You can thank Nate Windham, cocktail and spirits specialist at The Blue Star restaurant, for the accompanying summer drink idea that will guarantee easy, breezy entertaining. I picked up the tips and recipes at the first of his series of monthly cocktail classes called "Date with Nate."
"The point of today's class is party drinks," he said. "Drinks you can serve at a gathering and not have to man a bar."
He whipped up his Granny Andrews' Portsmouth Punch, named for his grandmother, as his opening drink. Then he showed us how to set up a serve-yourself Mojito bar, make pitchers of Manhattans and make a closer punch.
"Punch is a good way to start a party because it's not loaded with a lot of liquor," he said. "You don't want to get people hammered when they come through the door."
When he was growing up, his grandmother made two batches of her punch, "One with alcohol and one without."
His opening punch is a light, refreshing blend of fresh squeezed orange juice, grated ginger, brandy, rum and ginger ale.
"I like to add lemon sorbet to chill the punch," he said. "Ice rings, which are often floated in punch bowls, make it hard to serve the punch and, as they melt, weaken the flavor of the drink."
I loved his idea of making a Mojito bar. Everyone can make their own variation. To get around the mess and fuss of muddling mint leaves, Windham offered a recipe for making mint-infused rum. It's super easy. Pull the leaves from 15 to 20 sprigs of fresh mint. In a large jar, dissolve one tablespoon sugar in one liter Bacardi white rum. Add mint leaves and let mixture sit for one to two days. Strain mint from rum and return infused liquid to the rum bottle.
Windham's creative way with bar drinks was demonstrated at his Mojito bar. It wasn't your basic simple syrup, rum and mint recipe for his drink. He made three syrups for us to use to concoct our cocktails: blueberry, strawberry-kiwi and mango-kumquat. There was also a pitcher of fresh lime juice to balance the sweet and acidic flavors of the drink.
You set out the infused rum and syrups with a tub of ice and let everyone do their thing mixing up the choices. Have cold soda water, ginger beer, ginger ale or sparkling wine to top off the drink.
"Use about an ounce each of mint-infused rum, syrup and lime juice," he said.
You can eyeball it. Then top off the glass with a splash of one of the toppers he recommends.
His next idea for freeing up your time behind a bar is to make martinis or Manhattans by the pitcher.
"I never liked Manhattans until I tasted one made with rye whiskey," he said.
It was a wow moment for him.
"I had had Manhattans made with bourbon," he said. "Now Manhattans are the best drink I make."
He wrapped up the class with his Rocky Mountain Punch, a blend of brandy and maraschino liqueur. It's sweetened with sugar cubes that have been rubbed over lemons.
"Rubbing the sugar cubes over the outside of the lemons is a lot of work," he said, "but it is the secret to making this great punch."
The next "Date with Nate" is 1 p.m. July 14. He's thinking it will feature recipes for tiki drinks. Cost is $30 per person and includes some savory snacks to nibble while sipping. Call 632-1086 for reservations
Contact Teresa J. Farney at 636-0271.
Yield: 10 -12 servings
1 cup Asbach Uralt brandy 1/3 cup Jamaican aged rum (Appleton V/X) Juice of 8-10 navel oranges 3-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated 2 cans ginger ale 5 medium scoops lemon sorbet
Juice oranges into a bowl and add grated ginger.
Let sit overnight.
Strain into punch bowl. Add brandy and rum.
Let sit for a few hours.
Just before serving, add ginger ale and stir. Add sherbet and serve.
Source: Nate Windham