August 4th. Blecch. Another day of 100-plus degrees. Just getting through a normal routine feels like hard work. And when cocktail hour rolls around, will I get out the shaker to mix drinks individually? No. It’s too much effort.
Enter the Westside. Arguably the best—and easiest—use of gin and lime juice ever devised.
A few years ago our dear friends Jim and Karen introduced us to the Southside, a classic drink dating back to at least the 1890s. As with many old school favorites, variations on the Southside sprang up over the years, but traditionally it’s made with gin, lemon juice (rather than lime), sugar (or simple syrup) and mint.
Jim is a cocktail virtuoso, possessor of a tall, antique storage cabinet that holds a vast and esoteric selection of liquors, liqueurs and mixers, some of which are collector’s items for cocktail aficionados, no longer available for purchase. I think Jim was an alchemist in another life. In this one he’s very serious about his drinks. When he and Karen come over to our house, they come armed with at least two or three of Jim’s latest concoctions and enthusiasms, and all of us will spend a happy afternoon and evening, tasting, discussing and comparing. (And eating! Glen and I usually provide the food.) The day they brought the ingredients for Southsides was a hot one, and boy, those drinks hit the spot.
Jim being Jim, he brought his own cocktail shaker, gin, a quantity of lemons, simple syrup and mint. For a touch of fizz, he brought sparkling water. And because he’s Jim, he didn’t bring just any gin. He knew I disliked its strong herbal, floral smell, so instead of something more commonly available, he brought Farmer’s, a small-batch, organic gin he promised I would enjoy. When he uncapped it and invited me to smell it, I was hesitant. He was right, though. Farmer’s has none of the cheap-perfume flamboyance I associate with gin. Instead it’s subtly floral and lemony.
A few days later Glen and I wanted to make Southsides ourselves. We had the Farmer’s gin (from a neighborhood liquor store specializing in harder-to-find items) and the sparkling water (we like Topo Chico). We had simple syrup and fresh mint. Out of laziness we decided to forget the cocktail shaker and instead make a pitcher full, ready in the refrigerator for lazy summer days. We weren’t excited about squeezing a bag of lemons, though, and I hadn’t found fresh lemon juice by the quart. I did find jugs of fresh lime juice, and it substituted beautifully.
The resulting drink was just as good as a Southside, but with the slightly sweeter citrus flavor of lime. Over time I decided to put my big-boy pants on and branch out with the gin, too (acclimating first with the Farmer’s had made it easier). We settled on Bombay Sapphire.
Here’s the recipe:
15 oz. gin
10 oz. simple syrup (1:1)
10 oz. fresh lime juice (by the quart jug from a good liquor or grocery store is easier)
Stir the first 3 ingredients together in a pitcher. With the mint, you have options. You can mince it and add it to each drink individually, which looks pretty:
But I don’t like to chew on fresh mint. If you don’t either, you can either add a bruised sprig of mint to each drink, or you can add several sprigs to the pitcher to flavor all the contents at once.
Unfortunately the mint will turn an ugly grey-green in a couple of days, though the mixture will taste wonderful—delicately mint-infused. So you can either ignore the seaweed floating in your pitcher (and not let your friends see it), or you can drink the contents of the pitcher within 24 hours. Up to you.
TO MAKE THE DRINK: Add 4 oz. of the gin mixture to an ice-filled glass. Top with 4 oz. sparkling water. If the sparkling water has a lot of fizz, you shouldn’t need to stir. Enjoy!
There’s no need for a sugared rim or a stemmed glass, both of which I’ve seen used for the Southside (though I use that treatment for the classic Sidecar, which I’ll write about it a future post). To me, this is a drink meant to be enjoyed simply, like lime- or lemonade. Since each glass of the prepared mixture is at least ½ sparkling water, it’s not overly alcoholic, and it’s ideal for casual summer entertaining (that’s a plastic “glass” in the photo).
Unlike the Anchor Summer Sour, we didn’t invent the Westside. It turns out a lot of people over the years had already subbed lime juice for the lemon juice, though they still called it a Southside. Glen and I called it a Westside to distinguish it from the classic Southside, and because we lived on the west outskirts of Austin at the time. Now we live northeast, but it’ll always be a Westside to us. And it makes these dog days of summer just a little more enjoyable.
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