by Lucinda Hutson
Desi Arnaz and I have shared a few cocktails together. For more than three decades, during the month of May, I went fishing with my father in Mexico’s Baja California del Sur. We stayed at a secluded fishing resort an hour down a dusty and bumpy road from La Paz and spent long days sea-wrangling and chasing the elusive marlin and shimmering neon yellow and turquoise dorado (mahi mahi). Desi owned a vacation home in the tiny village (replete with a guitar-shaped swimming pool!) and was a competitive sports fisherman who held court in the bar in the evenings—boasting about the big fish that got away.
Upon returning to shore, sunburned and tired after a long day of fishing, nothing tasted better than a cold spritzer cocktail flavored with freshly squeezed Mexican lime: simple, refreshing and invigorating! Some of us would gather in the courtyard outside our rooms and I’d fill tall glasses with ice, thick slices of unpeeled cucumbers, a lemon wedge and a hearty dose of gin, then splash in ginger ale and a squeeze of Mexican limes. After imbibing the cocktail, we’d enjoy the crunchy, ice-cold cucumber slices and recount the day’s events. I christened the spritzer the “Gin-Cu-Lem” and even daiquiri-loving Desi liked it.
Spritzers—cocktails in which the “spirit” of the spirit shines and other ingredients are kept minimal—remain my favorite warm-weather coolers. Some prefer using white rum or vodka in spritzers; however, I find the bright, fiery personality of 100-percent blue agave tequila blanco (tempered with its inimitable sweet roasted agave flavor) or the juniper, citrus, spice and herbs that flavor gin far more exciting. And for the bubbles, there are delicious artisanal offerings, such as Jamaican-style Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew and Austin’s own Maine Root Ginger Brew, to add spicy kick, or consider sparkling sodas in flavors such as blood orange and pomegranate. Replace traditional overly sweet quinine-flavored tonic waters with more natural and less-sweet versions such as Fever-Tree and Q Tonic. Sometimes a good splash of bubbly mineral water—think Topo Chico—is all that’s needed to make a spritzer sparkle, although I’ve added prosecco or cava, too.
Fresh citrus, preferably Mexican (key) limes, oranges, kumquats, grapefruit and lemons, add that special burst of freshness and pleasing acidity to drinks. Dress up spritzers with garnishes such as slices, wedges or curled zests of fruit; unpeeled organic pickling cucumbers cut in slices or long spears to use as stir-sticks; seasonal berries; or edible flowers, such as Johnny-jump-ups, nasturtiums, fennel, dill or small blue star-shaped borage flowers. A nosegay of fragrant herbs makes my favorite garnish, though.
Many new-fangled cocktails today taste like dessert before dinner with their cloying concoctions combining too many liqueurs, spirits, sweet juices and syrups. Give me a light and refreshing spritzer any day!