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Summer cocktails in the South Sound

Mini-mind vacation meets vitamin D-induced bliss

It's always summer at Tacoma Cabana in downtown Tacoma. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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With Memorial Day in the books, summer is officially in full swing. While anytime seems to be a good time for a cocktail, summertime elevates ice-cold glasses and effervescent liquids to a sort of mini-mind vacation meets vitamin D-induced bliss.  


What makes the perfect cocktail for summertime enjoyment? I consulted with local cocktail guru Brian Johnson of Better Cocktails at Home.

"I'd say the single biggest indicator of a summer cocktail is the use of clear spirits. Light rum, blanco tequila and gin all play major roles in summery drinks," he said. "There is nothing that says ‘this is a summer drink' and ‘this is a winter drink,' but you'll know it when you're drinking one."

Johnson recommended I check out Tacoma Cabana, the South Sound's very own (and might I add, awesome) tiki bar. It is hard not to relax immediately upon entering this Pacific Avenue rum bar, with its thatched hut, lanterns, era-appropriate kitsch and Gilligan's Island playing on repeat. Behind the fun atmosphere, partners Jason Alexander and Robyn Murphy really know their cocktails.

"The perfect summer cocktail has to be balanced between sugar, acidity and spirit," Alexander said. "You don't want to go out into the summer heat and be a drunken, dehydrated mess, or have drinks that are too cloyingly sweet."

Alexander directed us toward Tacoma Cabana's Surf Room Mai Tai ($9). With three kinds of rum and fresh pineapple, it is refreshing and light. When's the last time you ordered a piña colada? Typically made from a bottled mix and something to be wary of, Alexander's version ($9) is made with freshly blended pineapple and coconut cream, resulting in smooth flavors and an icy finish. The same caution should be taken with most daiquiris; however, the Cabana's strawberry daiquiri ($10), made with Caña Brava rum and fresh strawberries, practically transports you to that island vacation you never got to take.

Johnson also recommends the caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail, for summertime drinking. It can be found locally at Pacific Grill and Asado. While cachaça is the common ingredient, Pacific Grill makes its version with blood orange liqueur and orange bitters ($11), while Asado sticks with the classic flavors of lime and brown sugar.

In-season fruits are celebrated in other local cocktails. Marrow Kitchen and Bar's Sophia cocktail ($7), with strawberry liqueur, basil, rhubarb bitters and Prosecco, takes the proven successful combination of strawberry and rhubarb (think pie) and turns it into a cocktail that signifies the spirit of summer. At Crown Bar, peaches are the star in its Peach Blossom cocktail ($9), with ginger, vodka, peaches and lemon. Keeping with the clear-spirit theme, Brix 25's Smokin' Sweet Rita takes silver tequila and spices it up with Serrano pepper, fresh lime and a blend of citrus juices. They say a bit of spice makes you feel cooler. It is worth a try.

Prefer to laze around your own home drinking cocktails? Johnson gave us his recipe for an Americano.

"No coffee here," he said. "The ingredients don't immediately scream summer, but when mixed together, it is just plain refreshing. Add 1 ounce of sweet vermouth to an ice-filled Collins glass. Add 1 ounce of Campari. Top with club soda and enjoy. I love to add .5 ounces of fresh grapefruit juice to mine sometimes as it makes for a delicious variation."

Summertime perfection, no driving required. {ADRIENNE KUEHL}


There's a certain kind of understated pleasure that can come from cracking open a 12-pack in your own back yard with KAOS FM radio in the background. But as we dive headlong into summer, many Olympia restaurants and bars are celebrating the warmer temps with carefully curated cocktails, many of which feature fresh herbs from the Farmers Market. Here are a few of my favorites.

OK, here we go. We're putting the Bubblehound cocktail in print. Does that make it official? An underground drink that has been bubbling to the surface and recognizable at most Olympia bars now, the Bubblehound is a mix of premium vodka, grapefruit juice and soda water - a bubbly greyhound if you will, and super light and refreshing. The best place to order this baby is at The Brotherhood Lounge, where you can nab one in a tall glass and head out to the back patio where bamboo plants and friendly patrons make any sunny day more enjoyable. Plus, the grapefruit there is ruby red, so it adds that perfect amount of sweet and tart. (And the happy hour version is just $2!)

Mercato's Ristorante's Strawberry Shrub is fresh off the spring drink menu, and, like all Mercato drinks, it specializes in local and unique spirits and flavors. The Strawberry Shrub incorporates Hedge Trimmer Gin, strawberry shrub and triple sec. It is served up with absinthe drops. Delish! Remember, Mercato is seasonal, so check back frequently for menu changes and find your favorite. And as the sun promises us a few months of good weather, head out to Mercato's patio to watch the hustle and bustle at the Farmers Market, kick back under a table umbrella and enjoy the good life.

Mojitos and margaritas are two of the most popular summertime drinks that grace the tables on Tugboat Annies' casual balcony. Watch kayakers come and go on the beautiful Puget Sound waters, or sign up for a rental.  Mojitos date back to 1856 and consist of rum, sugar, mint, lime and soda water. A refreshing combination, it is the perfect drink to kick back in the sun. Try replacing the rum for tequila sometime; it's quite pleasant as well. Speaking of tequila, Tugboat's margarita can't be overlooked with its sweet, tart and tang all rolled into one delicious concoction - the drinker can't help but be swept away by its tropical connotations.

Anthony's Hearthfire kicks up the class with a superb happy hour and awesome outdoor seating overlooking the Puget Sound offering views of bobbing seals, soaring birds and passing boats. The Cucumber Cooler is a play on the Mojito, but only in the fact that it uses mint. The other tantalizing ingredients are St. Germaine gin, cucumber, sugar, lime and soda water. Can't get much cooler than that.

While this probably isn't the type of place my editor was thinking when discussing this article, any Thurston County resident knows that grabbing a cold 6-pack and hiking to the perfect river spot or lakeside shore is a summer staple. Throw sunscreen, flip-flops and your favorite brand of beer in a backpack and check out the Deschutes River, Lake Cushman, or any number of inlets on the Sound and let nature, and the pursuit of refreshing alcoholic beverages, be your guide. {NIKKY MCCOY}

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