We've got the perfect, old-fashioned sweetening method to carry that darker booze all the way through summer.
I’m all about lighter spirits like gin and tequila during the summer — but just because the weather’s warmer doesn’t mean you need to stash away the bourbon. When properly mixed, the whiskey can be a great foundation for summer cocktails.
And for these lighter drinks, we’re using an old-fashioned sweetening method: oleo saccharum. While the name sounds complicated, it’s really just a syrup made with sugar and the oils from citrus peels (in this case, lemon). These oils are intensely flavored and aromatic, and by suspending them in a sugar syrup, you can add bright citrus flavor and complexity to a cocktail.
As far as bourbon goes, we’re using . One of the classic American brands, they’re still keeping up with the times; they’re a favorite of modern-day mixologists and recently opened a brand-new distillery right in downtown Louisville, the only working distillery on the historical “Whiskey Row.” Beyond the history, it’s simply great bourbon. While I think both their 86- and 100-proof bourbons are excellent in cocktails, today I’m opting for the higher-octane 100-proof.
Making your own oleo saccharum is a reasonably simple process: Cover lemon peels with sugar, let sit until the citrus oils emerge and start to form a syrup with the sugar. ( if you’re curious about going the DIY route.) But you can also buy great bottled versions, .
Either way, you’ll end up with complex, multi-faceted citrus flavor in your cocktails — perfect for summer.
Easy: Lemon-Basil Buck
Ginger beer is one of our go-tos for easy-drinking summer cocktails. Pair it with bourbon and then kick in some bright citrus with lemon; basil adds another fresh dimension. Thanks to the oleo saccharum, the lemon flavor is complex and vivid, not just a background element.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce and a half of Old Forester 100 Proof, half an ounce of lemon oleo saccharum, half an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and three basil leaves. Shake all that up until well-chilled,then double-strain (through the shaker’s own strainer and a fine mesh strainer) into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with two ounces of ginger beer and stir briefly. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a basil leaf, lightly clapped between your palms before adding to the drink.
Intermediate: Peach Iced Tea
Who can resist a juicy summer peach? Muddle up fresh peaches with bourbon, brighten it all up with the vivid citrus flavor of lemon oleo saccharum, and then add black tea for a cocktail that’s as comforting as it is refreshing. A “back porch before dinner” drink if ever there were one.
Instructions: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle (that is, smash up) a quarter of a fresh peach. Add ice, plus an ounce and a half of Old Forester 100 Proof, 3/4 ounce of lemon oleo saccharum, 1/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice, and two ounces of black tea (chilled or at room temperature). Shake all that up until well-chilled, then double-strain (through the shaker’s own strainer and a fine mesh strainer) into a tall glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a few lemon wheels and a thin slice of peach.
Advanced: Lemon Julep
A classic mint julep is essentially a perfect cocktail, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tweak it a little. Rather than using simple syrup in the drink, try the lemon oleo saccharum. It brings a little sweetness along with that distinctive lemon flavor and the richness of the lemon oils. Only a slight variation on the original, but one well worth trying. (See this article for more julep tips.)
Instructions: Add 15 mint leaves and half an ounce of lemon oleo saccharum to a julep cup (or rocks glass). Gently press (not smash) the mint with a muddler, or with the end of a wooden spoon. Add 2 ounces of Old Forester 100 Proof. Fill the glass with crushed ice, forming a mound on top. Garnish with three mint sprigs, tapped against your hand to release their aromatic oils, and a short straw or two.