Southern Comfort [Elbows on the Table]

There is a reason why all great southern literary works, like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Confederacy of Dunces, all take place during the blazing, humid months of summer. There is something special about summers below the Mason Dixon Line. It is a place where second story porches are covered in gauzy mosquito nets and used for sleeping in August. Where professional men walk to work in their pressed seersucker and ladies lunch on verandas in sundresses and scarves. The sweet tea never stops flowing and everyone talks and moves really, really slow because it is just too darn hot.

Although I am a sucker for a man in seersucker, my favorite aspect of a southern summer is the evening libations. The heat and humidity is stifling, making my usual dry red wine almost suffocating. (And one can only drink so much Chardonnay before resembling some Real Housewife shrew.) The southern answer? Cocktails, good ones. These are not your well drinks of your tacky college days. If you’re over 21, you should not be drinking a Long Island Ice Teas or a Cosmo (the tackiest of all tacky drinks). Nor can any amount of hipster irony make a Dirty Girl Scout or a White Russian acceptable drinks.

The first thing you’ll be asked at a cocktail party or happy hour is, “So, what are you drinking?” Take a cue from your southern brothers and sisters and find a cocktail that makes a statement. Below are four of my personal summer staples.

Bloody Mary
The Blood Mary has gotten a bad wrap in the past 10 or so years. The flavorless tomato water with limp celery is not a Bloody Mary, it is a bloody abomination. One of the few good things that has come out of brunch culture (i.e. a way to charge you $15 for eggs) is the renewed appreciation. Although a Yankee by origin (NYC gets the credit for this beautiful hangover cure) the spices and consistency really lend itself to be a Cajun influenced delicacy. The greatest one (or five) I ever had was at a wedding brunch in Atlanta. It used a bacon strip instead of celery. Enough said.

Mint Julep
My personal favorite on this list not just because we are both Virginians. If you do not like a Mint Julep it is because you have never had a proper one. Real Mint Juleps only use good bourbon, freshly muddled mint leaves, sugar and crushed ice served in a pewter cup. If your cup is clear, it is a bad Mojito, not a Julep. The Julep also happens to be the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, so I strongly suggest drinking it whilst wearing a large hat.

Tied with dreamy Javier Bardem as the greatest of all Spanish Exports. The beauty of Sangria is that you can properly lubricate the multitudes while remaining on a budget. Like it’s warm English cousin, mulled wine, good wine is actually a disadvantage, so break out your Two Buck Chuck for this one. The real beauty of Sangria is that there is no set recipe, you can make it your own with whatever liqueurs or fruit work for the occasion. The only time anyone complains about this drink is when it runs out.

Every daylight social occasion serves Mimosas. It is easy, grab some champagne and the orange juice from the back of your fridge, viola! You have a cocktail to which everyone knows you extended absolutely no effort. This Venetian bubbly cocktail is just as easy (Prosecco and peach puree) but still exotic enough to be a impressive. Just don’t serve a “frozen” Bellini, that is not a cocktail, it is something you pre-game before your Sorority’s Homecoming After Party.

The most exciting thing about southern cocktail culture right now is that it embracing the retro and seeping into the mainstream. Bartenders are rewinding to Pre-Prohibition recipes and using fresh herbs and house made essences. Stick with gin and bourbon based drinks, vodka just tempts settling for cheap and dull mixed swill, but experiment with whatever libations your friendly neighborhood mixologist is peddling. The best way of getting through the dog days of summer is with good drinks and great company. Investing in a nice looking seersucker suit won’t hurt either.

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