Got Lemons? Refreshing Summer cocktails to Beat the Heat. 

It feels like summer has hit a little earlier — and a lot harder — this year. I'm trying to up my water intake and cut down on my wine drinking, because it seems like both whites and reds can be dehydrating. The human race might be able to survive on water alone, but not this Memphian — and that's why I'm drinking lemonade.

Acid, it seems, can be a thirst quencher. One of the first signs of dehydration is a dry mouth — and the tartness of lemon sparks immediate salivation. Lemonade is also packed with Vitamin C and antioxidants, which makes it a better choice for a summer mixer than, say, a can of cola.

I occasionally make lemonade from scratch — but until recently, I was most likely to pick up a bottle of Simply Lemonade at the grocery store. Yes, it's chock full of sugar, but with just four ingredients, and cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, I could do worse. Then I discovered a game-changer via the website TheKitchn — a "juicing hack" that utilizes a stand mixer to yield the most juice from fresh lemons. You simply quarter your lemons and then pulverize them at low-speed using the paddle attachment. Strain the juice into a measuring cup, and you're ready to go.

Use eight to 10 lemons to yield one cup of lemon juice, then whisk in up to one cup of sugar until dissolved. (I like my lemonade tart, so I generally use 2/3 cup sugar). Add six cups of water, and chill.

click to enlarge MAURIZIO DISTEFANO | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Maurizio Distefano | Dreamstime.com

And now it's time for the cocktails:

I'm a sucker for the Limoncello cocktail recipe I found on the Simply brand's homepage. Mix one cup of lemonade, ¾ cup club soda, ½ cup Limoncello liqueur, and a shot of vodka. Muddle some mint in a glass, add ice, and pour over the cocktail ingredients.

I realize that I slightly disparaged white wine above, but paired with lemonade in a sangria, I can tolerate it on these 95 degree days. Pre-make this cocktail by the pitcher, and pair it with dinner on the grill. Start with a base of lemonade in a large pitcher, then add a bottle of Chardonnay, two-thirds cup of light rum, fresh berries, a sliced orange, and a sliced Granny Smith apple. Refrigerate the concoction for as long as you can stand it — I recommend an hour, minimum — and serve.

A gin shandy is simple to make — and it reminds me of a family vacation to London when I was a teenager. I discovered pre-canned shandy in vending machines around town and pretended I was getting a buzz while making the tourist rounds of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. This shandy is better than canned and almost as simple as popping a tab. Just mix one cup of lemonade with three-fourths cup gin and a 12-ounce bottle of ginger beer. If you want something even simpler, skip the ginger beer and just enjoy a lemonade with gin. Or try vodka, served in a tall Collins glass over ice.

Another fun twist on an old favorite is a lemonade margarita. This one is best served on the rocks. Salt your rims per usual, then, in a cocktail shaker, combine 2 one-quarter cups lemonade with three-quarters cup tequila. Garnish your glasses with lemon rounds. Enjoy!

Or, step it up a notch with the Kentucky Lemonade Cocktail. Rim highball glasses with coarse sugar instead of salt. Muddle mint leaves in a shaker, then add lemonade and bourbon (I'll let you decide how much). Shake and strain. Pour, leaving enough room to top off each glass with ginger ale and a lemon slice garnish.

I've found my new favorite recipe online. Called Cajun Lemonade, a riff on the illustrious Pimm's Cup cocktail, it was concocted by Duffan McDonnell, a twice-nominated Mixologist of the Year at New Orleans' Tales of the Cocktail and author of the cocktail history Drinking the Devil's Acre. Combine two ounces of lemonade with one-and-a-half ounces of white rum or vodka, one ounce of Pimm's No. 1, and two dashes of hot sauce (the recipe calls for Tabasco, but I substituted my favorite, Louisiana Hot Sauce). Shake with ice, then strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with a splash of 7Up and garnish with a lemon wheel. Spicy, tangy, savory, and herbaceous, this drink refreshes like no other.

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