The first cocktail I ever made was a Strawberry Daiquiri. A frozen one. I was 14 years old. That’s a true story. I developed a taste and passion for cocktails at a rather peculiar age and that Strawberry Daiquiri recipe, lifted straight from a rather rudimentary home entertaining guide geared at bored house wives, seemed a pretty easy undertaking for a novice, ahem, bartender.
THE DAIQUIRI: WHERE IT’S AT
I used a bottled lime juice that went by the ironic name “Real Lime Juice,” some powdered sugar, a handful of chopped strawberries—those, at least, were fresh—and Bacardi rum. This frozen slushie was a revelation. The rest is history. Nowadays, if someone puts a frozen Strawberry Daiquiri in front of me, I’ll crack a wry smile, remembering fondly where my journey began. The Daiquiri is a great place to begin playing with strawberries, and the iconic Cuban cocktail makes a solid case for blended drinks. That said, there are also killer Strawberry Daiquiris and similar variations being shaken by some of the best bartenders. One fresh example: Will Thompson, lately of the new Roof at Park South in Manhattan, adds strawberry Demerara syrup and a kick of Tabasco to his Por Mi Amante.
WANDER THE GARDEN
Strawberries have many would-be complementary bedfellows when put together in a shaker (or blender). Fresh herbs are a natural match, especially mint, basil, thyme, rosemary and tarragon. A strawberry & basil Caipirinha has long been a favorite of mine and with the addition of a few drops of balsamic vinegar, the Brazilian stalwart becomes deeply complex. Strawberry can also be thrown into almost any classic cocktail that contains citrus, such as a Collins, Sour, Margarita, Swizzle or Fizz, among others. Rhubarb also works well (think strawberry & rhubarb pie), as seen in our Rose Cobbler at Bacchanal. Ben Clemons, a vastly talented chap who owns Bar 308 in Nashville, has a deadly drink called the El Chapo, topped with grapefruit beer. Seriously.
GRAB A SPIRIT, ANY SPIRIT
As for what spirits to pair with strawberries, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they literally go with everything. Irish whiskey? You bet. White rum? Yes, please. Blanco tequila? Now we’re talking. With so many things to love in one glass—rosé, strawberries, Campari, tequila—this Negroni twist, the Wild Strawberry Amaro by Dominic Venegas, one of America’s finest bar keeps, is what I’m sipping this summer.
While there are several very good frozen purees on the market now, there is nothing better than juicing or blending fresh strawberries. The yield is not very generous but at this time of the year, they’re packed with so much flavor and sweetness. I had a killer Strawberry Margarita, shaken, at Brooklyn’s Colonie restaurant last year, which owner Tamer Hamawi has just put back on the menu recently. You can also turn strawberries into a syrup and make this amazing, easy Pisco Sour for a large group of people at your next gathering.
Naren Young is the beverage director at New York’s Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria. (Illustrations: Ariel Dunitz-Johnson)