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What We’re Drinking Now: The Summer Sipping Edition
It’s time to retool your summer beverage regimen.
Ab Ovo is a weekly newsletter produced by Clay Dillow (CD) and Tim McKirdy (TM). If you enjoy our work, we’d love to have you as a subscriber (it’s free!). If you already subscribe, we appreciate the support — and don’t forget to forward this to a friend. Thanks for reading.
With Memorial Day behind us we’re now well into the summer socializing season, and for most of us that means a complete recalibration of our go-to beverage selections. Everyone has a favorite summer drink, whether something complex and potent like a Singapore Sling, straightforward and refreshing like an ice cold Mexican lager, or the epitome of staid simplicity that is sparkling water served chilled in a tall glass (maybe with a slice of citrus?).
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reaching for a proven summer staple — and certainly no fault in knowing exactly what you like — here at Ab Ovo HQ we tirelessly seek out ways to deviate from the well-worn path. Sometimes that means mining the back bar for timeless ingredients and forgotten classics. At other times we’re tasting through dozens upon dozens of hard seltzers in search of that one oddly-elongated aluminum can that defies expectations.
But whatever we’re doing, we’re always looking for ways to shake up our regular drink regimens, even during a part of the year in which an abundance of fantastic seasonal standbys leaves us spoiled for choice. As summer 2021 gets fully underway, here’s what you should be drinking now.
What you were drinking: White Claw
What you should drink: A better hard seltzer
Why: Someone once joked (or tweeted?) that drinking La Croix is like taking a sip of plain carbonated water while someone shouts the name of a fruit in the next room. If the person in the next room would only shout “SKITTLES DISSOLVED IN ACETONE!” we could say the same for White Claw. You can do better. We can all do better.
Try: Willie’s Superbrew. Among the many hard seltzers on the market this summer, Willie’s shines by dispensing with the common complaint that hard seltzers lack flavor. It’s also made with actual fruit, and the difference in calories (110 to White Claw’s 100) is negligible.
What you were drinking: Mexican lager with a limp lime wedge
What you should drink: An ice cold craft pilsner, no garnish necessary
Why: We love Mexican lagers. We love them so much in fact that we default to them mindlessly; a warm day is a Modelo day, a Pacifico day, a Tecate day. But with just a touch more mindfulness we’d realize that a cold, crisp pilsner provides all the lightweight, thirst-quenching drinkability of a typical American or Mexican lager with a greater depth of flavor. Moreover, craft brewers have taken up the pilsner enthusiastically in recent years, providing a lot of new twists on this iconic brew.
What you were drinking: Pinot Grigio
What you should drink: Any Spanish white that’s spent time on lees
Why: Yes, you can order yet another bottle of Pinot Grigio. It will taste of pear, maybe of peach, and most certainly of lemon, and it definitely won’t offend anyone in the same way a glass of water doesn’t offend anyone. A solid Albariño or Verdejo, on the other hand, will bring a little joie de vivre to your patio or picnic blanket (and pair excellently with whatever you’re snacking on). Both of these grapes produce wines that are incredibly fresh, bright, and fruit-forward. But when they also spend a few months aging on their lees*, these wines develop some structure and depth that goes a long way on the palate (and makes them incredibly food-friendly). They’re also wildly affordable, so you really have no excuse.
(*Dead yeasts left over from fermentation; lees impart bready flavors to wine and are basically 80% of the reason Champagne is so good.)
What you were drinking: Dry, Provence-style rosé
What you should drink: A chilled light red wine
Why: Rosé is fantastic when it’s fantastic, and we wouldn’t dream of swearing it off entirely. But spiking popularity has led winemakers to push a lot of very mediocre rosé to market in recent years. Meanwhile, there’s an entire spectrum of under-appreciated wines that live somewhere between the pale pink Provençal rosés that dominate brunch menus and Instagram feeds and the wines we typically think of as dinner table reds. These wines: a) are light-bodied/low in tannin, b) pair marvelously with an afternoon-to-evening cookout situation, and c) do their best work when chilled.
What you were drinking: Prosecco
What you should drink: Corpinnat
Why: Before Prosecco stole the hearts of sparkling wine drinkers across the globe — and there was such a time — drinkers gravitated toward Cava as a budget friendly Champagne alternative. Even today Cava has much more in common with France’s vaunted sparkling wine than Prosecco, though the quality and price point of the category has dipped in recent years. For this exact reason, nine producers broke away from the Cava DO a few years back to form their own higher-quality category of Spanish sparkling wine: Corpinnat. While the flavor profile doesn’t completely mimic that of Champagne (because of the grapes used), the production techniques are identical. Which is to say, if you’re looking for low-cost, high-quality bubbles on a budget, any bottle with “Corpinnat” on the label is the way to go.
Try: Gramona ‘La Cuvee’ Corpinnat 2016, Recaredo ‘Terrers’ Brut Nature Cava 2015 (Note: Recaredo is one of the nine Corpinnat wineries, but older bottles like this one still have “Cava” on the label, as the labeling change only went into effect in 2019.)
What you were drinking: Aperol Spritz
What you should drink: The galaxy of other spritzes out there inviting your exploration
Why: In the wake of a truly admirable marketing campaign by the fine folks at Campari Group, you might be surprised to learn that there’s no law stating that a spritz must contain Aperol. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a bitter element in a spritz, but on a hot summer day doesn’t something light, fruity, and aromatic sound better? Vermouths (both sweet and dry) make excellent bases for refreshing spritzes. Lillet might work even better.
Try: Lillet Rosé over ice topped up with Prosecco or sparkling mineral water, with plenty of fruit garnish. —CD
What We’re Eating: Khao Man Gai
As long as we’re exploring under-appreciated summer libations, a culinary suggestion in the same vein seems an appropriate follow-up. A spicy dish served with a side of soup might feel counterintuitive for this occasion, but there’s never a bad time for Hainanese Chicken Rice. With ties to China, Singapore, and Thailand, the dish arrives with many names that vary loosely on “Khao Man Gai.” It reimagines that tried and true formula of poultry and grain, with the chicken slowly poached, immediately coated with fragrant sesame oil, and served sliced, cold, and bearing no color. The cooking liquid is quickly reduced down to a vibrant, clean consommé; the rice gains texture and character via braising in the oven; and a spread of spicy, savory, and herbaceous condiments ensure each colorful bite is delivered in stunning 4K HD. For those in the Big Apple, look no further than Eim Khao Mun Kai in Elmhurst — it’s literally the only dish served there. Otherwise, I point you in the direction of this newsletter’s go-to YouTube chef. —TM