Host the Best Bash of the Summer

Kingford's Louisville Sangria (Photos: John Lee)

You don’t need loads of $$$ and celebrity chefs on speed dial to throw the perfect summertime party. All you need is a guest list filled with interesting, diverse people, enough appetizers to soak up the booze, a solid soundtrack and the most important party favor of all . . . La Libations. If you’re one of the lucky guests, we’re also recommending some great boozy gifts certain to put a smile on your host’s face. And since we’re no experts, we sought out a few guys who know a thing or two about specialty summer sippers—from one of the busiest bars in Lakeview to a new Lincoln Park restaurant boasting an enviable cocktail program.

At Perennial Virant, Matty Eggleston spearheads the bar program that’s a nod to classic cocktails and showcases local produce. He gives two pieces of valuable advice: Prep a day before the event; and use a basic formula of 2 oz spirits (gin, vodka, rum or tequila), .75 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice and .75 oz sweetener (local honey or simple syrup).

He also recommends buying large quantities of fresh, seasonal berries and pureeing them with champagne vinegar (Eggleston says this will make your “drinks really pop!”). For simple, market-fresh cocktails, Eggleston says you should add all ingredients into shaker over ice, then shake, then strain over fresh ice in a tall Collins glass. Top with a splash of soda. Or, to mix things up, he suggests adding sprigs of mint to the shaker. Garnish also with mint.

Kris Von Dopek, the new bar manager at Duchamp, offers up one of his new cocktails for your next summer soiree. The Victorian Midnite contains 1.5 oz Smalls gin, 1 oz Bitter Truth Sloe Gin and four blackberries. All ingredients are shaken over ice, then strained in a Collins glass. Top with sparkling lemonade.

And Casey Moran’s Gabe Yonke is the man behind these two potent signature punches certain to loosen up your party guests:

Casey Moran's Margarita Punch

2.5 cups tequila
2.5 cups triple sec
8 cups sweet and sour mix
2 cups ginger ale
4 cups of lime sorbet or frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
3 cups of ice
Mix all ingredients in large punch bowl. Garnish with limes.

Casey Moran's Little Blue Cubbie Punch

3.5 cups blueberry vodka
2 cups Grand Marnier
2 cup blue Curacao
3 cups Sprite
9 cups lemonade
4 cups ice
Mix all ingredients in large punch bowl. Party Punch serves about 16 guests.

Kingford's Grilled Lemonade.

For the ultimate backyard BBQ bash, we also came across a couple of unique recipes created by Kingsford Charcoal, who teamed up with Oakland, Calif., mixologist Josh Perry. He takes two typical elixirs and hooks them up in ‘cue style:

Grilled Lemonade

6 pounds of lemons (about 16 lemons)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 rosemary sprigs (optional)
1 cup bourbon

Cut lemons in half and dip cut half in sugar. Set aside on tray to be grilled. Combine water, sugar and honey in saucepan or disposable aluminum tray. Add a couple sprigs of rosemary to saucepan. Heat up grill with Kingsford charcoal for medium-high heat. For additional rosemary flavor, throw a handful of rosemary sprigs on hot coals just prior to grilling. Grill lemons cut-side down until nice grill marks appear (about 5-7 minutes).

Remove lemons and set aside to cool. While grilling lemons, place saucepan with honey syrup on grill. Heat syrup until sugar and honey are fully dissolved and desired amount of rosemary flavor has been infused into syrup. When lemons are cool, squeeze juice into pitcher. Since they've been grilled, they should be easy to squeeze by hand. Add syrup and water to taste, Four Roses Bourbon and ice. Stir well and serve in one 64 oz pitcher.

Louisville Sangria

6 oranges
4 lemons
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups water
6 chipotle peppers, coarsely chopped
6 ounces bourbon 12 ounces red Zinfandel
12 ounces soda water

To begin, build a fire using Kingsford charcoal for indirect cooking. To do this, build a two-zone fire by situating coals on only one side of grill, leaving other side void. To create smoked citrus juice, cut lemons and oranges in half along equator and place them on a disposable aluminum pan or aluminum foil. Then place on void side of grill for at least 30 minutes, making sure to keep grill temperature at 225° F with lid closed. Remove smoked fruit from grill and let cool. Then, juice until there are 4 ounces of smoked orange juice and 2 ounces of smoked lemon juice, reserving unsqueezed citrus for garnish.

While citrus is cooling, combine brown sugar and water in medium saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. This can be done over direct heat on the grill. When the sugar is dissolved, add chipotle peppers and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Once brown sugar-chipotle syrup has had a chance to cool, combine bourbon, Zinfandel, 4 ounces smoked orange juice, 2 ounces smoked lemon juice and 3 ounces brown sugar-chipotle syrup in a sealable container and shake well.

Transfer mixture into pitcher filled with ice. Add soda water, stir and serve. Garnish with remaining slices of smoked oranges and lemons. Serves 7 to 8 people.