Vacation is where you find it, I've learned. An hour in a sunny backyard, tropical-tasting drink in hand, may not be a full-on week at the beach, but it's something. Thing is, so many so-called "boat drinks" just taste of coconut-scented sunscreen and sugar. And if my mini-vacation is gonna last only until the bottom of the glass, I want better.
This shaken cocktail is just the ticket. Served up, it's cold and slightly frothy, tangy and bright, popping with fresh pineapple and lime flavors that are enhanced by fragrant, almond-y orgeat, a bit of savory cumin, and spicy cayenne.
You'll start off by making a little fresh pineapple juice—don't worry, you don't need a juicer; it's pretty quick to muddle about three-quarters of a cup of pineapple chunks and strain the results. The juice gets a touch more tropical with the addition of orgeat, an almond- and orange flower–scented syrup that you can make at home (but that I always buy).
An herbal, peppery gin underscores the freshness of the drink: The bartenders at the MINA Test Kitchen in San Francisco, who developed this cocktail to accompany a series of Indian-themed pop-ups, call for Calyx Gin. A collaboration between Stephen Gertman of Ascendant Spirits and winemaker Rajat Parr (who previously served as wine director for the Michael Mina restaurant group), the gin is unusually spicy and fragrant, flavored with ingredients that include Santa Barbara grapefruit peel, mint, cubeb pepper, angelica, coriander, ginger, and black cardamom.
This drink tastes good with any bold, botanical-rich gin, but the smoky-spicy cardamom character and the crisp grapefruit cut of the Calyx really make the cocktail's savory side shine. And it's that savory side that really makes this cocktail special. Rather than sweetening it with plain simple syrup, you add some whole peppercorns and whole cumin seeds to simmer in the mix. The earthy spices balance the drink's soft fruitiness, and it's all punched up a little more with a pinch of cayenne.
While I love a foamy cocktail, they're usually made by shaking in raw egg whites, and something about drinking raw eggs on a hot day grosses me out. This drink gets a nice, frothy-rich texture without any egg, thanks to the fresh pineapple, lime, and orgeat, and even gets a touch of foam if you employ a little trick discussed in Dave Arnold's Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail. You see, ice doesn't just get your drink cold: Shaking a cocktail adds tiny air bubbles, which improve its texture. Unclarified fruit juices—such as lime and pineapple—are what Arnold calls "foam promoters," boosting the bubbles further thanks to plant cell-wall bits and pectin. Arnold suggests shaking drinks with a single big ice cube and two small ones. Compared with smaller ice, a single two-inch cube produces measurably more foam from shaking, while the smaller cubes will give you the dilution you need. While it sounds a little finicky, since reading this trick, I've been keeping a big-cube tray in my freezer for shaken drinks, and I've loved the results.
Now I just need another round (and maybe a cocktail umbrella).