Desirée Hooper, manager at the Cherry Creek location of The Cherry Cricket in Denver, believes that the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent effect on the restaurant and bar industry brought about the most significant shift in consumer drinking trends in recent memory. “With most watering holes at least temporarily shuttered in 2020, many people adapted by honing their at-home mixology skills to fill the early days of quarantine,” she says. “As a consequence, consumers are better educated and drawn to interesting flavor combinations they can replicate in their home bar.”
To appeal to this knowledgeable clientele, mixologists are showing off their creativity more than ever before—and this will be on full display this summer. “In the colder months, stirred classic recipes tend to lead the way, so there are more back pocket items at a bartender’s disposal, but in the summer, with so much fresh produce available, there can be a greater license for creativity to make something tasty—but that also comes with a higher percentage of failure,” says Patrick Bruning, general manager at The Good King Tavern in Philadelphia. “These fresh ingredients need to be treated with the respect they deserve in order to come out with a successful cocktail, all while honoring technique and encouraging complexity.”
Thankfully for today’s cocktail-savvy consumer, mixologists are more than up to the challenge of offering refreshing and unique summertime sippers. “Everyone is searching for interesting flavor pairings or new ingredients they’re unfamiliar with,” says Sang Du, beverage director at Gaijin in Chicago. “I’m looking forward to offering that to people this summer and setting good vibes through our drinks and service.”
Christopher Reyes, partner and beverage director at Aldama in Brooklyn, New York, notes that he’s seen summertime drinks grow more creative each year. “A few years ago, the drink of the summer was the Aperol Spritz, which of course is still very popular, but I’ve noticed a wider variety of offerings, including inter- esting frozen drinks and highballs,” he says. His Sangre de Mezcal ($15) is a frozen mix of Ilegal Joven mezcal, Dolin Dry vermouth, liquid hibiscus extract, lemon juice, sugar, and water, while his Mount Fuji ($15) is a Highball-style drink blending Cazadores Reposado Tequila, Mathilde Poire pear liqueur, cold- pressed Fuji apple juice, lemon juice, and cane syrup.
At The Cherry Cricket, Hooper and the bar team appreciate that the fresh produce available in the summer allows for unique pairings. “We find ourselves inspired by the ease of translating fresh ingredients into shelf-stable syrups with multiple applications—especially since product usage is always a concern in the bar business,” she says. Her Hibiscus Mojito ($9) features a house-made hibiscus and mint syrup, as well as Diamond Reserve white rum, lime juice, fresh mint, and soda water, and general manager Heidi Ziepprecht’s Ruby Soho ($10) comprises a house-made mixture of fresh strawberries and balsamic vine- gar, along will Mile High Spirits Denver Dry gin, simple syrup, fresh basil, lemon juice, and soda water.
At Lindens in the Arlo SoHo hotel in New York City, the Arlo Margarita ($16) blends Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rose pink grapefruit liqueur, house- made rosemary agave syrup, lime juice, and Bittermens Hellfire Habanero shrub. The drink was created by Gary Wallach, partner and beverage director for Renwick Hospitality Group, which operates Lindens. “With Lindens being a seasonal restaurant, I try to stay true to what’s available month to month, and we’re lucky to work with some great local purveyors,” Wallach says. His Kiwi Swizzle ($16) blends Avión Silver Tequila, kiwi purée, cucumber and lime juices, simple syrup, and Greenbar Apple bitters.
“Fresh, first-of-the-season produce is always very exciting—taking these nice fruits and vegetables and steeping them in something or making a fun syrup to add to a cocktail brings a world of possibility,” The Good King Tavern’s Bruning says. “The evolution of summer cocktails recently has come down to the ingredients used. Cocktail bartenders have branched out from simply sticking with citruses and sugars to using fresh produce and ingredients that really make their drinks pop.” His El Gaucho ($13) mixes Manoir de Montreuil Calvados, Agave de Cortés Joven mezcal, Cappelletti Sfumato amaro, house-made spiced pineapple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and Angostura bitters. Meanwhile, his If Ever I Was to Marry Someone ($11) is a complex milk punch, blending Wray & Nephew White Overproof rum, Aperol aperitif, Salignac VSOP Cognac, Lo-Fi Dry vermouth, Flor de Caña 4-year-old Extra Seco white rum, fresh strawberries, rhubarb, grapefruit slices, lemon peel, grapefruit and lemon juices, sugar, and water—all of which are clarified with whole milk. “A milk punch is a traditional technique of clarifying a cocktail in milk to impart a creamy texture—historically, this practice goes back to the American Revolution and many cocktail bartenders across the world have fun with this technique with different fruits and spirit combinations,” Bruning notes. “Although a bit labor intensive, this is a delicious and rewarding drink that’s both rich and refreshing.”
Gaijin’s Du believes that one of the biggest cocktail trends this summer will be drinks that are visually stunning, boisterous, and Instagram-worthy. “I’m talking about drinks with larger-than-life garnishes that turn out to be completely edible, drinks where the ice melts and causes the liquid to change its flavor completely, and drinks presented over shaved ice for instant dilution,” he says. “I’m developing a lineup of drinks to be composed and poured over fluffy shaved ice that I believe our guests will absolutely love this summer.” The drinks are called “kaki-tails” because they are poured over kakigori, which is Japanese shaved ice. Du’s Strawberry kaki-tail ($14) features Mars Iwai 45 whisky, house-made strawberry syrup, fresh lemon juice, and Fever-Tree ginger beer, while his Blue Matcha Better kaki-tail ($16) comprises Masako shochu, house-made butterfly pea-infused matcha powder syrup, fresh lemon juice, and Greenbar Lavender bitters. “The Blue Matcha Better is a simple sour, but when butterfly pea meets citrus—in this case lemon juice—there’s a reaction and the color changes from blue to purple—it looks stunning,” Du says. “And the barley shochu has a great earthiness to it that pairs extremely well with matcha. It’s a very fun and visually stimulating cocktail.”
Cover All Bases
We may be past the height of the popularity of the Aperol Spritz, but low-abv Spritzes remain on trend this summer. “Especially during those hot days, you want something good and easy drinking that isn’t going to make you fall asleep after one cocktail,” Bruning says. “Whether through club soda, sparkling wine, or both, Spritzes are a great avenue to getting really flavorful and refreshing cocktails while achieving that lower-abv aim.” His Marseille, Afternoon ($11) is the flagship Spritz at The Good King Tavern. It blends Ricard Pastis de Marseille, Barton & Guestier Blanc de Blancs, house-made pistachio orgeat syrup, fresh lime juice, and fresh mint. “It’s a hybrid of two classics: Death in the Afternoon, which mixes absinthe and Champagne, and the French cocktail Mauresque, which comprises pastis, orgeat, and chilled water,” Bruning adds. “Anise notes from the pastis play with the savory tiki-influenced pistachio orgeat, topped with sparkling wine and a large mint bouquet. It’s the perfect daytime sipper.”
Brandon Gomez, bar manager at The Buckhorn at the Cuyama Buckhorn Roadside Resort in New Cuyama, California, notes a preference for bubbly summer cocktails with unique liqueurs. His The Last Spritz ($15) mixes Cocalero herbal, Green Chartreuse, and Luxardo Maraschino liqueurs with Aviation gin, lime juice, and soda water. “Over the last few years spritzes have taken summer by storm, with seemingly every distiller now packaging canned versions, but this year I’m excited to create my own to be enjoyed poolside or by our fire pits at night,” he notes.
A take on the low-abv Garibaldi, which mixes Campari aperitif and orange juice, the Chartreuse Garibaldi ($14) at Le Cavalier in the Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, comprises Yellow Chartreuse liqueur, house-made ginger shrub and cardamom bitters, fresh lemon juice, and fresh muddled ginger and pineapple. “This cocktail was fun to create—I love a Garibaldi, but I wanted to make it French so I swapped the Campari for Yellow Chartreuse,” says bar manager Robert Kidd. “I also switched the orange to pineapple, which isn’t very French but is very summer, and there are few things that go together like pineapple and Yellow Chartreuse. I added a few more elements to even out the sweetness in the Yellow Chartreuse while also leaning into its more herbal nature.”
At Deadshot in Portland, Oregon, the Old 75 ($14) seeks to offer fans of spirit-forward drinks a refreshing option for summer. Created by bartender and Cognac educator Adam Robinson, it’s a French 75 meets an Old Fashioned, featuring De Luze VS Cognac, house-made Champagne syrup, clarified lemon juice, and Scrappy’s Black Lemon bitters. “I find many people are in one of two camps when it comes to cocktail styles: they either prefer something spirit-forward and stirred or a refreshing cocktail that includes citrus juice and is shaken—I created the Old 75 as a stirred cocktail in the style of an Old Fashioned, but the addition of lemon juice lends a bright acidic component to the cocktail that really takes off the heavy spirit edge,” Robinson says.
While summer is usually synonymous with light and tall drinks, strong and short cocktails still have their place, Brun- ing notes. “Despite the low-abv trend, sometimes people just want a spirit-driven cocktail,” he says. Aldama’s Reyes isn’t shying away from these bolder drink styles this summer. His Gibson ($15) is a riff on the classic, blending Plymouth gin, Carpano Bianco vermouth, and pickled radish juice, while his Madero ($16) is a take on the Negroni, mixing Ilegal Reposado mezcal, Cocchi Americano aperitif, Nonino amaro, white balsamic vinegar, and muddled celery. At The Buckhorn, meanwhile, Gomez notes that Tequila sales more than triple in the summertime and they’re not only enjoyed in fruity Margarita-style drinks. His Jalisco Fashioned ($16) comprises Cazadores Añejo Tequila, Casamigos mezcal, Fee Brothers Chocolate Aztec bitters, Angostura bitters, and a sugar cube.
“I believe the classic summertime cocktail trend of only having fruity, bright, and light drinks on your menu is over-rated,” Gaijin’s Du says. “We actually stir quite a lot of Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and Boulevardiers during the summer months with our Japanese spirits. People are more adventurous than ever!”