When you imagine fancy summer drinks, you probably think of cocktails – Long Island iced teas, sangrias, mimosas, and so on. The fact is, though, alcohol is often the last thing we want (or need!) in warm weather.
There’s a reason that soft drinks aren’t as highly thought-of as a good cocktail: they’re simply not given the same care and attention. This means that most people simply don’t know how to make an exceptional soft drink, but with a few of the right tricks, they can be just as impressive and satisfying as their alcoholic cousins.
- Use seasonal fruit
Just as you would when making food, use ingredients that are at their annual best to get the best results in drinks. In the summer, think strawberries, apricots, cherries, peaches, kiwi fruit, blueberries, and gooseberries. These will add life and colour to your drink, as well as natural sweetness (reducing the need for added sugar!).Elderflower, with its distinctive and delicate flavour that sings of summer, is also in season at this time of year – don’t miss out on it while it’s here!
- Take advantage of herbs
The use of herbs in drinks is usually reserved for cocktails, but it needn’t be – herbs can act as flavour bombs in exactly the same way in an alcohol-free beverage.
In the summer months, basil, mint, thyme, and rosemary, are at their very best. Combine basil with your strawberries, mint with your raspberries and melon, elderflower and/or thyme with your lemonade, and rosemary with your peaches.
- Make your own mixer
It may sound complex, but lemonade and ginger beer are two things that you really can make at home. The store-bought stuff is brimming with added sugar, and a homemade version will not only be healthier, but much more interesting in terms of flavour, too.Have a go at making your own batch of the fiery stuff with Jamie’s own ginger beer recipe, or see how to make a fantastic Spanish-style lemonade.
- Take some tips from mixologists
Cocktail-making is an art, and pinching a few tricks from the masters will take your summer soft drinks up a notch. Try pureeing fresh fruit (peaches work well) before lengthening, or muddling your base ingredients like you would with a cocktail; use crushed ice to lengthen and chill drinks and experiment with flavours,try squeezing the oil from citrus zest over the top of drinks and onto the rims of glasses.
- Utilise the freezer
Freezers are food heros all year round (seriously), but when it comes to drinks they really shine. Use your freezer to store fresh berries, whether you use them in a glass of elderflower lemonade or a frozen fruit smoothie, or freeze a few sprigs of herbs, or even flower petals, into ice cubes for a beautiful addition to a bright and bubbly summer drink.
You can even freeze leftover smoothie mix into ice lollies, which are perfect in the heat and a great treat for kids to have up your sleeve.
- Make big batches
Part of the reason that commercial fizzy drinks are so popular is that they’re convenient. Well, if you make big batches of soft drinks and have them handy in the fridge, you’ll be unlikely to find yourself reaching for a can of sugar. Think smoothies, lassis, and this beautiful strawberry slushie.
Batches of soft drinks are great for a crowd, too – there’s little more impressive than pulling a big jug of something refreshing and delicious out of the fridge on a hot day!
- Make flavoured water
This may seem like an obvious one, but you need to keep up your water intake during the summer – and no cocktail, boozy or otherwise, will do that. Kick the water itself up a gear and you’ll find yourself more inclined than ever to stay hydrated.
Almost anything can be used to flavour water: fruits, herbs, cucumber – with so many fabulous natural flavours to pick from, it’s a wonder this isn’t common practice all year round!
Have a go at making your own flavoured water (and let us know what flavours you go for).
- Make cold tea and coffee
A common misconception is that iced tea and coffee need to be super-sweet, and are difficult to make at home. Nope – a pot of tea cooled naturally in the fridge with a few ice cubes will be naturally sweeter than it would be hot, and the same goes for proper cold-brew coffee. Both are incredibly cooling in the heat, and easy to make in batches. If you find the flavour a little bitter to begin with, try using a little good honey instead of sugar.
- Natural sweeteners instead of sugar
Weaning ourselves off the incredibly sweet fizzy drinks many of us are used to can be challenging, but abandoning sugar where possible is so worth it. Good honey is an unrefined sweetener, but using fruit instead is even better.You’ll never look at a sugary fizzy drink again.