Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs: How to Up Your Cocktail Game (Think Watermelon Ice Cubes)

Alex G

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

I love to make a fun and festive cocktail at home.

When I know I am having some friends over, I like to set up a basic mini bar with the essentials: ingredients for a good vodka soda, gin and tonic, some good beer and some good white and red wine.

Then, I like to have at least one or two specialty house cocktails that offer something a little different. A cocktail with a little panache definitely makes an evening with friends or a weekend brunch that much more special.

Some of these components, like the simple syrup and the watermelon ice cubes, are fun for making mocktails if you have kids or people that don’t like to consume alcohol. I never like the feeling that someone might be left out of the fun.

Here are a couple of the most signature drinks at Butter that I take an amateur bartender’s crack at when I am in the mood at home. But don’t be intimidated by all the equipment. If you don’t have a shaker, use any container with a fitted lid. Don’t know what simple syrup is? It’s just equal parts water and sugar simmered together and used as a sweetener for anything from these drinks to a glass of lemonade or iced tea.

RELATED: Alex Guarnaschelli Blogs: Why I’m a Tea Fanatic—Plus My Secrets to the Perfect Cup!

Calamansi Cocktail

Serves: 2

I love a sour drink that almost could be a sweet drink. These types of sour cocktails only make me feel more ready to eat and enjoy food. They can also be great when just hanging out and having a bowl of pretzels or chips. A few friends, a couple good stories to catch up on and a few sips of a Calamansi? That’s good stuff.

Watermelon ice cubes:

2 cups watermelon pieces, (no rind, no seeds)

1 tbsp. honey

1 oz. fresh lime juice

Simple syrup:

¾ cup water

¾ cup sugar

The cocktail:

4 oz. neutral-flavored vodka

2 oz. fresh lime juice

2 oz. simple syrup

12-14 fresh mint leaves, stemmed

Club soda

1. Make the watermelon ice cubes: Puree the watermelon, honey and lemon juice in the blender until smooth. Pour into a square ice cube tray. Freeze.

2. Make the simple syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a simmer and shut off the heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Cool.

3. Make the cocktails: In a shaker with ice (or any container with a fitted lid), mix vodka, lime juice, simple syrup and mint leaves. Pour over two highball glasses with 1 regular ice cube and 3 watermelon cubes in each. Top with club soda.

Holy Basil Cocktail

Serves: 2

This is a fun cocktail to make because the sweetness of the basil and the floral, spicy note of the pepper really mesh well with the fresh ginger and lemon juice. Use a gin that has a simple flavor profile so all the other flavors can shine. And use your more complex gin for a gin and tonic with a wedge of lime.

Ginger syrup:

¾ cup water

¾ cup sugar

3 tbsp. freshly grated ginger

The cocktail:

8 large basil leaves

4 oz. neutral-flavored gin

8 (½- in.) slices cucumber, peeled

2 oz. ginger syrup

1 oz. lemon juice

1 (8-oz.) ginger beer, chilled

Black pepper ready for grinding in a peppermill

1. Make the ginger syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a simmer and shut off the heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Cool and the stir in fresh ginger.

2. Make the drinks: Tear the basil leaves and place half in each of two rocks glasses. Combine the gin, cucumber, ginger syrup, lemon juice and a few ice cubes in a shaker (or any container with a tight-fitting cover). Shake thoroughly. Pour half of the mix into each of the glasses and add a couple of ice cubes. Top of each with the ginger beer and a bit of freshly cracked pepper on top.

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