The Last Sip of Summer

Right now, watermelon is ripe for the drinking

Photo: MICHAEL DISKIN

Some of the best discoveries come about accidentally: penicillin, Play-Doh, Post-it Notes, and Popsicles, to name a few that all begin with P for some reason. But all of these pale in comparison to the first time a drunk bro at a barbecue stumbled back from the house with some vodka and fell bottle-first into a watermelon. No use letting good food and booze go to waste, this unknown genius thought. Thus a new era of fruity drinking was born.

“Watermelon was probably the first infused fruit,” says Michael Ray of Forum (755 Boylston Street, Boston, 857.991.1831) while I’m nose-deep in an impromptu recipe he’s made for me, a blend of Michter’s bourbon, fresh watermelon, mint, and rhubarb bitters. But it’s kind of a switcheroo on the old infusing-booze-with-fruit routine, he says. “You’re not really infusing the vodka; you’re infusing the watermelon.” Science.

“Everyone wants to turn a bottle of vodka upside down, stick it in watermelon, and start chewing on some pieces,” he continues. “It’s easy, cool, and refreshing; it reminds people of summer.”

And since we’re approaching the end of summer, many of us are going to want to cling to those memories for as long as we can. But while that venerable bottle technique is fine for those slumming it at the beach, there’s more than one way to skin a watermelon. For a slightly classier version, Mike Corcoran of Back Deck (2 West Street, Boston, 617.670.0320) recommends turning a halved watermelon into a punch bowl. That’s what he does for the sharable version of Back Deck’s West Street Cooler, made with Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Ragged Mountain rum, Aperol, and lime and watermelon juice, all topped with soda.

Look around, and you’ll find plenty of other refreshing rum- and vodka-based watermelon cocktails, like the Anguria at Scampo (215 Charles Street, Boston, 617.536.2100), made with watermelon puree, vodka, and muddled lime, and the Watermelon Cooler, suggested by the folks at Ipswich’s Privateer Rum; it’s made with Privateer, watermelon puree, simple syrup, and lime juice and garnished with mint.

But for me, watermelon tends to be, well, a little watery, so I prefer a spicier spirit base. And lots of bartenders have noticed that the fruit pairs well with a bit of heat. “Fresh watermelon juice adds a very subtle sweet taste that feels very summery without being overpowering,” says Mike Letterman, GM of the newly opened OAK Long Bar + Kitchen (138 Saint James Avenue, Boston, 617.585.7222), where they’re doing a watermelon margarita with Tres Generaciones reposado tequila, lime juice, simple syrup, Cointreau, and fresh watermelon juice. Meanwhile, Zócalo (35 Stanhope Street, Boston, 617.456.7849) serves one made with Tanteo, a surprisingly decent bottled jalapeno-infused tequila. And Masa (439 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.338.8884) has long done a version with their own house habanero-infused tequila that’s spicy enough to make you brace yourself before every sip.

But maybe you don’t want to sweat any more than you already are? It is August, after all. For lighter sipping with less of a boozy punch, The Beehive (541 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.423.0069) does a watermelon mimosa with watermelon, orange juice, sugar, triple sec, Champagne, and mint, while Blue Inc. (131 Broad Street, Boston, 617.261.5353) pairs the dry red sparkling wine Rosa Regale with mint and watermelon. And it seems like every other bar now carries 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon, a dry watermelon wheat beer that’s way better than it sounds.

But those in search of a fruity fix don’t even have to belly up to a bar: as the old teenager-at-the-beach bottle technique suggests, watermelon is easy to work with at home on the fly. Use a blender or just muddle it in a glass to make your own puree. If that’s still too much work, the folks at new fresh-pressed juice shop Nourish Your Soul (17 Playstead Road, West Medford, 888.995.8423) will do the heavy lifting for you. They sell a watermelon-mint juice that you can take home for mixing. It’s touted as a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and lycopene, which are great for kick-starting the metabolism. It’s still summertime, remember: anything you can do to burn some extra calories is great. You want to be drinking watermelon, not looking like one.


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