HerbaciousCocktail_color350After a chilly, rainy, and somewhat stressful 12-hour drive home from Ohio, I am currently enjoying a bowl of chowder (quickly thawed), and reflecting on (surprise!) all the extraordinary dishes, cocktails, and wines I experienced during my time away.

The unseasonably autumnal nature of my current meal has got me musing about the season. And I realized this afternoon, somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania on a long, monotonous stretch of I-80 that my search for the perfect summer cocktail is over. It has been found.

This search began some years ago at a bridal shower. Surrounded by pink, presents, blushing brides, and squealing guests, I approached the bar, skeptically eyeing the pretty pre-made cocktails, and glasses of rosy champagne. The bartender took one look at me and said, “ You look like you need something strong—but perhaps something that doesn’t actually look like a Martini.” I nodded my vigorous and whole-hearted assent. He rewarded me with one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. One that I have been trying to find or replicate ever since: Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber soda, a splash of orange liqueur, and a pungent spring of rosemary. Cool, herbaceous, perfection.

These last two weeks alone, I’ve had three more cocktails that rival this first refreshing revelation. The first was at a high-brow, but delightfully low-key Mexican restaurant in Cleveland. On a breezy back patio with twinkling lights buried deep in an ivy-covered wall, Tony and I shared a cucumber margarita with a spicy salted rim and tacos stuffed with duck confit and pork belly.

Later that week, at Trader Joe’s in suburban Ohio, I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle of sparkling Italian grapefruit soda, and Tony couldn’t resist mixing it with ice and Hendricks. Those quick, simple drinks were perfect during a scorching afternoon out by the pool . . .  once we added a couple basil leaves to our glasses, which was fabulous.

Finally, last night, we went to a quirky restaurant in downtown Columbus. Situated in an old house with brightly painted walls covered in even brighter folk art, Alana’s focuses on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients and sells great wine at a mere 5 bucks over retail. I was convinced this place was a total winner even before I eyed their drink menu. There I spied a Hendrick’s cocktail with cucumber and grapefruit juices, handmade grapefruit bitters, and a sprig of rosemary served tall over ice. Sound good? Yup, to die for.

When I started pondering what these cocktails had in common I saw little cucumbers, citrus fruits, herbs, Hendrick’s gin, and silver tequila dancing in my head. I wanted to figure out a simple summer cocktail that mimicked the cool, refreshing, herbaceous flavor of these drinks without having to make my own bitters (maybe someday) or source artisinal sodas or specialty salts. Tony and I played around with Hendrick’s and grapefruit juice and herbs, but in the end, the easiest, tastiest drink we created was a Cucumber-Lime Margarita.

Okay, so my search for the perfect summer cocktail may not be over, because I’ll never be done trying new drinks. But now I have this tangy, refreshing, heat-beating contender in my back pocket.