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These summer cocktail trends are making a splash in Tampa Bay

There are few things more satisfying than a refreshing cocktail on a warm summer day. It's no surprise, then, that summer-themed cocktails provide such fertile ground for creative bartenders.

If there's any unifying characteristic of summertime cocktails, it's the usage of very fresh ingredients. Colorful fruit, fresh-squeezed juices and just-picked herbs are common partners to a wide variety of spirits. Vodka, gin, brandy, whiskey, rum, tequila, aperitifs, fortified wines — all can be thirst-quenching when prepared with summer in mind.

What's a great summer cocktail, anyway? Is it an iconic favorite, like the margarita, pina colada or daiquiri; or is it a semi-obscure classic, like the Pimm's Cup or an Americano? Spiked lemonade, or a fruit-and-herb-infused cooler? Is there room for whiskey? Yes to all of the above — that's the beauty of this category of drink.

At Clearwater's Opal Sands Resort, director of food and beverage Justin Burk has created a lineup of cocktails perfectly suited to the season. The setting is Sea-Guini, the resort's sea-and-Italian-cuisine-inspired restaurant, offering views of the beach in a modern, upscale dining area and lounge.

Burk's cocktails — like the fruity-floral Raspberry Time, which uses thyme from the restaurant's hanging garden — offer a glimpse into some of the current summer cocktail trends, from the use of fresh berries, handpicked herbs and freshly squeezed citrus to beach-friendly spins on classics and visually striking concoctions involving exotic infusions.

These drinks are evidence of a growing trend that is expanding the flavors associated with summer. Spirits as diverse as gin, rum, mezcal and vodka are now frequently featured, with flavor profiles ranging from light and fruity to sweet and sour to smoky and even spicy.

Edison: Food+Drink Lab in Tampa regularly updates its cocktail list to include these kind of seasonal flavors and ingredients. Bar manager Shelby Goelz offers a lineup of 10 house cocktails that include a variety of exotic spirits — ever tried aloe-based liqueur? — as well as drinks that focus on local ingredients, like the Tropic-ana Tipple, which utilizes Old St. Pete Vodka and simple syrup infused with Jamaican Ruby Red tea from Davis Islands' TeBella.

"We try and stay seasonal as often as possible, as well as do our own juicing and our own infusions," Goelz said. There's also much attention placed on attractive garnishes. The Tropic-ana Tipple, for example, includes a sprig of fresh mint carefully wrapped in a grapefruit peel. "The servers asked, 'Are we going to do this garnish every time?' Yep, every time."

The Bends in downtown St. Petersburg is always dependable when it comes to seasonal cocktails. These drinks are piloted frequently, sometimes even on a daily basis. Two of the new additions for summer are the fantastically named Goth Summer and the Soft and Wet, the latter of which debuted at a Prince-themed party following the musician's death in April.

Co-owners Craig Dragoonis and Matt Kaye take cues from the classic tiki drinks of the '50s and '60s, stacking bold, tropical flavors atop a range of spirits, resulting in highly sippable but surprisingly potent drinks. Some of these creations involve surprising pairings, going beyond riffs on the classics and into wholly new territory.

"I'm inspired by tiki culture, and I love researching other tropical climate areas' cocktails," Kaye said. "We encourage our bartenders to come up with cocktails that excite them personally. It makes for a more eclectic menu."

Whereas yesterday's summer cocktails may have come from a frozen drink dispenser, today's feature a refreshing level of sophistication. These are drinks that can go to the dinner table or a dance floor just as easily as a poolside lounge chair.

Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG.

Move over, margarita

Here is the best preparation method for all of the following cocktail recipes, provided by the bars featured in this story. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with some ice (a glass with some sort of top works in a pinch), shake vigorously for 30 seconds or so, then strain into a glass of your choice.

Opal Sands

Raspberry Time

This cocktail is accented with fresh thyme, grown in-house. "We want to use things other than just liqueurs," said beverage director Justin Burk. "We have a hanging garden in the restaurant, and we pick the herbs for this cocktail from the wall."

1.25 ounces New Amsterdam

1.5 ounces margarita "ripe" mix

4 or 5 raspberries

1 thyme sprig

4 dashes peach bitters

2 ounces Sprite

Hand-Shaken Coconut Daiquiri

The idea here, explained Burk, was to create "an upscale daiquiri — something you could have inside during dinner, like a martini instead of a frozen daiquiri." The cocktail is shaken until ice cold, then served straight-up in a cocktail glass, complete with a coconut-topped rim.

2 ounces Malibu rum

1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice

1 ounce simple syrup

Edison: Food+Drink Lab

Tropic-ana Tipple

"This was a local inspiration," said bar manager Shelby Goelz. "TeBella is a tea from Davis Islands, and all of our teas for our whole tea program come from there." This cocktail also uses vodka from the Old St. Pete distillery. It is flavored with the bold Campari-like Cappelletti Aperitivo, which Goelz said adds a "bright, grapefruit element."

2 ounces Old St. Pete Vodka

1 ounce Cappelletti Aperitivo

0.75 ounce TeBella Jamaican Ruby Red-infused simple syrup

0.75 ounce grapefruit juice

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Top with Fever Tree tonic water. Garnish with fresh mint and grapefruit peel.

Oaxaca This Way

Goelz describes this cocktail as "a play on the margarita, with the added indulgence of mezcal and lava salt." The addition of ginger liqueur and habanero shrub give it a spicy kick that's balanced out by the sweet-sour quality of lime and agave. "The flavors open up a little as it sits," Goelz added.

1.5 ounces the 86 Co. Tequila Cabeza

0.5 ounce Del Maguey Minero mezcal

0.75 ounce Barrow's Intense Ginger liqueur

1 ounce lime juice

0.5 ounce agave nectar

2 drops Bittermens Hellfire habanero shrub

Coat the rim of the glass with lava sea salt.

The Bends

The Goth Summer

Bends co-owner Craig Dragoonis calls this "a fresh twist on a classic, old-school tiki cocktail. It has a good, smoky taste from the mezcal, but the fresh fruit juices balance it out well."

1.5 ounces Del Maguey Vida Mezcal

0.25 ounce St-Rémy Brandy

2 ounces pineapple juice

0.25 ounce house-made cinnamon syrup

2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice

A few dashes Angostura bitters

Garnish with a pineapple wedge and fresh mint.

Soft and Wet

"The Soft and Wet was named to commemorate Prince's passing," explained co-owner Matt Kaye, referring to Prince's 1978 song of the same name. "It's a sexy summertime cocktail with light floral notes mixed with sour citrus and complemented by the sweetness of strawberry kombucha."

1.5 ounces Tito's Handmade Vodka

0.75 ounce house-infused lavender simple syrup

0.75 ounce lemon juice

Top with strawberry kombucha. Garnish with an edible flower.

.If you go

Opal Sands Resort

430 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearawater; (855) 335-1087;

Edison: Food+Drink Lab

912 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa;

(813) 254-7111;

The Bends

919 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 202-8931;

These summer cocktail trends are making a splash in Tampa Bay 05/30/16 [Last modified: Monday, May 30, 2016 12:49pm]
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