I was enjoying dinner at Char last week — a payday tradition for me and a good friend — on one of those August days when the temperature soars so high that it feels like fall is a long way off. At Char, a great dining experience if you've never had the pleasure, I usually sip a Woody Creek Mule, made with a craft potato vodka distilled in Colorado. Last week, however, my finger wavered over the menu, and I selected Char's tequila cocktail instead.
It was the best decision I've made all month.
The waiter delivered a concoction of Tres Agaves Blanco, cucumber liqueur, lime juice, cilantro and jalapeño syrup, and Vinho Verde wine. Served in a highball glass, the drink was a delight, easy on the palate, and utterly refreshing. It had a complex flavor: The cucumber and peppers mingled with the fruity notes of the tequila and Vinho Verde.
Two were my limit, but the drink has caused me to reappraise cucumbers. The timing couldn't be any better — right now, cukes are at peak production here in Memphis. The crisp, juicy vegetables can add a real tang to your late-summer cocktails.
For the last several days, I've been sampling drink recipes at home. I've sliced and muddled cucumbers. I've made cucumber simple syrup. I skipped the cucumber-and-lime flavored carbonated soda I spotted on the shelves at Target, but I did splurge on a $21 bottle of Thatcher's Cucumber Liqueur, which is bottled in Michigan but tastes like it's straight from the backyard garden.
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And if September is as sultry as it can be, I'm sure I'll try one of the cucumber vodkas on the market. I'm tempted by Effen Cucumber Vodka, bottled in the Netherlands, and Prairie Cucumber Vodka, which is distilled up the river in Minnesota. I'm also intrigued by Cucumber Bitters bottled by German distillery The Bitter Truth, a company that took top honors for their Celery Bitters at Tales of the Cocktail New Orleans 2010.
I like simple cocktails, and the Cucumber Cooler, a cocktail I found on the Minimalist Baker's website, is quick and easy. Simply add 1½ ounces of gin, a few slices of lime, and 6 mint leaves to a shaker and muddle. Add 4 to 6 cucumber slices, shake vigorously, and pour into an ice-filled glass. Top the drink with tonic water (I used Schweppes diet tonic water) and stir. Let it sit for a few minutes to meld, then enjoy. If it's too tart for your tastes, add a tablespoon of sugar to the ingredients in the first step next time.
Cucumber gimlets take a little more time to make, but the payoff is worth it. Start with 2 cucumbers, slicing off a few nice pieces to use as garnish. Set those aside, then coarsely chop the rest of the cucumbers. Puree the vegetable in a food processor, then strain and discard the solids, reserving at least one cup of cucumber juice. In a large pitcher, combine the cucumber juice with a half-cup of gin, 4 teaspoons of lime juice, and a tablespoon of sugar. Add a cup of ice cubes, and stir until the mixture is cool and all the sugar has dissolved. Strain the drink into Martini glasses, garnish with lime and cucumber slices, and serve.
I used more homemade cucumber juice to recreate the Cucumber Lime Tequila Cocktail recipe I found on a website called Food with Feeling. The drink called for lowball glasses, but I used a taller glass to combine 3 ounces of cucumber juice, 1½ ounces of lime juice, 1½ ounces of tequila, and a quarter-teaspoon of sugar over ice. Then I topped off the drink with club soda and garnished it with a lime wedge and a slice of cucumber. It might not have been as fancy as the cocktail I was served at Char, but it tasted just as refreshing.