When the sun is shining and the temperature is up, a tall, crisp cocktail is a go-to order. And with many fruits and vegetables at their peak of ripeness in the warmer months, mixologists have ample opportunity to create such refreshing drinks. “As a consultant for bars and restaurants, summer is my favorite time of year to develop great drinks,” says New York City–based mixologist Jonathan Pogash. “In the warmer months, it’s easy to make cocktails that appeal to most everyone.”
While unaged spirits like vodka and gin seem to be the obvious choices for highball-style cocktails, aged spirits like rum, Tequila and even smoky mezcal are also trending on summer beverage menus. But whether the drink is made with a neutral vodka or a spicy aged rum, there’s one thing on mixologists’ minds when it comes to cocktailing in the warmer months: helping consumers cool down in the heat. “In the summer, it’s important to ensure that all guests feel refreshed and satisfied after having one of my cocktails,” Pogash says. Los Angeles–based mixologist Marcos Tello has a similar goal for his summer cocktails. “I always have to keep in mind what’s going to be the most refreshing and easy-drinking,” he says.
When building a seasonal summer menu, many mixologists seek inspiration from classic highball cocktails like the Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins and Vodka Soda. “Long, citrus-based drinks are most popular in the summertime,” says Kevin Denton, national mixologist for Pernod Ricard USA. “A splash of soda or tonic with a spritz of lemon or lime beats the summer heat. Adding fresh mint or cucumber gives these coolers a light and fresh take.” The Absolut Cucumber Tonic features Absolut vodka, tonic water, fresh cucumber and lemon, and a pinch of salt.
Jim Ryan, national brand ambassador for Hendrick’s gin, also points to fresh cucumber and citrus as key summer cocktail ingredients. “Our Cucumber Lemonade is very popular in the summer,” he says. “It’s a simple drink that’s refreshing and reminiscent of our favorite childhood thirst quencher.” The cocktail comprises Hendrick’s, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup and sparkling water. Reyka vodka touts a similarly tall and fizzy cocktail for summer called the Lemongrass Cooler, featuring Reyka with fresh lemon juice, club soda and a lemongrass straw, while Boodles gin offers the Gin & Gomme, mixing Boodles with fresh mango purée, pineapple and lemon juices, and soda water.
In addition to tonic water and soda water, ginger ale or ginger beer is a popular choice for adding a bubbly touch to a summer cocktail. Brent Kallop, president of Pisco Portón, notes that the brand’s Portónero cocktail, a riff on the classic Peruvian drink Chilcano, is a big hit with consumers in the warmer months. “The traditional Chilcano mixes Pisco, ginger ale or ginger beer, and fresh lime juice,” he says. “It’s light and refreshing—the perfect complement to summer. With the Portónero, we add a few drops of Angostura bitters for a unique and edgy twist on the classic.”
Pogash favors fizzy drinks made with Prosecco in the summer months. For Lexington’s Cocktail and Liquor Bar at The Court hotel in New York City, he created the Blueberry Hibiscus Sparkler ($14), comprising Ruffino Prosecco, blueberry juice and Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. hibiscus syrup, while his Lavender-Basil Sparkler ($15) at The House restaurant in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park features Lillet Blanc aperitif, Ruffino Prosecco, house-made lavender syrup, fresh lemon juice and basil leaves. The Alizé brand of passion fruit liqueurs touts the similarly summer-friendly Rosemary’s Garden cocktail, blending Alizé Red Passion passion fruit and cranberry liqueur with Tanqueray gin, simple syrup, lime juice, Domaine Carneros sparkling wine and a rosemary sprig.
“Sours and Collins-style drinks are perfect for the summertime,” Tello says. “You need that bright citrus to cool you off on a hot day.” For restaurant and bar Killer Shrimp in Marina Del Rey, California, he created the Saladito ($10), mixing El Silencio Espadín mezcal, house-made honey syrup and fresh lime juice.
H. Joseph Ehrmann, operator of San Francisco bar Elixir, also sees consumers seeking out Collins and Sours in the summer. “Sweet and sour balance is key,” he says. His Celery Cup No. 1 ($12) blends Square One Organic Cucumber vodka, Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, lemon juice, agave nectar, celery and English cucumber. “This play on the popular Pimm’s Cup is a very versatile, cool and refreshing drink,” Ehrmann says.
In recent years, farm-to-table dining has expanded to include farm-to-glass drinking, with mixologists taking cues from chefs and using fresh ingredients whenever possible. Summer is the ideal time to create such cocktails due to the wide range of fresh produce available during these months. “During the summer, there’s an awakening of color and flavor opportunities for delicious cocktails,” Ryan of Hendrick’s says. “The cucumber, which is a paramount ingredient in Hendrick’s gin, is in season, along with its melon cousins, watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe. In addition, herbs like mint, basil and thyme are peaking, and savory produce, such as tomatoes and peppers, is also in tip-top condition. Using what’s freshest from the garden or farmers’ market in cocktails is a fun and creative way to celebrate the season.” The Hendrick’s Cucumber Southside features Hendrick’s, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, cucumber and mint.
“Fresh basil, peaches, pineapples, mango, berries all make for light and refreshing cocktails,” Pisco Portón’s Kallop says. The Portón Summer Peach mixes Pisco Portón with fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, peach slices and basil leaves. Elixir’s Ehrmann concurs that the abundance of fresh produce available in the summer makes cocktailing in the warmer months especially enjoyable. “There are no more exciting flavors than summer fruits at their peak of freshness,” he says. His Copa Caipirinha ($12) comprises Leblon cachaça, muscovado sugar simple syrup, Bing cherries, lime and mint.
Pogash is currently developing recipes for Dartmouth, Massachusetts, restaurant and bar Little Moss. “The drinks program is very farm-to-glass, with local and organic ingredients used whenever possible,” he says. In this vein, Pogash created the Sugar Sugar Snap ($10), featuring Boyd & Blair potato vodka, Yellow Chartreuse liqueur, fresh lime juice, demerara syrup and sugar snap pea purée. “The vast availability of fresh ingredients is what excites me most about the summer months,” he notes.
There’s no doubt that in hot weather, classic vacation drinks like the Margarita, Daiquiri and Piña Colada are in high demand. “Traditional beach cocktails are widely popular during warmer months,” says Nicky Heckles, senior brand manager for Captain Morgan rum. Seeing an opportunity in this category, Captain Morgan expanded beyond its flagship spiced rum to introduce a white rum offering in 2014, and this year, the brand has released three flavored white rums—Coconut, Pineapple and Grapefruit. “Consumers embrace refreshing, tropical flavors during the warmer months, which is why we’re so excited about these new additions,” Heckles says. “We foresee them becoming summer staples.”
Drawing inspiration from traditional summer drinks, the Piña Thunder mixes Captain Morgan Pineapple rum with cream of coconut, coconut water, and pineapple and lime juices, blended with ice. The frozen cocktail From Dusk Til Daiquiri features Captain Morgan Grapefruit rum, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. “These types of drinks provide consumers with a taste of the Caribbean,” Heckles notes. Similarly inspired by a classic beach cocktail, 1800 Tequila’s 1800 Ginger Mint Margarita comprises the brand’s Silver expression, Grand Marnier orange liqueur, ginger beer, fresh lime juice, fresh ginger and mint leaves.
“Tiki is definitely in order for the summer,” Tello says. “At Killer Shrimp, we offer a tiki drink called the Pieces of Eight, which is a historic cocktail invented in Marina Del Rey. We revamped the drink a bit, and it’s our top-seller.” The Pieces of Eight ($10) features Cruzan Aged Dark rum, house-made passion fruit syrup, fresh lime juice and fresh pineapple.
Pisco Portón offers its own take on a tiki-inspired drink with the Portón Pisco Punch, comprising Pisco Portón, pineapple juice, simple syrup, fresh pineapple and strawberries, and mint leaves. At Lexington’s, the Lex Punch ($14) mixes Appleton Estate V/X Jamaica rum with Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, Perfect Purée blood orange concentrate, pineapple juice, house-made honey syrup, pomegranate juice and Ruffino Prosecco.
The operators of New York City cocktail bar Mulberry Project recently launched a pop-up bar called Tulum, serving Mulberry’s summer cocktails with the aim of transporting guests to the shores of Mexico. “We wanted to create a real retreat for guests,” explains beverage director Jasper Soffer. The temporary bar will remain open throughout the warmer months. Among the summer cocktails available at both Mulberry Project and Tulum, Soffer says top-sellers often feature heat from fresh peppers. The Flood ($14) blends Ford’s gin, Fidencio Clásico mezcal, simple syrup, lime juice, Thai chili and cilantro, while the Crawl Away ($14) comprises chipotle-infused Altos Reposado Tequila, Cointreau orange liqueur and Thai chili. “People love the combination of spicy and sweet,” Soffer notes. “Drinks that feature watermelon and spicy peppers are very popular with our guests.”
Also incorporating these sought-after cocktail ingredients, the Absolut Watermelon Spice mixes Absolut vodka, fresh watermelon, jalapeño pepper and fresh lime juice. For El Silencio Espadín mezcal, Tello created the San Balthazar Summer, which features El Silencio Espadín mezcal, agave nectar, cilantro, fresh lime and watermelon juices, and serrano pepper. “I’m a huge fan of using mezcal in the hot months,” Tello says. “The cool citrus and smoky finish make a great drink for winding down in the evening after a day at the beach.”