Spring in Orange County: hot, sunny days (mercifully, not yet the very-fucking-hot, sunny days of summer) abound and our lush flora comes back to life (if you're water guzzlers like Villa Park, it never died). The only booze that sounds good comes brightly-flavored and chilled. Whether it's cocktails that sparkle with bubbly wine or play with herb and spirit medleys, the county's bars and restaurants have plenty of refreshing options to sip before they're rushed by summer crowds. Here are four cocktail suggestions, bright like white girls in shorts for the first time in months.
Soju Margarita at Urban Seoul 2.0
Some restaurants with beer and wine permits stock soju (also, occasionally sake!) as California liquor laws exempt the spirit from sale regulations applied to most of the hard stuff. A neutral spirt, soju offers a loophole for these restaurants to sell mixed drinks. At Urban Seoul 2.0, where the borderless kitchen concept fuses Korean and Latin food to delicious effect, the pairing feels intentional. The soju margarita has the familiar trappings of a blended margarita, sans tequila: a salt and lime rim, triple sec and either lime or strawberry mix, depending on which version you order. The strawberry margarita, my favorite, is sweeter than it is boozy, but suck it down like the delicious slushy that it is and you'll still feel the effects (not that I'm speaking from experience). The lime option approaches the classic flavor of a Cadillac margarita, but the soju has less bite than tequila.
Thyme after Thyme at Pie Society
This upgraded white wine spritzer tastes like it should be drank at a party in Martha Stewart's garden, preferably next to a wicker basket full of heirloom tomatoes. The dainty cocktail features gin aged in sauvignon blanc barrels, peach, lemon, sparkling wine and, of course, thyme. Sprigs of the namesake herb decorate the rim like a delicate tree branch. It's bright and citrusy, but not particularly sweet thanks to the dry sparkling wine and the bitterness of the thyme. Admittedly, the drink feels out of place in Pie Society's low-key interior filled with grandpa antiques like a surfboard table and sunken tan leather couches. But just think about garden parties with Martha; She's probably got some good prison stories.
Southern Whiskey Peach Smash at Bosscat Kitchen and Libations
If Pie Society's spritzer tastes like it belongs at a garden party, this strong and perky cocktail belongs on the front porch of a plantation house, sipped while in a rocking chair. Bosscat's bar muddles lemon and mint, mixes in peach-flavored whiskey and simple syrup, then pours the concoction on the rocks. While you might expect anything with peach to be too sweet, this drink surprises with its smoky (yay whiskey!), tart and sour flavor meld. Add mint to that, and it's easy to pretend you're not in a bar with castoffs from Ten Nightclub next door.
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Rosa Sinensis at Chapter One: The Modern Local
If you've ever sipped tart and sweet agua de Jamaica and thought, "this would be great with alcohol," Chapter One's Rosa Sinensis is for you. The drink's botanical name is pulled from the species of the hibiscus that flavors it. It's made with Brazilian spirit cachaça, which is distilled from sugar-cane juice, house-made hibiscus syrup, pineapple juice and lime. Typically, it comes garnished with a candied hibiscus petal, but they were out the night I snapped a picture. Tropical, fruity and floral, it's an easy-drinking, beach season cocktail. The hibiscus syrup is reminiscent of cranberries (as is the color of the drink), made distinct by floral notes. It will make you want to visit the spring blooms at one of Orange County's several botanical gardens, but why do that when you can get drunk off the garden instead?