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Cool Concoctions

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It's summertime again, folks… groan! as the heat quotient rises, you are likely to scrounge around for cool drinks to quench your thirst. Cool and, preferably, iced water remains our favourite summer drink, but for something more exotic (especially to wow your guests), summer cocktails sound pretty exciting. The thing about cocktails is that you can create and re-create something exciting every time you blend the spirits with different ingredients, especially fruits such as coconuts and apples. We sought out bartenders from four of India's leading luxury hotels — Mumbai's Four Seasons and JW Marriott, New Delhi's Taj Palace and Gurgaon's Leela Kempinski — to create seven such heavenly thirst-quenchers. The best part: you can mix all these cocktails at home. So, here goes.

Aer Lounge, Four Seasons, Mumbai
Devang Devsaria has a cool workstation — behind the bar of  ‘Aer', the open-air lounge on the luxury hotel's rooftop, 34 floors above ground level. And the two cocktails he churns out for us — aptly called Horizon and Twilight — are as cool. Horizon is an interesting blend of vodka, coconut water and curry leaves. To sweeten the coconut water, add a hint of lemon juice and some sugar syrup. Then, in a tall glass, muddle 5-6 curry leaves, pour in 60 ml of vodka, and follow up with 120 ml of the sweetened coconut water. Mix vigorously with crushed ice in a mixer. "It's a fusion cocktail," says Devang. "Vodka being a natural spirit goes well with coconut water, and the curry leaves add a hint of spicy flavour that balances out the sweetness of the coconut water."

His second cocktail, Twilight, is an eclectic mix of lemongrass, fresh watermelon juice (and chunks), cranberry juice and vodka that Devang says is a naturally cool cocktail, with the fresh ingredients adding a distinct taste to the drink. Muddle 4-5 watermelon chunks and 2-3 chopped lemongrass sticks together, add 60 ml vodka, and 50 ml each of (fresh) watermelon juice and cranberry juice to the mix, shake in a cocktail glass (with ice), and strain into a tall glass. The result is a concoction that is slightly sweet, with a hint of lemongrass. For those who would like it sweeter, Devang recommends using citrus vodka as a substitute. His parting tip: "Don't over-do the lemongrass."

Blue Bar, Taj Palace, New Delhi
Joel Scholtens Lindsay spices up his job with humour. "I tend to target my drinks at women; if they are drinking they tend to attract men anyway," he says, smiling mischievously. The jolly bartender of the latest trendy bar in New Delhi, The Blue Bar at Taj Palace hotel, shares two of his favourite cocktails with us.

Joel's first offering, Vanilla Appletini, is a mild cocktail with a sweet tinge that is the perfect sip after a hard day's work. Muddle half a green apple, add 50ml Stoli Vanilla vodka (a Russian Vodka that scores high on Madagascan and Indonesian vanilla beans), 15 ml vanilla syrup (preferably homemade, which is less sweet), and 20 ml fresh apple juice. Shake and double strain into a Martini glass, and garnish with two apple wedges and a vanilla pod. In case you can't lay our hands on Stoli vodka, you can replace it with Absolut Vanilla. And you could add red apple juice instead of green apple for some variation.

Joel's second offering is a special cocktail for Indians and, considering it contains fenugreek seeds, seriously different. The Star's Illusion is a concoction of Havana rum mixed with exotic fenugreek seeds and star fruit. Here's how you make it. First, boil 2 bar spoons of fenugreek seeds for about 30 minutes cool. Then, muddle one star fruit, add the fenugreek seeds, 45 ml Havana Club (7-year-old) rum, 10 ml Amaretto (almond-flavoured liqueur), 40ml fresh lychee juice, and 5 ml sugar syrup. The star fruit, which is a tad sour, adds tang to the cocktail, and the litchi juice adds a fruity flavour. Fenugreek seeds are a little bitter, therefore the cocktail demands a gracious amount of sugar syrup.

Rubicon Bar, Leela Kempinski, Gurgaon
Sophia Chaknu at Gurgaon's Leela Kempinksi's stunning Rubicon bar looks petite and charming, but she swings a mean, ‘hard-drink' cocktail for us. Christened Ginger-rushka, was concocted by her colleague Virender Kumar, and is made with copious amounts of whisky. In a regular whisky glass, muddle 5-6 strips of ginger, squeeze in 20 ml of fresh lemon juice, and add to it 30 ml of honey. "Ginger adds both a strong taste as well as fragrance to the drink, while lemon and honey help balance it out," explains Sophia. Pour 60 ml of whisky to the mix. "Your choice of brand could vary from a Black Label to a Gold Label to a Teacher's," says Virender. Mix all ingredients well with crushed ice in a cocktail shaker. Then strain and pour into a classic whisky glass pre-filled with two ice cubes. Garnish with two thin slices of lemon, and top with Perrier (soda water) to add a fuzzy feel to the drink. The resultant cocktail is a strong  yet slightly spicy and semi-sweet drink, which is smooth to sip and also easyto make.

Mezzo Mezzo, JW Marriott, Mumbai
It might seem strange to mix a cocktail with French white wine in a speciality Italian restaurant, but Gaurav Jadhav manages to do that with élan at the Mezzo Mezzo in Mumbai's JW Marriott. For the first cocktail he uses white wine as a base, which is exciting because you can get different tastes depending on the variety of white wine you choose, even if the other ingredients remain the same. Gaurav does it with a Chardonnay. "The new-world Chardonnay has a lot of tropical fruit flavours," says Gaurav, adding that it is best suited for outdoor settings. Take 60 ml Chardonnay, 120 ml fresh orange juice, and 30 ml honey, roll them all with 2-3 ice cubes in a cocktail mixer, pour into a tall champagne tulip glass, and garnish with a slice of orange. What you get is  a light cocktail with a sweet note, and with the sparkling wine giving a sour hint.

His second drink, Cool-cucumber, is a must have on the drink's menu for that afternoon brunch. A mix of fresh basil leaves, cucumber and a strong dose of vodka makes for a strong and crisp drink. Gently muddle 4-5 cucumber chunks with 2-3 basil leaves along with 2-3 mint leaves, add about 10 ml of freshly squeezed lime juice and 60 ml (Absolut) vodka with a generous amount of ice. Shake well in a cocktail mixer till the drink is chilled, serve in a chilled martini glass garnished with a cucumber slice and a basil leaf. You can add a bit of sugar syrup for a sweet taste.With inputs from Pallavi Chakravorty.