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Balancing Melons

June 17, 2011

My name is Daniel B. and it has been five weeks since my last cocktail post. It used to be the Fridays were my cocktail day and Sundays were my wine day. I am going to try and get back to that. At the very least this week will echo that old, familiar pattern.

It feels like I should do a Father’s Day cocktail post, since the big day is right around the corner. Before I had a family of my own, I never fancied the holiday as a time for drinks. But now with two small children, my attitudes have changed a bit.

Not during the day mind you, when I’m doing the family centric part of it. But once the kids are in bed, dusk has settled and the mosquitoes have cleared out, I like to sit out on the back porch and contemplate the depths of a good whisky. However, your Father’s Day rituals are probably set in stone, so I’m not going to bore you with my introspection today. For that, you’ll have to wait until Sunday.

Instead, since summer is almost upon us, I need to let you know about building cocktails on the fly, and make sure you aren’t letting precious cocktail ingredients go to waste.

I oppose waste.

ADS will tell you it’s a problem. Mrs. Fussy views it as one of her great accomplishments in civilizing the man that she married (perhaps one day we’ll spend more time on my accomplishments in civilizing her).

There is a lot of summer fruit I enjoy. I look forward to this sweet and juicy produce during the long cold winters here in Albany. So when it finally gets hot, and I’m parched, nothing is better than taking a bite from a ripe melon. We like to cut up ours into chunks and store them covered in the refrigerator, so that we can grab cold juicy cubes whenever we like.

One of my favorite things to do is the take the juice that collects in the bottom of the melon bowl and turn it into a refreshing seasonal cocktail.

Yes, you could muddle fruit specifically for the job. But first, that’s a lot of work, especially when it’s already hot. And second, it creates pulp that needs to be strained out. The bottom of the melon bowl is all free-run juice, and that makes it extra special.

The downside is there is never a lot of it. Maybe enough for one or two small drinks. So you must treat it with care.

When you aren’t using a lot of ingredients, all of your ingredients need to be good. In these drinks, cheap spirits can’t hide behind sticky sweet liqueurs or tart citrus. Hopefully your fruit juice will be all the sweet that you need. But it’s not the worst idea to have some simple syrup on hand, just in case. Cointreau will do in a pinch too.

For fresh juice drinks, I side with Snoop Dogg and recommend gin. Its herbal complexity pairs well and makes what might be an overly simple and bland drink a bit more interesting.

There is always the question of how much gin to add. I always advise doing this to taste, especially when fresh free-run juice is concerned. The important thing to remember is that it’s easy to add more, but once it’s added you cannot take some away.

I like to make juice flavored gin. Others might prefer gin flavored juice.

When making a round of these for Mrs. Fussy and me last week, I overdid the gin. We had collected some of the sweetest honeydew juice either of us had tasted in a while, and I just obliterated it with a too-heavy hand on the Tanqueray.

She came up with an idea. Even though the honeydew was all gone, perhaps I could take some watermelon to the Microplane and use that to bring the drink into balance. I had my doubts, but it worked. The drink was plenty sweet, but could have benefited from a bit of brightness. So I added just two small drops of Angostura orange bitters, and that brought everything into balance.

At the end it’s all about balance and taste. Here’s the shorthand of how to bring a drink into equilibrium.

If the drink is too tart or bitter: Add something sweet.
If the drink is too sweet: Add something tart.
If the drink is too simple: Add bitters or more booze.
If the drink is too boozy: Add more juice.
If the drink is too hot with alcohol: Add ice and stir.
If the drink is balanced but too intense: Consider making it a long drink by adding seltzer.

You can also get fanciful with herbs, syrups and garnishes. But those aren’t necessary to make a great cocktail. Just like anything else, it’s hard to go wrong with delicious ingredients prepared well. Trust your taste, and have some fun with it. Especially now as the weather warms up and we are surrounded by such great seasonal fruit.


One Comment leave one →
  1. June 17, 2011 10:10 am

    As far as a mixing gin is concerned, particularly for use with juices, I recommend Citadelle over Tanqueray and even over Bombay Sapphire (my usual go-to gin for tonics).Citadelle has a whopping 19 botanicals in it, which lends itself well for a mildly sweet, juicy cocktail.

    For a real treat (sans-juice) get yourself to Delaware and pick up some Dogfish Head Jin from their pub. I recommend grabbing a few bottles as they tend to go quickly (at least in my house) and it’s not an easy commute back for more from the 518. Jin is very piney and works well undoctored as a sipping gin (I either enjoy it on the rocks or chilled from leaving the bottle in the freezer. Whiskey stones would do this gin well.

    Back to the matter at hand, it hadn’t even occurred to me to use the melon juice fro anything. Usually it just hits the sink after the last melon cube is eaten. I’ll need to remember to use it for a drink (and train the kids to reserve it, as they usually drill through melon like it was candy). Thanks!

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