As I've said before in this column, I'm a fan of the cocktail renaissance of recent years—the rediscovery of classic drinks, the endless invention of new ones, the incorporation of all kinds of exotic ingredients. But as much fun as it is to play with a well-stocked bar, toying with different bitters and juices and liqueurs, there's still a lot to be said for simplicity. Especially when it's a hot July day and you mostly want something fast and refreshing.
Fortunately, there are a bunch of good drinks you can make in one quick step, and still have something a little more interesting than a G&T or Jack and Coke. And all of them use mixers readily available at your local grocery store.
Let's start with rum, the essential summertime booze. Dark rum, we're talking here, good dark rum. Like the Flor de Cana Grand Reserve that a friend recently brought back for me from Nicaragua. (If you don't have a friend who regularly vacations in Nicaragua, you can get it at most decent liquor stores.) This is the kind of rum that you can drink on its own, if you're so inclined. But it also plays well with others—with tonic water, for example. Pour a couple of measures of rum over ice, fill the glass with tonic, and you get a satisfying balance of bittersweet quinine and buttery molasses.
Another terrific dark-rum option is the Dark and Stormy, the national drink of Bermuda, which mixes rum with ginger beer. You want ginger beer, not just some old ginger ale—the stuff with real kick to it, like Reed's or Maine Root, available in lots of gourmet food shops and some of your ethnic groceries as well. "Dark N Stormy" is actually a registered trademark of the Bermuda rum maker Gosling's, and if you look around you might be able to find a boxed set they sell of their own good rum and a bottle of Gosling's brand ginger beer. In any case, the resulting drink is not nearly as cloying as rum and Coke, with the sweetness of the rum absorbing the heat of the spice.
Sticking with brown booze but shifting gears, there is much to recommend bourbon and soda. Especially for your midline bourbons, it's a way to turn a sippin' drink into something a little more swiggable. (NB: You don't want to drown the bourbon, just float it.)
Over in the white-liquor aisle, there are of course any number of vodka possibilities. My own favorite is the Greyhound, which is two parts grapefruit juice to one part vodka. One cautionary note: Don't drink a lot of these on an empty stomach. Besides intoxication concerns, the citric acid can be hell on the digestive tract. And by the way, if you change out the vodka for gin and add salt on the rim, you'll have yourself a Salty Dog.
But you don't need liquor to have a mixed drink. Both wine and beer can make for good, if not entirely respectable, summertime combos. Yes, a white wine spritzer sounds sort of embarrassing, but on a sweltering afternoon it can be a welcome companion. Especially if you're at one of those parties where the only wine on hand is box Chardonnay. Put it over some ice and splash some soda in it, and you get something like a good, tart, fizzy lemonade.
Speaking of lemonade, it is the designated mixer in shandy, alongside some kind of fairly light, summery beer. (Leinenkugel's seems particularly well suited.) Now, a note on terminology here: In Britain, where the shandy originated, "lemonade" means lemon-lime soda, along the lines of Sprite or 7-Up. So the traditional shandy is about half beer and half soda. I know, sounds gross, but it's actually kind of tasty on a hot day—with the bonus effect of reducing your alcohol intake, so you can chug it more prodigiously. Just don't let any serious beer drinkers see you pouring the Sprite in, most of them aren't as broad-minded as me. Here in the U.S., thanks to cultural mistranslation, I've actually had shandies prepared with American-style lemonade. It makes for a somewhat different but better-than-you'd-think picnic beverage. (Having good lemonade will help. Country Time is not recommended.)
Got a favorite one-mix drink of your own? Send 'em my way, to firstname.lastname@example.org. There's still a lot of summer left.