When Life Gives You Lemons

The waning sunlight glitters through the glass, its light filtering through the crisp yet lemon watercolor-looking liquid within. Condensation sparkles like dew on a daffodil’s petals and specks of deep indigo float in slow, mesmerizing circles around cubes of ice like pieces of unevenly shaped glitter. Held up against the water visible through the restaurant’s many windows and the deepening summer sky, the LakeHouse Lemonade is a perfect vision of summer on the bay.

But the appeal of beverage and bar manager Shannon Popp’s signature drink goes beyond aesthetics. In it is a lovely balance of crisp tartness softened with a kiss of sweetness. The lusciousness of blueberry set against the herbaciousness of lavender. The cleanliness of cucumber enlivened by real lemon. It’s a refreshing taste of sunshine in a glass and perfect for enjoying as the days get luxuriously longer and warmer.

I wasn’t imbibing at the time I discovered this drink, but I was after a single sip. Eileen Connors, one of the lauded LakeHouse owners, found herself in a similar situation when it was created many years ago—liquor-forward beverages simply weren’t to her taste. And so this subtle grown-up lemonade was born, a cocktail that puts fresh in the forefront and booze in the background.

Connors was at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Oakdale to pick up her CSA box when she was welcomed to snip as much lavender as she wanted. “How can I resist?” she said. “Our LakeHouse team was gathering for some well-deserved R&R that day, so I brought the lavender to the picnic.” Inspiration struck for Popp.

This 10-year bar veteran wanted to create a pre-dinner refresher with a spirit—something classic yet interesting, light and seasonal, perfect for enjoying on the deck. With Connors in mind, she wanted “to create a drink that would still be appealing to those averse to the strong taste of alcohol” in addition to those who enjoy its complexities. The gears began turning.

Choosing lemonade as a base was easy. “Initially we played with a French lemonade,” Connors said.

“We had it on hand,” Popp added. “And I asked myself, ‘What flavors would elevate this?’” Blueberry was a simple conclusion to draw, and the fragrant lavender Connors brought in by the bundle was irresistible.

The first iteration was a success and it wasn’t long before it became part of the waterfront restaurant’s seasonal beverage program. Fiddling by Popp has led to its evolution as a drink made with care, the lemonade made fresh in-house enhanced by her proprietary berry-and-herb-infused simple syrup. Popp confided that nuances like using dried blueberries to “take on the lavender flavors better while also delivering better shelf life on the syrup” and cucumber vodka continue to make the difference. And the view from The LakeHouse patio…well, everything tastes better from there.

LakeHouse Lemonade

1c each sugar and water
2c dried blueberries
1/4c fresh lavender
Lemonade (your favorite pre-made or fresh)
2oz Crop cucumber vodka

Create a simple syrup by warming together a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. Pour over dried blueberries and lavender and allow to soak. Strain when ready to use.

Pour lemonade into a tall glass with ice. Add Crop cucumber vodka and the simple syrup to taste.

Stir and garnish with a sprig of lavender, fresh blueberry and a wedge of lemon. Enjoy with a long straw.