Summer Sipping

The perfect tonic this season is cool, fruity, and surprising

Lori Cohen-Sanford Restaurants

The Hemingway Pear Cocktail at State Fare Bar + Kitchen, The Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage.

You might sip a cocktail mindlessly, but that doesn’t mean plenty of thought hasn’t gone into its creation. Mixology programs have elevated spirit-infused libations to a new level.

Here are some of our summer favorites.

In Love with the Cacao at Elixir Pool Bar & Grill. This truly tropical, refreshing blend of passionfruit, a cacao-derived spirit, and coconut cream served in a coconut shell looks as good as it tastes.

V Palm Springs has enlisted the services of Shannon Stiggins, who has created mixology programs at hot spots in New York, such as Cosme and, more recently, Dylan’s Candy. Her sensibility is a modern, Tiki-esque take on classic cocktails at the hotel’s Elixir Pool Bar & Grill.

Stiggins says bartenders are making their mark this summer “by making unique syrups, infusing spirits and teas, using small-craft spirits, and spirits with new origins, as well as a moving away from very large cocktails.”

The cocktail menu at Elixir relies on handcrafted syrups including Velvet Falernum, a rum-based infusion similar to bitters that carries the flavors of lemon zest, nutmeg, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and cloves. A new-origin spirit called Solbeso is the starring ingredient in In Love with the Cacao, a tropical first of its kind. Stiggins compares the new spirit to a mashup: “if tequila and pisco had a baby.” It, too, is served in a coconut shell, each uniquely carved.

V Palm Springs offers summer specials at Elixir and features weekend guest DJs, special Happy Hour prices, and Monday evening family-style dinners with a chef’s choice of courses served poolside. The pool is open to the public as well as hotel guests.

V Palm Springs, 333 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 877-544-4446; www.vpalmsprings.com

Barkeeper Chad Austin of Bootlegger Tiki thinks that, “Palm Springs has a young cocktail culture” relative to larger cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where they have experienced what he calls a “cocktail renaissance” more than 15 years ago.

This cozy Palm Springs bar specializes in Tiki-style libations and is housed in the former location of Don the Beachcomber.
Austin says summer cocktails and the larger cocktail scene are moving, “away from too sweet, and people want fresh ingredients, house syrups, and lighter, crisp formulations when it is hot.”

Oh My Gatto at Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs challenges your ability to identify unusual flavors you can’t seem to put your tongue on.

The bar revamped its cocktail menu in April and has gone with simpler themes and seasonal ingredients like cucumber, mint, berries, and basil.

Oh My Gatto mixes rum, dry sherry, fresh passionfruit, and, oddly, a craft coffee liqueur, which provides balance with bitter and sweet notes. “This cocktail is boozy but not overly powerful, with a more savory flavor. It is also presented in a tall and beautiful glass that is visually like a tea, and has a tropical garnish,” says Austin.

Bootlegger Tiki, 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 760-318-4154; www.bootleggertiki.com

Workshop Kitchen + Bar in Palm Springs is a popular stop for people who take mixology seriously.

Bar Manager Dave Castillo says, “There are no seasons in Palm Springs. It is always warm and beautiful. We change our cocktail menu regularly, every two to three months, rotating a couple of drinks through the menu but keeping the staples.”

Although fashion dictates the “it” drink, Castillo believes that simplicity make a drink more interesting if the mixologist pays attention to quality, ratio, and presentation. The Mountaineer is a prime example, composed of minimal ingredients: French liqueur, pineapple juice, lime juice, and a mix of bitters.

The “Tiki-style drink,” says Castillo, “is … made of four ingredients, but is still complex and beautiful.”

Workshop Kitchen + Bar, 800 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Ste. G, Palm Springs, 760-459-3951; www.workshoppalmsprings.com

The Mountaineer at Workshop Kitchen + Bar is an artisan cocktail whose elements combine to create what tk calls a “drink of art.”

The Hemingway Pear cocktail is a tribute to Ernest Hemingway, and was imagined as a twist on a classic libation attributed to the famed author while he was living in Cuba.

You just don’t ask for just “Ice, ice, baby,” anymore, says Damian Jenkins, general manager of The Edge Steakhouse at the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage.

“Ice cubes are not just for looks and chilling anymore.” The bar and kitchen at The Edge Steakhouse have been experimenting with frozen water to perfect the art of chilling cocktails, as well as the use of ice “as a flavor component to release flavor slowly as it melts,” says Jenkins.

The Hemingway Pear cocktail is poured over an ice sphere, and served in a martini glass. The refreshing mix of white rum, fresh lime, grapefruit juices, agave nectar, and pear liqueur make this an, “easy-drinking rum creation,” according to Jenkins.

The Ritz-Carlton, 68900 Frank Sinatra Drive, Rancho Mirage, 760-321-8282; http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/rancho-mirage/dining/

Mezcal is a more complicated form of tequila, sourced from several kinds of agave plants instead of the single variety tequila employs. Mezcal is a more nuanced spirit. Its smoky nature adds depth to a popular summer drink at WP Kitchen + Bar, The Mezcal Mule.

The restaurant’s patio overlooking the shopping district on El Paseo in Palm Desert offers a cool break from shopping. Klaus Puck, director of operations, says summer cocktail trends are leaning, “toward lighter, refreshing ingredients like gin and sparkling wine, and using seasonal flavors like summer berries and watermelon.” The menu offers white sangria for summer, and WP stages Happy Hour daily from 3 to 6 p.m.

The Mezcal Mule, contains house-made ginger syrup and fresh lime juice. “The beauty is that it’s a unique interpretation, but so popular and it is very refreshing and perfect for summer,” says Puck.

WP Kitchen + Bar, 73-130 El Paseo, Palm Desert, 760-568-2700; http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants/casual-dining/WP-Kitchen-Bar/PalmDesert