Absolutely nothing says summer better than a handful of fresh-picked berries. They wake up our taste receptors with their vibrant colours, intense flavours and natural textures. I salivate instinctively at the ripe, sweet smell of strawberries, the popping crunch of wild blueberries, and that first juicy squirt of tart raspberries crushed on my tongue.
Berries offer a delicious way to add excitement to almost any common beverage. Recently, at Viña Tarapacá in Chile, I was served a frosty glass of their 2003 Sauvignon Blanc with chopped strawberries floating on top as a pre-barbecue aperitif. On the shaded terrace overlooking the gardens, a warm evening breeze blowing gently, the drink was both physically relaxing and spiritually uplifting. Even a simple glass of lemonade soars to a new level with a handful of raspberries.
When it comes to mixing alcoholic drinks, berries can be floated on top as a garnish, machine-blended with the other components (as in a strawberry daiquiri), or soaked in spirits (tipsy cherries, for example) well in advance of your bartending duties.
Tricks of the trade
Here's an old bartender's trick to accentuate the fruit flavour in any drink. Rinse the inside of a cocktail glass with a splash of fruit liqueur before mixing the drink. If your drink calls for a garnish of fresh raspberries, pour raspberry liqueur into your glass, swirling it around to completely coat the inside. Dump the excess and mix your cocktail as usual. For example, a variation on a traditional gin and tonic calls for an ounce of Chambord Royale (black raspberry liqueur) to coat the ice cubes and the inside of the glass. Then mix the drink as usual with a shot of gin, a wedge of lemon and a splash of tonic. Complete your makeover by garnishing the glass with some fresh raspberries. Berries should generally be smaller than bite-size; cut in half and deseed those with pits or seeds. You can also make decorative ice cubes. Place berries -- all one type or an assortment –- in each compartment of the ice cube tray and top with water or clear fruit juice.
Wild blueberries are smaller than farmed ones but they have a more intense flavour. Pour 1/2 oz Southbrook Blueberry wine into a chilled martini glass. Add 2 oz ice-cold gin or vodka. Float three blueberries on top.
For a twist on the traditional Manhattan recipe, splash 1/2 oz cherry brandy into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice; add 1-1/2 oz each Canadian whisky and red vermouth or to taste. Garnish with a bamboo skewer of fresh black cherries and a colourful lemon twist.
Enjoy this treat when raspberries are local and garden fresh. Fill a tall, clear glass with raspberry-infused ice cubes. Add 1 oz Chambord Royale, 2 oz dry gin and 4 oz tonic water. Garnish with a lime wedge and fresh raspberries.
Sangria Orientale (8 to 10 drinks)
This summer standard is great for big gatherings. Thinly slice 1 kiwi, 1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 orange, 6 ripe strawberries and 6 fresh lychees; place in a large bowl. Add 1 cinnamon stick. Sprinkle fruit with 2 oz each Grand Marnier, Bols Apricot Brandy, Soho Lychee Liqueur and Chambord Royale. Add 1 bottle Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages wine. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Add 12 raspberries before serving. Ladle 4 oz liquid into a wide-mouthed wineglass. Add fruit and top up with 2 oz sparkling water.
A casual and celebratory drink in one. Place 1 tsp diced ripe strawberries into a large wineglass. Add 5 oz chilled dry white wine (Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or an unoaked Chardonnay). For a nonalcoholic version, replace wine with lemonade and add a fat straw to suck up the strawberry morsels.