Julia Reed on Summer Cocktails

The summers of my youth were spent largely at the house of our neighbors, who had six children (including three good-looking, much older and very funny boys) and a playroom with a pool table, card table, stereo and ancient refrigerator. Depending on the summer, I was invariably in love with one of the brothers or their friends, and it was in their company that I picked up the skills that have contributed to my good health and happiness ever since: how to kiss, play poker, hold my beer—and hum along to pretty much every song on a nonstop vinyl soundtrack that included, but was not limited to, the Allman Brothers, the Rolling Stones and the Sir Douglas Quintet.

The most memorable summer was marked by the introduction of the Yucca Flats—not the nuke site, but a passion-inducing concoction mixed in metal trash cans with floating handfuls of squeezed citrus, and I've always wondered what else, exactly, was in there.

The good (and scary) thing about the Internet is that you can locate not just the answers to such questions, but also a lot of people who appear to have lived your same life—when I Googled "Yucca Flats," a great many cocktail blogs appeared containing such comments as "We drink this when we are playing cards." One recommended mixing it with your feet. There was some disagreement about the recipe—versions included vodka, gin, rum, tequila or some combination thereof. But the consensus seems to be that a Yucca Flats is a whole lot of gin mixed with equal parts lemon juice and sugar, shaken or stirred with ice until really cold, and topped with maraschino cherries and halves of lemons, limes and oranges.

I intend to try it immediately, and not merely because I'm motivated by nostalgia. For one thing, it is at least as hot in Louisiana, where I now spend most of my time, as it was in my hometown in Mississippi. It's also time to switch cocktails: warm-weather months have traditionally meant a change from brown liquor to white, from heavy cocktails to those that are lighter and more refreshing—though equally potent.

Recently there's been a strong trend toward what master mixologist Dale DeGroff calls "a culinary style of cocktails, utilizing exotic fruit and kitchen ingredients." So now there's also a seasonal shift from the stronger and more savory end of that spectrum to the lighter, fruitier end, which also includes the herbs abounding in the garden. You might switch from a properly muddled old-fashioned to, say, a lemon-thyme margarita.

At Brooklyn's Clover Club, the summer menu, which debuts June 21, will feature a section on juleps and one on daiquiris, including the Hotel Nacionale Special (aged rum, lime juice, pineapple syrup, apricot liqueur), a "Thai" daiquiri that uses lemongrass-infused simple syrup and DeGroff's summer favorite, the Hemingway daiquiri, made with white rum, lime juice, grapefruit and maraschino liqueur.

Even for traditionalists, the garden's the limit. In The Gentleman's Companion exotic-drink book (1946), Charles H. Baker Jr. offers a recipe for a julep made with bourbon, pineapple and mint and another with dark rum, mint and ripe peaches. A Pimm's cup requires cucumber, and bloodies can be made with the juice of heirloom tomatoes. In Mix Shake Stir, a new book from Danny Meyer, there are mojitos flavored with watermelon, strawberries and rose petals and simple syrups flavored with thyme, lavender and basil.

I am thinking seriously of making a new version of the Yucca Flats with rum and mint—or, perhaps, adding some lemon-thyme syrup to the gin version, minus the maraschinos. In a garbage can, after all, there is plenty of room to experiment.