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Beverages embellished with fresh fruit, herbs and spices get rave reviews

Got plenty of ice?

Summer is all about cool drinks, but H2O is too plain Jane when you could have blueberry-flavored iced tea instead.

Or premium whiskey sweetened with a fresh rosemary simple syrup infusion.

Or a decadent chocolate ice cream milkshake with an unexpected pop of cayenne.

These were just some of this summer's innovative drink recipes that readers sent in as part of The Kansas City Star's Drench Your Thirst Contest. We were looking for fun, tasty beverages that required a minimum of special equipment to prepare in four categories. And we got plenty of tempting recipes in response.

So as the mercury began to climb, the Food and House + Home staffs sifted through 70 recipes and taste-tested a half-dozen winners: Iced Blueberry-Green Tea (Low-Cal), Super White Sangria (Cocktail), Rosemary Whiskey (Cocktail), Pineapple Mojito (Mocktail), Fuzzy Navel (Mocktail) and Aztec Gold (Splurge). Now all you have to do to enjoy these thirst quenchers is grab a pitcher, a muddler or a highball glass.

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Anita L. Kendall said, "This tea is quite mild and sweet on its own, and chilled tea will taste slightly sweeter than warm tea. Tea is most thirst-quenching when it still has an edge of astringency, so don't over sweeten." Kendall's recipe is an original. "I've been making iced tea since I was about 10 years old," she said.

Judges' comments: Tea drinks are hot! This simple tea blend combines green tea with blueberry herbal tea, both loaded with healthful antioxidants. We used Celestial Seasonings to test this recipe.

ICED BLUEBERRY-GREEN TEA

Makes 4 servings

1 quart boiling water

4 bags green tea

2 bags blueberry herbal tea

1 bag mint herbal tea

2 tablespoons to ¼ cup sugar or honey

Blueberries for garnish, optional

Mint for garnish, optional

Pour boiling water over all tea bags in a heat-proof glass or plastic pitcher. Let steep 20 to 25 minutes. Remove tea bags. Add sugar or honey, to taste. Chill several hours in refrigerator and pour over ice. Use blueberries and/or mint to garnish, if desired.

Per serving: 44 calories (none from fat), no fat or cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 11 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.

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Anne Ranz said, "This recipe actually came from The Kansas City Star a few years ago. I think the article was about having neighbors over and I thought, `What a great idea.' Made up a batch and called my girlfriends to come for a `sit and sip.' We all loved it!"

Judges' comments: Sangria just screams summer. We suggest a Spanish white wine; we tested the recipe using Vega Sindoa, a Spanish Chardonnay. For added color, use red and green apple bits. The Star originally ran this recipe in 2005. It was featured in the weekly Desperation Dinners column.

SUPER WHITE SANGRIA

Makes 8 servings

1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry white wine, such as Chardonnay

1 (6-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate

½ cup light rum

½ cup orange-flavored liqueur, such as a triple sec

1 (15.25-ounce) can pineapple tidbits packed in natural juices

1 large apple (about 1 ¼ cup diced)

1 (16-ounce) bottle or 2 cups chilled lemon-lime soda

Strawberries and/or orange slices for garnish, if desired

In a 1-gallon pitcher, combine wine, frozen lemonade concentrate, rum, orange liqueur and pineapple with the juice. Core and dice apples in pieces no bigger than the pineapple tidbits and add to the sangria. Stir well and refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours.

Just before serving, stir in soda. Serve over ice in wine glasses, garnished with strawberries and orange slices, if desired.

Per serving: 250 calories (none from fat), trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, 33 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 18 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

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Ada Quinn writes, "This libation can also be made by the pitcher with a bucket of ice next to it. (Don't forget the scoop and a straining spoon if you use crushed ice)." Quinn, is a former "mixologist" turned esthetician. Serving idea: "Place a lovely colorful pot with rosemary on the table. Find a witty pack of beverage napkins and swirl on the table with a glass paperweight to hold them in place."

Judges' comments: Skip pre fab drink mixes that have a flat, unappealing taste. Fresh herbal infused syrups are a fun twist.

ROSEMARY-WHISKEY COCKTAIL

Makes 2 servings

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

5 to 6 sprigs rosemary, divided

Crushed ice

1 ½ ounces premium whiskey, such as Maker's Mark

Sparkling water or club soda

Orange segments for garnish, optional

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water; bring to a simmer and continue to cook until sugar is dissolved. Wash 3 to 4 rosemary sprigs and remove needles by running finger down the stem. Chop needles and add to simple syrup. Cover mixture to hold in scent and chill overnight.

Fill low highball glass with crushed ice. Fill ¼ of glass with rosemary simple syrup. Add whiskey. Top with sparkling water or club soda. Garnish with a rosemary stick and/or orange wheels.

Per serving: 82 calories (none from fat), no fat or cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 1 milligram sodium, trace dietary fiber.

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Unbeknownst to the judges, Laura Curtis is a first-year student at the Culinary Institute of America. While working on her bachelor's degree she spent a semester in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she discovered her "love for Mexican-style chocolate."

"This recipe is an original. (She made it up in her dorm room!) The cayenne, together with the cinnamon, provides a warm background for the chocolate and orange to play on. The timid-hearted may omit or decrease the cayenne. For the health nuts with wandering eyes: Light Chocolate Fudge Brownie Yogurt and skim milk can be substituted without compromising the flavor too much."

Judges' comments: A true splurge, one judge said she would serve it to members of her book club, with multiple straws. We especially liked the sophisticated and unexpected heat from the combination of cinnamon and cayenne.

AZTEC GOLD

Makes 3 servings

2 cups chocolate-brownie flavored ice cream (such as Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie)

1/3 cup milk

1/3 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a blender, combine all ingredients until smooth.

Per serving: 294 calories (39 percent from fat), 13 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 35 milligrams cholesterol, 42 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 139 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

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Chris Young

Judges' comments: Talk about trendy. The Cuban mojito has been one of the hottest cocktails of the last several years. The pineapple is a fresh twist, and this mocktail version is just as refreshing as the alcoholic version. If you don't have a muddler, the handle of a wooden spoon works fine for breaking up the mint.

PINEAPPLE MOJITO MOCKTAIL

Makes 1 serving

5 fresh mint leaves

Half a lime

2 tablespoons crushed pineapple

1 tablespoon sugar

Cubed ice

8 ounces soda water (such as San Pellegrino)

1 fresh pineapple spear or wheel, for garnish

Put mint in a short highball glass. Squeeze lime over mint. Add crushed pineapple. Add sugar and muddle ingredients until mint has been torn several times. Add soda water and stir until sugar dissolves. Add ice and garnish with pineapple.

Per serving: 76 calories (1 percent from fat), trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 20 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 8 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Debbie Wray said, "Here is a recipe (that) came from a book called `Ultimate Smoothies' by Donna Rodnitzsky. Hope this is something you would enjoy and something you are looking for. It really tastes like a Fuzzy Navel!" Plus, Wray says, "It works into the Weight Watchers plan because it has fiber."

Judges' comments: A refreshing mocktail. It can also do double-duty as a family-friendly fruit smoothie.

FUZZY NAVEL MOCKTAIL

Makes 2 servings

1 cup orange juice

1 ½ tablespoons honey (or artificial sweetener to lower the calories)

2 cups frozen peaches

1 cup sliced banana

Peach or orange slice for garnish, optional

Place the juice, honey, peaches and banana in a blender. Mix on low speed until the mixture is blended. Continue mixing until the mixture is smooth. Pour into a glass and garnish with a slice of peach or an orange slice.

Per serving: 408 calories (2 percent from fat), 1 gram total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 103 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 18 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.

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