After a good visit to New Orleans, I always come back with some exciting new ideas for dishes. With endless restaurants and veteran chefs, the city is crawling with inspiration for any culinary dreamer. But this last trip delivered an as-of-yet discovered magic in a realm I didn’t call my own — behind the bar.

I’ve always enjoyed a well-crafted mixed drink. Sure, I spent my fair share of years toting around a bourbon and (insert sugary soft drink). But even as my palate has expanded towards the finer beverages, I haven’t really made a commitment to making my own crafted drinks until this past year. So, as I gear up for summer cocktails, I spoke to a local “mixologically” gifted pal to get the skinny on his favorites.

Alvin Scott of Frank’s Louisiana Kitchen really enjoys the classic mojito.

“It’s a lot of bartenders’ least favorite but I never know why. It’s refreshing, simple and an easy drinker on those nice patio days.” But Scott’s personal favorite creation is an ancho spiced watermelon margarita. “The color pops, the watermelon introduces the slow heat of the ancho subtly and the smoked salt rim plays perfect to those dog days of summer.”

I lean pretty heavy on berries and herbs this time of year when it comes to my own recipes. I build the beverages in the same fashion that I would build a dish. There is a focus on really exploring all the taste buds and highlighting sweet, salty, smoky, sour and spice. One easy place to start for your next summer cocktail inspiration is to think local with our farmers’ markets.

With an abundance of blueberries grown around here, do yourself a favor and go pick a quart or two. Blueberries are super high in antioxidants and add fruity sweetness with just a touch of acid. Muddled with basil, lime and mixed with vodka and a splash of soda, this blueberry basil vojito (vodka mojito) is a simple, but delicious, game changer.

Feeling more adventurous? This version of a Bangkok (pictured) will have your guests feeling refreshed and refined.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons lemongrass syrup
  • Juice of a small lemon
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded & minced
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • ½ cup gin
  • ½ cup Topo Chico Lime

To make:

For the lemongrass syrup: steep 4 tablespoons crushed lemongrass paste into 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer 10-12 minutes. Strain and cool (and keep all summer for more awesome cocktails).

Muddle syrup, pepper, lemon and mint until mint is crushed. Add gin and ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into cocktail coupes 3/4 full, finishing with the Topo Chico Lime.