Summer Drinks Report
The finest tequilas, which are made from 100 percent blue agave, are expensive—but worth the investment. Blancos, the youngest type of tequila, receive no barrel aging at all.
Certeza Blanco ($40) This new, single-estate blanco, a joint venture between the French wine-producing Boisset family and agave growers Francisco and Jorge Beckmann, is peppery, with a slightly sweet finish.
Partida Blanco ($50) The Partida family, which supplied agave to other tequila producers for decades, began producing its own superpremium tequilas in 2005, leading off with this elegant blanco, full of cool, vegetal agave notes.
Tequila Tezón Blanco ($50) This blanco from the village of Arandas is produced using the artisanal tahona method, in which agave hearts are roasted in brick ovens for three days, then crushed by a massive stone wheel made from volcanic rock. The result? A floral blanco with almost citrusy flavors.
Mexican law requires that these aged tequilas spend at least a year in oak barrels, but they are often kept in wood much longer. They're delicious sipped neat or with a single ice cube.
El Diamante del Cielo Añejo ($60) The name of this 100 percent blue agave añejo, which translates as "the diamond of the sky," refers to the fierce sun that beats down over the agave fields. Head distiller Arturo Fuentes extends the aging time for this añejo to two to four years, which produces a pale amber tequila with pepper and vanilla flavors.
Jose Cuervo Black Medallion ($20) This affordable bottling from Jose Cuervo gets a caramelized, smoky richness from spending 12 months in charred new oak barrels.
Tequila Distinguido ($55) Family-owned since 1840, Distinguido has only recently been available in the United States. This subtle, silky añejo is distilled from 100 percent blue agave by the descendents of founder Don José Trinidad Contreras, who would undoubtedly have approved of its appealing spice notes and intense agave flavor.
With two to 12 months in wood, reposados are richer than blancos but lighter than añejos.
Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado ($80) Aged for 10 months in new oak barrels, this seamless, triple-distilled 100 percent blue agave tequila effortlessly blends oaky vanilla notes with bright, minty-vegetal flavors.
Frida Kahlo Tequila Reposado ($60) Regardless of one's opinion about the propriety of Kahlo's niece licensing the artist's name, this 100 percent blue agave reposado is finely done: spicy and gracefully balanced.
Hops help preserve beer, but they also impart key floral, citrus and bitter notes. In search of flavor intensity, craft brewers are pushing hop levels to unheard-of heights.
Stoudt's Double IPA IPAs, or India pale ales, are refreshingly bitter: English brewers traditionally added extra hops to help preserve the beers on the long voyage to India. Stoudt's rich, grapefruit-scented ale has even more hops, intensifying the IPA style.
Dogfish Head 90-Minute Imperial IPA This IPA combines dark, malty, caramelized flavors with powerful citrus notes (the name refers to how long the hops are added to the kettle during brewing). Though quite bitter, it's also impeccably balanced.
Stone Ruination IPA Ruination—so named for the supposed effect of its high hop levels on the tongue—is strictly for hop lovers. But those who enjoy bracing, intense, slap-you-awake, pine-citrus flavors will love this potent ale.
Related: 4th of July Drinks
Taking a cue from the Belgians, American brewers have been experimenting with spices, not just for dark wintry brews, but for vibrant summer ales, too.
Avery Brewing White Rascal Avery, in Boulder, Colorado, produces one of the best U.S. versions of a traditional Belgian white ale. Made from wheat and spiced with coriander and Curaçao orange peel, it's light, fragrant and refreshing.
Samuel Adams Summer Ale Brewer Jim Koch flavors this unfiltered wheat ale, full of sunny citrus notes, with lemon zest and grains of paradise, a West African spice that evokes coriander, ginger and black pepper.
Victory Golden Monkey The scent of this formidable, extremely potent ale reveals coriander and citrus, while the flavor recalls cloves and sweet corn, thanks to brewmaster Bill Covaleski's use of imported Belgian yeasts.
Traditionally brewed at the end of winter, these crisp Belgian ales are meant for summer drinking. In all saisons, the yeast bits in the bottle are there intentionally.
Saison Dupont Vieille Provision This zesty, spicy, herbal ale from the famed Brasserie Dupont in Wallonia, Belgium (which also produces breads and cheeses), is full of tart orange and grassy, fresh hay flavors.
Brasserie de Blaugies Darbyste Named after the 19th-century preacher John Darby (who promoted temperance!), this ale is fermented with fig juice, yet its flavor is appealingly dry and zippy, with tart lemon notes.
Fantôme Saison Brasserie Fantôme, founded in 1988, has become widely known for its robust, spicy ales. This pale-gold saison has deep fruit flavors suggesting papaya and apple, lifted by a peppery citrus edge.
Red Wine for Barbecues
The perfect barbecue wine shouldn't just be a fruit-bomb
Like the wines listed on this page, it should balance robust fruit flavor with rich tannins and firm acidity, making it the ideal match for platters of juicy, smoky grilled meat.
2004 Pepperwood Grove Zinfandel ($8) After leaving his family's historic Sebastiani property in 2000, Don Sebastiani started his own winery in Sonoma, producing several different brands, including Pepperwood Grove. All of them focus on high-quality value-oriented wines, like this spicy, vibrant Zinfandel.
2004 Rocky Gully Shiraz-Viognier ($14) Rocky Gully is a second label for Frankland Estate, one of Western Australia's top wine producers. This peppery, red-berry-rich Shiraz is made with 5 percent Viognier, which helps accentuate the wine's aromas and intensify its brilliant purple color.
2004 Frontier Red Lot No. 51 ($10) At the Fess Parker winery in Los Olivos, California, winemaker Blair Fox blends an impressive 11 varietals—Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and seven more—into a seamless whole in this rich red, full of blackberry and dark chocolate flavors.
2003 Santadi Grotta Rossa ($11) Santadi's craggy vineyards are only a few miles from the sand beaches of Porto Pino, in southwestern Sardinia, but they feel like they should be several hundred miles from water. Yet they're ideal for the Carignane variety, as shown by this velvety red.
2004 Woop Woop Shiraz ($11) Star Australian winemaker Ben Riggs makes this bacony, raspberry-rich Shiraz with fruit from some of Australia's top regions, including McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek. Woop Woop? It's an Aussie term for the middle of nowhere.
2002 DiBruno Santa Barbara County Sangiovese ($20) In December, longtime winemaker Bruno D'Alfonso parted company with Santa Barbara County's Sanford Winery, leaving him free to concentrate on his own wines. This superb Sangiovese combines firm tannins with vivid cherry fruit flavor.
2004 Alamos Malbec ($10) Bodega Catena Zapata, one of Argentina's top wineries, produces the Alamos line of affordable wines using grapes from high-altitude vineyards in the Mendoza region, which is in the shadow of the Andes. This powerful Malbec is full of blueberry and blackberry flavors.
2003 Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($22) Michael Dashe, who honed his Zinfandel-making skills at California's famed Ridge Vineyards in the '90s, produces one of the most impressive Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels around. The '03 tastes like ripe blackberries, laced with black pepper and clove.
For F&W's Cocktails 2006, our new book, we went to great bars, lounges and restaurants from coast to coast to find the best drinks—like these four terrific alcohol-free coolers.
The Spanish Kitchen, West Hollywood
Blue Owl, New York City
Jack Falstaff, San Francisco