Watermelon Cocktails

Proposed By: David

Pursued By: Jonathan

You may not know (unless you’re Cliff Clavin) that the watermelon appears in ancient Hebrew, Egyptian tombs, and medieval texts. Its history stretches 5,000 years, which means it’s about time Jonathan and I made it the focus of our cocktail-making efforts. This time, our charge was simple: make something with watermelon.

Mark Twain called the watermelon, “What angels eat,” but, thinking of the watermelons of my youth, I can’t believe anyone would say that. Those watermelons were crowded with annoying seeds to spit out. Though, in the tradition of older brothers everywhere, mine told me swallowing a seed would start a watermelon growing inside me, I can remember giving up after a wedge or two. Current watermelons are so much more civilized—seedless and full of juice.

That juice—more Clavin-esque information—may explain part of watermelon’s longevity. Some scientists believe watermelons were first cultivated in the Kalahari desert as sort of primitive water storage devices. Watermelons are 92 percent water (and 6 percent sugar).

Anyway, it’s the water of the watermelon that seems perfect for drinking. It’s relatively low calorie (less than most mixers anyway), and has a distinctive and fresh flavor very unlike the Jolly Rancher or Laffy Taffy bastardizations.

The natural spirits for watermelon are probably vodka (we’ve made a watermelon drink before) or tequilla, but I thought it would be fun to try it in a Tiki style drink, so I adapted a recipe called the Tiki-ti Five-O and substituted watermelon for orange juice. The original recipe from comes from an LA tiki bar, the Tiki-Ti, and was created by a tiki scholar named Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. I found it in Imbibe:

2 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Five-0 syrup (see below)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. watermelon juice
1/4 oz. ginger liqueur

Muddle the watermelon in a bowl and then pour the appropriate amount of juice into the shaker, add the other ingredients and ice, then shake well. You might need to strain into the glass because the watermelon is pulpy. As you might see in the photo, I powdered the top with Chinese five-spice (very sparingly) and garnished with a cherry and a watermelon cube. I also added an inedible slide of rind for color… wishing I had a watermelon pickle or a piece of candied ginger instead.

So the watermelon was a wonderful element of this drink. Paradoxically, however, it was not the star. I purchased some Chinese five-spice powder for one of our previous cocktails and am happy to have found another mixology use for it. To make the syrup combine equal parts honey and water and 1 tablespoon of Chinese five-spice powder for every cup of water. Stir constantly, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and then let cool. Though I sort of hate any appearance of cheesecloth on this blog, you will need three or four layers to strain out the grit of the spice. And shake the syrup before you use it. If all that seems a lot of trouble, it’s worth it. Five-O syrup seems a perfect tiki flavor, and it’s so much easier than buying or making a bottle of falernum. I’m going to make more Five-O syrup.

Here’s Jonathan’s Entry:

Watermelon is not my favorite fruit. It’s not from lack of trying though, and as long as I can remember, it has been a staple of summer. Thumping to find the perfect one, icing it down, finding a spot to flick or spit the seeds and slicing it up. The idea is great while the fruit is usually disappointing. Maybe it’s comes from starting with the sweetest and most ripe section and working towards the rind and least sweet part. It just never lives up to the hype.

It is a fruit that goes well with so many things though. Many drinks ago we tried a watermelon and basil drink that was wonderful. Before the and since I have tried watermelon with cucumber, mint, and peppers in both food and drink and all of those were great combinations. So this was a challenge I was ready to accept.

My research found far more drinks with white liquors combined with watermelon than dark liquor ideas. The first drink we tried combined the botanicals of gin, cucumber accent and the featured fruit, the Watermelon Cucumber Cooler:

1.5 ounce gin
2 slices cucumber
1.5 ounce watermelon juice or 3 one inch chunks of watermelon
.5 ounce simple syrup
.75 ounce lime juice
Pinch salt
1.5 ounce soda water

Muddle watermelon and cucumber (I went with fruit chunks instead of juicing a watermelon), add other ingredients except soda, shake with ice, strain into iced filled highball glass, top with soda and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

This drink reminded me of all the past experiences with watermelon—sounds great but only okay. It did meet the promised Cooler aspect, which is good for summer, but none of the flavors asserted themselves. Surprisingly the gin even got lost in this one.

The idea of the second drink was to find a good whiskey and watermelon combo. I will admit that the previous experience with using basil and watermelon led me to the Murricane. The drink was supposedly created for Bill Murray and christened with one his nicknames that refers to his mercurial personality:

2 ounce watermelon (I still used muddled chunks rather than juicing)
4-5 basil leaves
1.5 ounce bourbon
.75 ounce lemon juice
.75 ounce St. Germain liqueur
Ground pepper

Muddle watermelon and basil, add all other ingredients, shake with ice, strain into old fashioned glass with fresh ice and garnish with a small chunk of watermelon.

The basil and watermelon mix did not disappoint. This was a cocktail that combined the best parts of summer with the distinctive taste of bourbon. I’m not sure what the St. Germain did but I will credit it with blending everything into one harmonious drink.

Jonathan’s take: I’ll keep eating watermelon and given the choice I will have it with basil and bourbon.

David’s take: I know I’m supposed to sneer at the hipsteriness and trendiness of Tiki drinks, but this is one I’ll return to.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One liqueur we have missed, or avoided, is Peach Schnapps. For some reason, most of the drinks using the liqueur have names that are double entendres. The proposal is to make one of the more mainstream of those that also has one of the more tame names – Sex on the Beach. If you don’t believe that is a tame name check out the list of Peach Schnapps drinks on the Bar None web site. Heck, just check out the ones that start with F.

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Hot Toddy

hottie tottieProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The proposal last week included a link to the Our State magazine article about this drink that I hope blog readers took the chance to read. It had caught my attention for a few different reasons: I’ve been intrigued with the term “toddy”; our weather had been cold, icy and miserable; and the story provided with the recipe struck a note of nostalgia with me.

The meaning of toddy is not at all what I thought it would be. A hot toddy is basically hot water, sugar, spices and a spirit that is most often whiskey. Based on that my assumption was that “toddy” was an English term related to tea. It is, however, derived from a drink produced by fermenting the sap of palm trees in Southeast Asia. The Hindi term tadi referred to the type of wine palm that was tapped for its sap or the drink that was fermented from that sap.

No matter where the term came from, it is so associated with a hot drink to the point that “hot” seems redundant. We have experienced a period of weather in Charlotte that has been awful by our standards (even if David and his fellow Chicagoans would call it “Spring”). It has been wet and cold with every four days spiked by some form of wintry precipitation including ice, sleet, snow and that odd mix referred to as sneet. The idea of a hot soothing drink seemed appropriate especially after I had failed to collect enough snow to make snow cream with my leftover ginger liqueur. Of course, by the time we tried the cocktail (loosely used with this drink) it was sunny with highs in the 70’s.

The final point of interest was the reference to the toddy as a traditional cure for winter ailments. Our father was a physician, but that never stopped him from proposing home remedies. One of those was his cure for a cold, cough, sore throat, or any variety of upper respiratory ailment. I do not recall an exact recipe but do remember that it involved bourbon, lemon, honey and even the odd piece of onion on occasion. That prescription could be served straight up or mixed with hot water depending on Dad’s determination of the severity of our condition. I suspect that what he really knew, as most doctors do, was that the sick welcome a cure and are open to its benefits even if there is no true curative value. It was either that or he figured the bourbon would make us quiet and sleepy.

This particular toddy calls for all the classic ingredients with the spice supplied by tea. What follows is my adaptation of the published recipe:

One cup of herbal tea
1-2 ounce of whiskey (I used a Carolina apple brandy instead)
Lemon juice to taste
1 ounce of honey, or more if that is your taste
A garnish of lemon slice studded with cloves, and a segment of cinnamon stick

It seemed easiest to brew cups of tea and set the rest of the ingredients out for each person to fix to their liking which in turn proved to match the description of the early toddies experienced by British travelers in India. And our Dad’s mix and match cures too.

Here’s David’s Review:

hottyDespite our father’s home remedies, I’ve always believed drinking to cure a cold or flu is wishful thinking, and now when I think about a hot toddy I picture some grandma and grandpa taking snoots in some dim hope medical science will someday justify their vices. Before you cry “foul” on behalf of your elders, I know that’s unfair, but there are plenty of good reasons to have a hot toddy that don’t involve a cure.

With the right tea and/or the right apple juice, this warm cocktail could do much to relieve a winter night. For the tea, I chose Tazo Passion. The label promises, “Tart rose hips and citrusy lemongrass woo the voluptuous blooms of hibiscus flowers,” to produce “an infusion that’s bursting with life and tinged with the color of true love to make sure you never have to live a day without passion.”

Okay. I’m not sure I could attest to all that, but the concatenation of flavors did give this cocktail a decidedly botanical taste. With the honey, lemon juice, and (on the second iteration) apple juice, this “cure” wasn’t hard to enjoy. Hell, having something hot is enough to make a Chicagoan weep with joy this time of year.

My only complaint was that it wasn’t strong enough. One ounce of bourbon gives the hot toddy a tiny kick, hardly enough to knock out anything or anyone. I’d think that, to have any sort of chance against a nasty cold, this drink needs to promise a wallop worthy of Nyquil.

But I guess I’m putting myself in the category of grandma and grandpa in saying so. My advice is to enjoy the hot toddy for what it is, an invitation to hibernation, a sweet and endearing cocktail worth coming home to after braving a polar vortex or a winter storm so major it needs a name.

David’s Take: Pleasant… though likely no medical miracle.

Jonathan’s Take: Before you make this drink, go ahead and put your jammies on.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Jonathan and I are returning to a sojourn from cocktails that we tried last year, namely beer. Tomorrow I will be sending Jonathan four local beers, and, the week following, he’ll send me something. I won’t say too much now about the choices I’ve made, but there’s a couple of odd selections coming Jonathan’s way that are supremely local… and a little strange. Just so it’s fun.