tool
  • 2 shots Citrus (lemon or orange) Vodka
  • ½ shot Gin
  • Ice

Foodie notes: Cilantro – you either love it or hate it, usually nothing in between. If you love it, cilantro leaves have a fresh, reviving citrus-y flavor, and with the pungent ginger and lime, well, you’re just in for a treat! If you don’t love cilantro, then maybe one of the other drinks is the better choice for your backyard relaxing.

You’ll create:
In a cocktail shaker add ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, lime juice, ginger, and ½ oz. simple syrup. Muddle well. Fill halfway with ice, then add 2 ounces citrus vodka (lemon or orange) and ½ oz. gin. Shake vigorously, strain into a chilled lowball glass and garnish with a slice of orange or lemon and a sprig of cilantro. You can also zest a lemon or orange peel “curly” and hang from the edge for a fresh citrus scent when you sip. Voila!

That’s a few ideas to get you started making some refreshing cool drinks for your end-of-summer parties, but there are so many options to use the best of your garden in tasty drinks at the end of the season. Relax, enjoy, and live a little!

Thanks for reading,


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