Pitcher drinks hit the spot on sultry days

When Kathy — my brother's sister-in-law — got an unscheduled layover in Rio de Janeiro at the tail end of a business trip, she figured "what the hey!" and quality beach time ensued. She came away from this sojourn with a new bikini and a few good stories centered around the country's infamous firewater, cachaca.

Cachaca is an 80-proof distillate, made from unrefined sugar cane. Some people classify it as Brazilian rum, even though it's not, strictly speaking. On my palate, it swings strongly toward tequila with a Marlborough chaser — potent stuff.

And yet, when united with freshly squeezed limes, superfine sugar and lots of ice, it's transformed into the most amazing refresher. This is the drink of goddesses on Brazilian beaches. And sucking on the lime wedges — fully loaded after soaking for hours in the cachaca mixture — is incredibly refreshing.

We all benefitted from Kathy's excellent adventure at that year's Christmas gathering. After several heated rounds of our favorite group game, Cranium, we were all suffering from extreme thirst. In response, Kathy slipped into the kitchen and mixed up a refreshing pitcher full of that cachaca-based beach drink, called a caipirinha (kuy-per-reen-yuh).

I think fondly on the experience. Indeed, sharing a refreshing pitcher of firewater generates a communal sense of fun and anticipation. And talk about simple. Mixing up a batch in the pre-party phase is an effortless and stylish way to entertain and still have fun at your own party.

After all, making individual cocktails not only takes time, but removes you from the action. And turning other folks loose at your bar leads to chaos at best. At worst? A lot of inappropriate behavior centered around lampshades.

This is the perfect time of year to explore one of the cocktail world's more refreshing genres. Although pitcher drinks don't have to be fruit-based (think bloody mary), these recipes are, so they'll hit the spot in summer's sultry weather. They're all from my favorite go-to book on the subject, "The Ultimate Guide to Pitcher Drinks: Cool Cocktails for a Crowd," by Sharon Tyler Herbst. Although it's been in print for over 14 years, it's still available, so feel free to obtain your own copy.

My one tip to pass along is that you don't actually have to store prepared pitcher drinks in a pitcher until the party begins. I always pour the mixture into an empty, 1.5-liter, plastic water bottle with tight-fitting lid so you can tuck the mixture into any corner of your refrigerator for chilling.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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