Search & Distill: Vedge Out

I was totally grossed out the other day by a sunny outdoor patio littered with people drinking opaque red wine. I cannot for the life of me understand why people would choose an undeniably mouth-drying beverage at the precise time when refreshment is paramount. I'd like to think that people don't wrap up their identity in a certain liquid to the point of discomfort. I also cannot buy that some people find red wine delicious in an 80-degree sun. As for me, I've had many thirst-quenching moments of late that all shared one specific ingredient: cucumber.In On Food, Waverly Root quotes Samuel Johnson as saying, "A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing." Clearly he'd never sipped cucumber water at the day spa or had a Greek salad. Or maybe he just hated tea sandwiches. Cucumber ranks as a universally accepted cooling device, more often used in salads than in drinks, but the subtle scent of the green vegetable is unmistakable and a superb addition to summer drinks.Thankfully, more and more bars around town are showcasing a little more green on the cocktail menu this summer—beyond mint, that is. Here are some of my favorites:Ignore the mid-'90s main-room decor at Umi Sake House (2230 First Ave.) in favor of the little wooden oasis that is the front entryway, or roll straight back to the indoor atrium that is somehow Japanese in its serene strangeness. Two of the simplest and most refreshing first-cocktails-of-the-night live here, Umi's cucumber sake and cucumber daiquiri. In the latter, the cucumber's natural veggie-sweet flavor takes away whatever it is about white rum that triggers my gag reflex. It's a surprisingly agreeable combination, and a dose of fresh lime juice keeps the cocktail from feeling flat. In its cucumber sake, Umi uses Momokowa Diamond and fresh muddled cucumber for the coolest, softest alcoholic drink around. If the bartenders really wanted to punctuate this vibe, they'd serve it with two slices of cucumber for your eyes and have special lounge chairs in the back.Café Flora (2901 E. Madison St.) has introduced a new happy-hour and bar menu that touts all-vegan cocktails and sports a couple more of my new favorite summer drinks. The restaurant makes a Gin Rickey—gin, lime juice, and soda water—with a bit of blueberry purée and cucumber. It's an understated concoction in which the cucumber tones down the blueberry flavor and ties the ingredients together with every sigh-inducing sip. The Garden Mary really sells Flora's bright, cheery room on a warm Sunday morning. It's made with cucumber and pepper-infused vodka, with organic heirloom tomato juice that's made in-house. To add sourness and depth, Flora uses a bit of apple-cider vinegar, which balances out the cocktail. No umami-laden Worcestershire is needed when you're packing flavors that fresh.Boom Noodle (locations in Capitol Hill and Bellevue) has a spiked cucumber mint fizz that sets the mojito on its ear. Sporting vodka blended with cucumber and mint and topped with soda, this drink tastes particularly refreshing when guzzled with one of Boom's spicy noodle bowls. They also make a cucumber gimlet; it combines muddled fresh lime and cucumber with gin. The botanicals in gin chill out around cucumber and make a martini-strong but deceptively easy-drinking

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