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Summer Sips with Panache

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The world of today and its fascination with “Lifestyle” has introduced some new takes on an old standby…the Cocktail Hour.

Just a few days ago I had the pleasure of being educated in what may now be referred to as “artisanal cocktail catering. ” And I immediately became a fan! Talk about ramping up a drinks party. This is its own form of entertainment, another element that can perk up your gathering and also function as an initial ice breaker…think stunningly staged bar, captivating drinks, very attractive (emphasis on “very”) and personable bartenders serving creative, delectable sips.

Which starts, of course, with Willa van Nostrand, the mastermind and mixologist extraordinaire and founder of Little Bitte, a garden-to-glass cocktail catering company. She doesn’t look like a farm girl, with her love of fashion-keyed to-cocktails-with-some-flowers-thrown-in, but then Willa is not your grandfather’s bartender. She brings her upbringing on an herb farm in Massachusetts to the finer details of these new cocktails – locally sourced ingredients, flavors, tastes, how various components interact – driven by experimentation and a passion for this new avocation. Did I mention that she also has a flair, to say the least, fueled by a background in visual art, theater and acting?

Let the show begin! And begin it did the day she came to Parterre…searching out just the appropriate glasses from my china closet and bars, scouting the garden for perfect locations to pair with each cocktail, choosing the dress she should wear to compliment each offering…even down to the flower garnishes that were supplied by her friend, Phoebe Poole, of Weatherlow Farm, who also has a clever witty, tag line — “from seed to glass” (it is Phoebe who designed the floral necklace that Willa wears in one image).

Here are 5 cocktails, from a long list of “signature drinks and new spins on old classics,” as she likes to say. Some of these ingredients may not be familiar (they weren’t to me…) but that’s part of the fun. And you may also decide you’d like a certain mixologist to do the honors at your next party. Either way, you’re in for a treat (and you’ll learn about some new, exotic small batch spirits). Willa’s inspiration for each cocktail provides its own provocative read.

Honey Bee Daiquiri

For the love of sailors in summertime, have a daiquiri! A lauded Cuban classic, this update involves little more than rum, fresh lime juice and native honey syrup. Choose your favorite honey and be whisked away to your own private paradise. I adore wildflower honey in this recipe and find that Aquidneck honey is a gorgeous foil to the tropical, confectionery notes of Plantation Three Stars Silver Rum.

1 ½ oz Plantation Three Stars Silver Rum
¾ oz lime juice
¾ Honey Syrup*

Garnish: Lime wheel
Glass: Rocks or Old-Fashioned

Honey Syrup* Combine equal parts warm water and honey in a mason jar or a shallow bowl. Stir with a whisk to make a solution, allowing all honey to dissolve and cool.

Fill a bar tin full of ice and pour in liquid ingredients. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Violette Spritz

What’s not to love about a Spritz? Add a bit of casual glamour to cocktail hour with your favorite coupe glass and that irresistible shade of pink. Top The Violette with your favorite brut champagne, a dry prosecco or cava to balance its delectable floral palate, an effervescent ode to magic hour.

1 oz Vodka
¼ oz Creme de Violette
½ oz Blueberry Syrup*
½ oz fresh pressed lemon juice
Top with Champagne or a dry sparkling wine

Garnish: Flowering sage wand
Glass: Flat Coupe

Blueberry Syrup* Muddle 1 pint of blueberries into 1 cup of sugar in a small sauce pan and add 1 cup of water. Simmer for 15 minutes on low, cool and fine strain into a clean bottle. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Fill bar tin full of ice and add liquid ingredients except for sparkling wine. Shake for 10 seconds and pour into a chilled coupe glass, top with sparkling wine and garnish with a flowering sage wand.

The Venetian

The Venetian is a bright, modern take on a martini (traditionally gin, dry vermouth & orange bitters) featuring Cocchi Americano, an aperitif wine made with quinine. Cocchi is the Italian cousin of a French quinquina and blanc sweet vermouth. The base spirit is Caledonia Spirits Vodka (from VT) that’s distilled from raw honey and gives the martini a smooth, nectarous flair with a fresh floral accent of orange blossom.  Careful, this darling packs a punch! The perfect sipper for vodka aficionados and martini lovers alike.

2 oz Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka
1 oz Cocchi Americano
2 drops orange blossom water

Garnish: Ribbon of lemon zest
Glass: Venetian Goblet

Fill a bar tin full of ice and pour in liquid ingredients. Stir for 15 seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a ribbon of lemon zest.

Helpful zest hint: Once you fashion your zest into a spiral or a nautical knot, set the zest in ice water for 10 seconds to help hold its shape.

The Daisy

Daisies are one of the longest enduring categories of cocktails in the canon of modern mixology defined as base spirit, fresh citrus, sweetening agent and bubbles. In the early 20th century, grenadine, orange cordial or gomme syrup would have been the sweetening agent, but here in 21st century Rhode Island, we reach for something a little more exotic and refreshing/outside of the box — Cheongsam Jade Oolong Tea Liqueur. The spirit was developed by Tyson Davenport and Manda Shen, a husband and wife team that met  ten years ago in Shanghai and now make their home in Providence. Botanical gin provides an aromatic backdrop for the sweet, herbaceous tea liqueur. Hot tip: Swap in Cheongsam tea liqueur to  any cocktail recipe that calls for simple syrup or triple sec for delightful variation.

2 oz Hendrick’s Gin or Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin
1 oz Cheongsam Tea Liqueur
½ oz  fresh lemon juice
Top with sparkling water

Garnish: Chamomile or Feverfew blossoms and lemon balm
Glass: Collins, Highball  or Double Old-Fashioned

Pour gin, the tea liqueur and fresh lemon juice into a bar tin full of ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain into a tall glass filled with fresh ice, top with sparkling water and garnish with edible blossoms and lemon balm.

Spicy Paloma

The Paloma (Spanish for ‘the dove’) is a most flirtatious cocktail in three glorious steps. Essentially a tequila and grapefruit soda, The Spicy Paloma is pepped up with a sweet and spicy kick that encourages each enduring sip. Swap mezcal for tequila for a sultry smoked variation and add the spiced lime wheel to your glass for a zesty sipping experience. The Spicy Paloma is paired perfectly  for a day spent poolside — all of the flavor with little to no fuss best suited for margarita and tequila lovers. Skip the grapefruit soda and add equal parts fresh grapefruit juice and sparkling water for the natural approach — just as tantalizing, a little less sweet. Olé!

2 oz Altos Silver tequila
4 oz grapefruit soda (Pellegrino or Jarritos Toronja for the real deal)

Garnish: Spiced Lime Wheel*
Glass: Rocks or Old-Fashioned

Spiced Lime Wheel* Cut a ¼ inch notch into a lime wheel. Combine equal parts ground cinnamon, chipotle, sea salt and sugar in a small bowl and dip 1 side of  the wheel in the spice mixture for a festively dressed lime.

Fill the glass full of fresh ice and and pour tequila followed by the grapefruit soda. Garnish with spiced lime wheel and honeysuckle blossoms.

We’re shaking it up for summer.

You can reach Willa van Nostrand at and

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

3 thoughts on “Summer Sips with Panache

  1. It’s 10:30 in the morning and I am longing for one of those special drinks! Calculating the hours till a responsible time for a sun downer……

  2. Beautiful cocktails which I am sure are delightfully delectable! I also couldn’t help but notice how all that vigorous cocktail shaking keeps Willa’s arms beautifully toned!😉

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