Festive beverages the ultimate in hospitality for guests

Watermelon Sangria

Summer drinks

Pitcher Perfect

Festive beverages the ultimate in hospitality for guests

By Teresa Taylor

The Post and Courier

In the heat of summer, a pitcher of ice-cold drinks is a vision, an oasis for parched tongues. Imagine a waterfall as the liquid spills out into a glass: It's time to chill out.

Pitcher drinks are great for entertaining, says Kim Haasarud, the founder of Liquid Architecture, a beverage consulting firm for the restaurant industry. Known as "The Liquid Chef," Haasarud also is the author of the newly published "101 Sangrias & Pitcher Drinks" (Wiley, $16.95)

A big reason is convenience.

"You can prep everything in advance so you're not standing behind the bar creating drinks one by one, and you have time to mingle," she says.

Event planner Mitchell Crosby of JMC Charleston says pitcher drinks also are the ultimate gesture of hospitality. The host is signaling, "I've given it some thought that I want you to try something and I've put it together."

Creative opportunities abound, Haasarud says. "Maybe in the various ways you cut the fruit, for example, to make it look really pretty. You can cut the citrus fruit into wheels or even use a cookie cutter, maybe cutting some shapes out of pineapple or mango pieces."

What's old is new again in pitcher drinks, she says. Sangria, first made popular in the U.S. by the 1964 World's Fair in New York, is becoming trendy again.

"Sangria is really starting to explode in restaurants, even the big chains," says Haasarud.

But the Spanish drink, traditionally made with red wine, fruit and brandy, is taking on new forms.

"I think that's much in part because there's this idea of using fresh ingredients in cocktails. ... Sangria is just one of those pitcher drinks that its foundation, along with wine, uses fresh ingredients and fruits, so it's kind of a natural that way. Also, you can be very creative in the type of fruits and ingredients you use."

Haasarud, whose book includes unconventional sangria recipes, such as Blueberry Pomegranate and Passionate Pear, says she was inspired by what was fresh and ripe at her local farmers market and grocery store. She encourages others to do the same.

Also, she says, one doesn't need an expensive wine to make a great sangria. On the other hand, "You don't want to use a really cheap wine, a wine that you wouldn't normally have a glass of."

Crosby himself is a fan of Caipirinha, which is Brazil's national cocktail. It's made with cachaca (a sugar cane liqueur), sugar and lime.

"I love Latin music in the summer, and it is perfect to listen to on the porch or in the garden room. This drink is perfect to set a theme for your cocktail hour," he says.

There are also plenty of choices for pitcher drinks without alcohol, Haasarud says.

Alcohol is optional in a number of her recipes. Or, she suggests using a nonalcoholic wine or red wine syrup in sangrias.

For the syrup, boil one part red wine with one part sugar until the sugar dissolves. The alcohol will burn off. The syrup may be mixed with a sparkling soda like lemon-lime or fruit juice.

Don't forget the pure charm and thirst-slaking power of iced tea, either. Crosby points out that the only tea grown in America is grown on Wadmalaw Island at the Charleston Tea Plantation.

"I would serve a large pitcher of very, very cold iced tea with lots of sliced oranges or lemons in it with a handful of fresh mint added to the bottom of each glass as a subtle surprise. I know tea sounds simple, but this is the best and freshest in America. It's the little things that make a big difference."

Recipes

Below are three drink recipes from Haasarud's book, "101 Sangrias & Pitcher Drinks."

Watermelon Sangria

Serves about 7

1 bottle dry white wine

3/4 cup watermelon schnapps

1/2 cup white cranberry juice

2 cups freshly scooped watermelon balls

2 limes, cut into half wheels

Combine all of the ingredients in a large ceramic or glass container and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve over ice.

Sicilian Sangria

Serves about 7

1 bottle Italian red wine

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup orange Curacao

1/4 cup simple syrup (recipe follows)

2 blood oranges, cut into wedges

1 white peach, cut into wedges

1 lime, cut into half-wheels

Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), as needed

Place all of the ingredients except the Prosecco in a large ceramic or glass container and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (best if overnight). Serve over ice in wine glasses. Garnish with additional fruit if desired. Top with a splash of Prosecco and stir.

Simple syrup is an ingredient used often in sangria recipes. It is a mixture of sugar to water in equal parts. Make some in advance; it can be stored in your refrigerator for weeks.

Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup hot water

In a small bowl, glass or empty clean wine bottle,

combine the sugar with the hot water and stir, or shake in a bottle, until completely dissolved. Let cool completely before using.

This recipe in Haasarud's book is adapted from the 2002 book, "Dishing With Kathy Casey: Food, Fun and Cocktails from Seattle's Culinary Diva."

Sake Punch

Serves about 6

1 (750 ml) bottle sake

6 teaspoons honey

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 large tangerine or orange, thinly sliced

1 large black or red plum, pitted and thinly sliced into wedges (see cook's note)

2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1 stalk fresh lemongrass, split in half lengthwise, then cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces

Cook's note: Substitute 2 apricots or 1 sliced peach or nectarine if plums are not available.

In a pitcher, combine all of the ingredients and stir with a spoon, crushing some of the fruit. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 12 hours, to let the flavors marry. Use within 4 days of making. Serve over ice, including some of the fruit in each serving.

This recipe is from the makers of Beleza Pura Cachaca (pronounced ka-shah-sa) via the Web site www.belezapura.com.

A Caipirinha (kai-pee-reen-yah) typically is made with muddled lime, but in a pitcher, the lime rind would make the drink bitter if the mixture sits for more than 30 minutes.

Caipirinha Party Pitcher

Serves 12-15

1 bottle Cachaca

11/2 cups fresh lime juice (juice of 7-12 limes)

3/4 cup Triple Sec

1/2 cup sugar

Sliced lime wheels for garnish

Stir all ingredients well in a 2-quart pitcher and chill in the refrigerator. Before serving, add 2 cups of ice to the pitcher. Serve over ice and garnish each glass with a lime wheel.