Refreshing DIY Cocktails to Beat the Summer Heat

Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Though I am happy that businesses are allowed to slowly re-open, bringing society back to normal, my wife (Ms. S.) and I are still not anywhere near our pre-COVID routine. Because we work at the same health clinic, where potentially infected patients visit their physicians, as a couple, we run a greater risk of contracting COVID. Therefore, we physically avoid family and friends unless absolutely necessary.

Of course, my 85-year-old mother is as pragmatic as they come, saying, “I’m 85; if I die, I die.”

To which I say, “But I don’t want to be the cause of your demise, Mom!” The same goes for the couple we’ve had dinner with twice. We don’t want to be the bearer of bad viruses.

But since restaurants are taking precautions as mandated by the state, why not enjoy a date night just with Ms. S., right? Our reasoning moves to the other end of the spectrum, as we also don’t want to be the recipients of bad viruses from other potentially infected diners. Though the state mandates wearing a mask while seated, roaming the restaurant and leaving, patrons obviously have to remove their mask while eating. And what do diners do in a restaurant? Socialize! And merely speaking causes the release of vapor particles that can travel up to six feet; hence, the six-foot separation of dining tables. But add the recirculating air from air conditioning, and the distance these vapor particles can migrate is significantly increased. So we continue to do take-out to patronize our favorite restaurants.

Many of us have noticed that, according to daily news reports, the number of new COVID-19 cases has been trending upward. Residents are starting to relax with the re-opening of the economy. Just wait until we re-open tourism without any 14-day quarantine restrictions! So if we’re still not reacquainting ourselves with daily life outside of the home, how do we pass the time?

Cocktails Anyone?

I’m not advocating the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a coping mechanism to deal with stressors that accompany COVID-19. Still, I’ll admit that my purchases of adult beverages have increased over the past few months. In part, I want to support local restaurants since the local liquor regulations have been relaxed, allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine and liquor with a take-out order during the shutdown. Before indoor dining was re-instituted in early June, restaurants had a drastic drop in liquor sales, which, in many cases, accounts for about a third of their revenues. So whenever we place take-out orders, we also purchase a bottle of wine or take-home cocktails.

Nationally, sales have flattened to the point of permanent closures of restaurants — leaving wine distributors and wineries with an abundance of inventory. Therefore, many wineries now offer select wines to the general public, which were previously reserved for their wine-club members. For example, Cliff Lede Vineyards recently offered a variety of bottles from their Rock Block series of Cabernet Sauvignon, which used to be reserved for wine-club members. Now, older wines from their library that were over 10 years old are available to the general public, and as an order bonus, two-day FedEx shipping to the 50th is only $20, which normally runs in the $50 to $100 range.

Lately, there has been an uptick in my consumption of adult beverages, but this has nothing to do with COVID-19. We’re now in the grasp of summer, a time to beat the heat with a nice chilled beverage. On weekends, that usually means something with Prosecco, tonic water or gin … or all three!

Aperol Spritz. (Photos courtesy of Ryan Tatsumoto)
Aperol Spritz. (Photos courtesy of Ryan Tatsumoto)

Variations of an Aperol Spritz

Whenever we go to any restaurant, Ms. S. always starts her evening with the classic Spritz Veneziano, commonly known as the Aperol Spritz, if it’s available. Aperol was created in 1919 by the Barbieri brothers in northern Italy. It is an aperitif (an appetite-stimulating drink served before meals) containing gentian, rhubarb and cinchona to give it bitterness inherent in most aperitifs.

After World War II, the Aperol Spritz gained worldwide popularity. It’s a simple cocktail using two parts of Aperol and three parts of Prosecco then splashed with one part of sparkling water. Usually served in a balloon wine glass with a slice of orange, it’s the perfect remedy for a hot Hawaiian summer.

After Ms. S. makes her Aperol Spritz, I usually concoct my own version with Campari in place of Aperol, as I enjoy the bracing bitterness of Campari. In place of an orange slice, I usually add a couple of dashes of orange bitters. Since Campari has double the alcohol, 24% to Aperol’s 11%, I usually add a little more sparkling water to tone it down. I’ve also substituted gin for Prosecco and tonic water for the sparkling water, then add sliced grapes and a sprig of fresh rosemary for my version of an Italian gin tonic. Also very refreshing on those hot summer days.

Cucumber and Lime are my Friends

After I passed that fifth decade in life, I scheduled that dreaded medical procedure recommended for everyone hitting their golden years, the colonoscopy. And after my procedure, my designated driver (the other half) asked if we could make a quick stop at Ala Moana Shopping Center. Sure, I felt like I had a mild hangover, but walking (and carrying shopping bags) wasn’t an issue.

We stopped at Mariposa for a light lunch. That’s when I saw their cocktail of the month, the “Envious Green Martini.” This cocktail is made with Hendricks gin (which has a pronounced cucumber and rose infusion), cucumber, lime juice and Green Chartreuse (an herbal and slightly bitter liqueur). Ms. S. saw me reading the cocktail description, and knowing that my discharge instructions said, “no alcohol” for 24 hours, she ordered the cocktail so I could enjoy a little sip. Epiphany!

Once the propofol, midazolam and fentanyl were purged from my system, I tried to recreate this libation. However, just last month while waiting at the supermarket check-out line (six feet apart), I noticed a bottle of Svedka Cucumber Lime vodka. It was on sale for $11.99 (regular $16.99), I couldn’t pass it up! And since Farm Link consistently offers locally grown cucumber and limes, I came up with this libation.

No Longer Envious.
No Longer Envious.

No Longer Envious

  • 4 peeled, thick slices of cucumber
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup (sugar dissolved into water, in equal parts)
  • 1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse
  • 1 and 1/2 ounce Svedka cucumber lime vodka
  • 1/2 ounce club soda

Muddle (smash) the cucumber slices in the lime juice in a tall glass. Add the simple syrup, Green Chartreuse and vodka and ice then swirl until chilled and strain into a cocktail glass over fresh ice. Top with the club soda and garnish with a slice of cucumber and lime.

When the mercury starts pushing close to triple figures, I usually avoid cocktails with bourbon, rye or scotch. The higher alcohol levels and smoky qualities tend to make me feel hotter than the ambient temperature.

Then, I tried this simple mixture of rye and amazake. What’s amazake? When sake is brewed, the cooked rice is first mixed with a koji or mold starter that breaks the complex carbohydrates in rice down to simple sugars. The yeast can then ferment the simple sugars into alcohol. Some sake breweries bottle this pre-digested rice slurry on its own as a nutrient-rich rice beverage. Because it hasn’t been exposed to yeast, it is alcohol-free so even children can indulge in amazake. The creamy, sweet qualities balance the spicy qualities in rye whisky and help temper the alcohol.

Hakkaisan Amazake.
Hakkaisan Amazake.

Amazake Sipper

  • 1 part rye whisky
  • 2 parts amazake
  • Squeeze of lime

Fill a lowball glass with ice then fill with the rye and amazake and finish with a squeeze of lime.

Where to find amazake? The Sake Shop occasionally receives shipments of amazake. We purchase frozen bottles and store them in our freezer. Once amazake is thawed, it continues to ferment and will sour after one week even if refrigerated. An Amazake Sipper is an enjoyable way to beat the summer heat!

Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (


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