We're exploring twelve seasonally-inspired cocktail recipes this year alongside our candle subscription with writer, historian, and cocktail creative Al Culliton.
We’ve made it halfway through the year in our study of the Labors of the Month. Each month, we’ve noticed the similarities and differences between the flow of our modern year and what the people of medieval Europe did throughout theirs. As we get into July and full-on summer, one thing is quite clear: When it comes to down time, our year is almost an inversion of the medieval Labors. While theirs was ruled by the agricultural calendar, ours follows more of an academic calendar. For many of us nowadays, summer is the time to take a couple of weeks off from work, break with our routines, and relax. In an agrarian society, summer is the most labor-heavy season of all. Despite this major difference, we can still see parallels between the medieval and modern worlds.
A dear friend of mine, who lives life like it’s one big adventure, once said to me that when one hasn’t crammed in enough swimming, sun, and fun during the summer, the winter is far more of a drain on one’s energy. But if you’ve replenished your bodily battery with the energy only summer can give, you’ll make it through winter with flying colors. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.
July: Harvesting Wheat; Source: Da Costa book of hours, 15th century, Belgium
For medieval Europeans, the summer was about (literally) storing energy — or, more accurately, sources thereof — that would last them through the winter. In July, most Labors of the Month calendars depict the harvesting of wheat from the fields, to be followed in the coming months with threshing and winnowing before the grain is stored. Quite the opposite of a week at the beach. But perhaps we too are harvesting in summer. We are harvesting relaxation, calm, a sense of peace — precious commodities in our modern world.
Our Keap theme words this month are “bathing” and “communing.” For those of us who live in a climate with bitterly cold winters, there’s something extra invigorating about being able to take a dip in a cold river or lake, or in the ocean, on hot summer days. Bathing is a way of finding weightlessness and calm. Perhaps you’re on your own floating in a lake or pool, or maybe you’re out for an afternoon by the swimming hole with a group of friends and a picnic. In either case, it’s a pleasure that belongs to the summer alone.
The idea of community, too, seems different during the summer. It feels broader and more open. We share space with people in new ways. We meet strangers more often. Maybe we invite people we don’t know too well to a barbecue or other outdoor gathering; it feels far less intimate than inviting someone to a dinner party. This openness has the power to expand our circles.
This month’s drink is called Cerasus, the Latin word for “cherry.” Summer fruits can be such a delight when woven into cocktails, and this one creates a grown-up version of a nostalgic drink. A sort of cherry-chocolate Coke, bolstered by a base of rye whiskey, this drink is kind of dive bar-meets-soda-fountain. It’s based on the Daisy, a cocktail template that emerged during the 1870s built on spirit, liqueur, acid, and carbonation. The Cerasus is far more than the sum of its parts and is the perfect companion as you usher in high summer.
A Daisy variation with rye, crème de cacao, homemade cherry-lime cordial, Angostura bitters, and cola; think grown-up chocolate-cherry Coke.
- 1½ oz. rye
- 1 oz. cherry-lime cordial
- ½ oz. (scant) crème de cacao
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 oz. high-quality cola, to top
- Lime wedge, for garnish
Combine rye, cherry-lime cordial, crème de cacao, and bitters in a shaker. Fill two-thirds up with ice, seal, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a Keap tumbler. Add a large ice cube or several smaller cubes. Top with about 2 oz. cola. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Zest limes; set limes aside for juicing later. In a blender or food processor, combine zest with sugar and warm water. (You don’t want very hot or boiling water, so as to avoid any mishaps when blending.) Blend for 30 seconds. Pour blended mixture into a medium saucepan.
Add sweet cherries (not pitted) to saucepan. Turn heat to medium-high til it reaches a near boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Simmer 20-25 minutes. You should see cherries breaking down a bit and releasing their juices.
Fish the cherries out using a slotted spoon and let cool. Fine strain the syrup using a mesh strainer and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, juice limes until you have 2-3 oz., straining out pulp. Add 2 oz. lime juice to syrup and taste; if it needs more acid, add lime juice by the ¼ oz. until desired tartness. (Cordials should have a nice tart-sweet balance!) Pit the reserved cherries and save for another use, like topping vanilla ice cream.
A LESSON ON CORDIALS
The word cordial has been used for a long time, and it has had several meanings. It often referred to various liqueurs, especially gin-based ones in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In today’s modern bar world, though, a cordial is a bar syrup that delivers a tart and sweet flavor for use in cocktails. Cordials typically incorporate some form of sugar, citrus peel, and citrus juice, sometimes including other fruits as well. It’s a great way to capture the flavor of summer fruits! The cherry-lime cordial we’re making this month is based on a recipe from 300 years ago.
This month’s simpler recipe
Looking for a simpler twist or a non-alcoholic option?
- Simple recipe: In a cocktail shaker, muddle three pitted cherries with ½ oz. simple syrup. Add ¾ oz. lime juice and 1 ½ oz. rye whiskey. Add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into a Keap tumbler filled with ice and top with 2 oz. high-quality cola. Garnish with a lime wedge.
- Non-alcoholic version: In a cocktail shaker, muddle three pitted cherries with ¾ oz. simple syrup. Add 1 oz. lime juice. Add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Strain into a Keap tumbler filled with ice and top with 2 oz. high-quality cola. Garnish with a lime wedge.