Kicking back at The Ram’s Head Inn: Cocktail Island

The Basil Breeze at the Ram's Head Inn. (Credit: Annette Hinkle)

The Basil Breeze at the Ram’s Head Inn. (Credit: Annette Hinkle)

Built in 1929 and perched on a gentle hill overlooking Coecles Harbor, The Ram’s Head Inn is one of the most idyllic spots on Shelter Island and an ideal place to get away from it all and unwind in style.

And when it comes to unwinding, Harry Brigham, the man behind the bar in the inn’s comfortable and elegant lounge, is always ready and willing to mix up a cocktail or two to get the process going. 

Traditionalists will appreciate the fact that on offer at The Ram’s Head Inn bar are some great retro favorites, like the Old Fashioned and the Sidecar. But with summer now upon us, one of the most popular signature drinks on the cocktail card is the well-named Sunsplash, an inspiring offering made with vodka, Cointreau, cranberry, fresh lemon, lime and orange juice, and the key ingredient — orange blossom water.

“It’s cold and fresh. The orange blossom water adds perfumy notes,” explains Mr. Brigham. “It’s just a couple drops — it’s very powerful stuff and adds that aromatic perfuminess — but when you don’t have it, it falls short.”

As a bartender, Mr. Brigham has been making the Sunsplash for more than 20 years and he notes his secret to crafting great cocktails is to use the best ingredients available and not cut corners by working ahead.

“The staff and I don’t take shortcuts when making drinks,” he says. “Everything is done to order. Anything we can do at the moment, we do.”

That means muddling the herbs by hand as needed and using only fresh lemon, lime and orange juice. Crafting high-end cocktails has become a tend from coast to coast in recent years. So here on Shelter Island, what does Mr. Brigham find his customers are really looking for in a drink these days?

“We’re on an island. It’s not a Caribbean island, but it is an island,” Mr. Brigham explains. “People want something fresh and fruity. So we try to do what wouldn’t be over the top in sweetness and make sure you don’t lose the base spirit.”

“All these things work together… and premium spirits make premium drinks.”

Two herb-inspired cocktails at The Ram’s Head Inn are the Summer Thyme and the Basil Breeze. The Summer Thyme consists of Belvedere vodka, raspberries, lime juice, locally sourced peach bitters (when available), and a sprig of thyme. The Basil Breeze is a creative blend of house infused basil vodka, fresh lemon and Steigl-Radler Grapefruit beer from Germany. The beer provides a gentle fizz with grapefruit overtones that combine nicely with the basil flavoring to make this a particularly refreshing drink for a hot afternoon.

Speaking of hot, for those really looking to spice up their summer, the Shelter Island Sunset is the way to end the day — figuratively and literally. Mr. Brigham’s version is made with Soltado’s añejo tequila, which is infused with Serrano peppers and cinnamon. While the tequila brings a nice amount of heat to the drink, its spice is tempered with a mixture of mango and strawberry purees and a splash of citrus.

To our way of thinking, it’s an ideal way to heat up our summer spirit while we watch the sun go down over Coecles Harbor. So grab a seat in an Adirondack chair on the inn’s lovely lawn and get lost in a cocktail or two.

Let’s face it… summer doesn’t get much better than this. Cheers!

The Ram’s Head Inn is located at 108 S. Ram Island Drive, Shelter Island Heights. (631) 749-0811www.theramsheadinn.com.