Summer Spirits

Let me just admit right up front that I am a red wine drinker. My husband and I spent our five-year anniversary tasting our way through Napa. We’ve spent time in the Columbia River Valley, Washington, wine region and have been to over a dozen Virginia wineries. I’m not ashamed to admit that, like the Europeans, I have a glass of wine with dinner most every night. But when summer rolls around and the weather is a sticky 95 degrees, I want a cocktail, a cold, crisp cocktail that makes me feel like I’m on the beach somewhere (or maybe I’m already on the beach). And all the fresh, local produce that I highlight in my dinner dishes all summer can just as easily star in my next beverage. 

Recently mixology has come back into food fashion. Mixology is the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks—think a sommelier for cocktails. With this resurgence of appreciation for the perfectly mixed drink have come some new, exciting ingredients, liquors, and combinations of the two. If you’ve been to a martini bar recently and perused the menu, you know what I’m talking about. These drinks now need as much explanation as a six-course French tasting menu. But there are plenty of ways to make simple, yet superbly fresh drinks at home, without having to learn an entirely new ABC store vocabulary. 

It’s also important to note that Virginia, and Hampton Roads specifically, is producing some incredibly high quality spirits of its own. If you’ve been to an ABC store in the past few years, you may have noticed an exciting addition to the top shelf: Blue Ridge Vodka produced by Chesapeake Bay Distillery, which is located in Virginia Beach. 

CBD has also made some very small batch rum, which became the inspiration for my “Local Yokel Mojito.” Rum and mint are simply meant to be together, and if you’re like me, your mint is coming up like crazy right now—so put it to good use in this classic cocktail. They key to the mojito is high quality, fresh ingredients. Use a fresh lime, not pre-squeezed juice, a good rum and mint you just picked for a drink that will elevate your summer afternoon to something sublime. 

The recipe for Cucumber Margarita was inspired by a friend of mine who posted a picture on Facebook of a similar drink she enjoyed at a Mexican restaurant. Since she lives in Indiana, I couldn’t swing up there to try it out, so I started scouring the Internet to find a similar recipe. She approved of the recipe I found, a modification of one on Food Network’s website, and said the addition of chili powder really gives this drink a kick. 

Finally, for all you juice fanatics out there, give the kale and carrot juice a rest, put those bountiful summer tomatoes to good use and make your own Bloody Mary mix inspired by the Farmers Market. The Blood Mary is, after all, the healthiest of all cocktails, so there’s no shame is serving these up at your next brunch alongside some Surry ham and farm-fresh, free-range eggs. 

Please remember to enjoy these beverages responsibly. Cheers!


Local Yokel Mojito

Snip several stems of fresh mint and muddle in the bottom of a large glass with a spoonful of raw, organic sugar and the juice of half a lime. Fill the glass with ice, then fill the glass 1/3 full with rum, then add a jigger of sweetened lime juice and the juice of the other half of the lime, and fill the rest of the glass with club soda. Stir well and enjoy.


Cucumber Margarita

1 small cucumber, peeled, sliced, seeded, and diced

1 lime, juiced, plus a wedge or slice, for garnish

2 ounces silver tequila 

1-ounce simple syrup or agave nectar

1-ounce sweet and sour mix

Pinch cayenne pepper powder

In a cocktail shaker muddle half the cucumber, add ice, lime juice, tequila, simple syrup, sweet and sour mix and pepper powder. Shake and serve in a glass with ice, the other half of the diced cucumber and a salt and pepper rim. Garnish edge with a slice of cucumber or lime. 

Fresh Tomato Bloody Mary

6 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped

6 celery ribs, coarsely chopped

2 cups very coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley sprigs (from 1 large bunch)

2 tablespoons fine sea salt, divided

2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons bottled horseradish

2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons Tabasco

2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Lemon wedges for rims of glasses

16 ounces (2 cups) ice-cold vodka

Garnish: large caper berries or green olives

Make tomato juice: Purée tomatoes, celery, parsley, and 1 tablespoon sea salt in several batches in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill at least 1 hour. Force through a food mill or medium-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids (you’ll have about 10 cups juice). Add horseradish, Tabasco, and lemon juice.

To assemble drinks, mix remaining tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon finely ground fresh pepper on a small plate. Moisten outside of rim of each glass with lemon wedge, then dip rim in salt and pepper. Fill each glass with ice and 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) vodka, then top with about 2/3 cup juice.


Rachel Burns is the director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads. Visit for information.

Rachel Burns

Rachel Burns is the owner at The Content Chop Shop, a small shop providing content marketing services to small businesses, designers and nonprofits. She is also the co-owner of Burn Both Ends, which develops and presents educational opportunities and resources for small businesses looking to grow. She is a local to Hampton Roads and a vocal spokesperson for all its myriad advantages, her favorites of which is the Atlantic Ocean. She has been published in The Virginian Pilot, Tidewater Women, and AltDaily, among others. She lives in the Hickory section of Chesapeake with her husband, two pugs and several feral cats.

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