When summer hits, people let their hair down; they’re more relaxed and easy-going, notes Julieta Campos, head bartender at The Whistler in Chicago. “In the winter, our patrons seek out comfort drinks, but they really loosen up in the summer, and that naturally translates to their drinking.”
Beth Hoselton, bar manager of The Hourly Oyster House in Cambridge, Massachusetts, agrees, noting that she strives to make cocktails that enhance relaxed, warm-weather activities. “Summer is all about hanging out on a patio or porch, lounging with friends, and sipping on something cool and refreshing,” she says.
Summer is a sublime time for cocktail lovers because the season’s plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables lends itself well to refreshing drinks, notes Nate Reed, bar manager of Rustic Canyon in Los Angeles. “Our cocktails are popular year-round, but the seasonal section of our drinks menu gets the most love in the summertime,” he says. “Fresh fruit really entices our customers.” Indeed, the trend toward all things fresh and seasonal is still going strong as mixologists continue to experiment with different fruits, vegetables, and herbs. “Fruit-forward drinks with a fresh, herbal element are always popular and delicious,” Reed says. “I like to use strawberries, raspberries, citrus, mint, sage, basil—there are so many options during the summer.”
“Summer invites tropical and citrus flavors,” says Jennifer Schmitt, beverage manager and sommelier for Miami-based restaurant Upland, who adds that she focuses on fresh juices and natural sugar in her own seasonal drinks. The venue’s Cucumber & Smoke ($14) comprises El Jimador Blanco Tequila, lime and cucumber juices, agave nectar, and Bittermens Orchard Street Celery shrub, and the Hibiscus Collins ($14) mixes Tito’s Handmade vodka, Cocchi Americano aperitif, house-made hibiscus syrup, and lemon and grapefruit juices.
Douglas Da Cruz, Jr., manager of The Up Room lounge at the Robey Hotel in Chicago, believes that any spirit can work in a summertime cocktail. “What matters most is the flavor profile of the drink—refreshing is the first rule, carbonation is always a good idea, and, last but not least, it must have acidity,” he says, adding that ice is another essential factor in the summer. “If you pour a classic Old Fashioned into a Collins glass over crushed ice and top it with tonic water, it will be a hit.”
Indeed, long drinks are always popular when the temperature rises. “I love making citrus-forward drinks and pouring them over a large ice cube,” Rustic Canyon’s Reed notes. “Shandies are popular because they’re lower in alcohol content, long, and refreshing.”
The Up Room’s 5 O’Clock Tea ($14), created by Da Cruz and manager Tim Hollingsworth, keeps the abv low by using just an ounce of Knob Creek Bourbon mixed with house-made peach shrub, lemon juice, agave nectar, Earl Grey tea, and roasted thyme.
At Chicago restaurant Split-Rail, beverage manager Brenna Washow developed a section on the drinks menu dedicated to low- and no-proof cocktails that are ideal for summer. Her Freedom From Want cocktail ($8) comprises Salers gentian liqueur, St. Elder elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice, and house-made cinnamon tincture, while her Rhodium Nights ($8) blends Miner Viognier, Pür Likor Williams pear liqueur, lemon juice, and club soda.
Many Asian spirits are naturally lower in alcohol content than traditional Western spirits, making them perfect ingredients for light, summer cocktails. The Spring in Tokyo ($16) at Azabu in Miami features Mizu Lemongrass shochu, Kaori Umeshu, yuzu juice, simple syrup, and egg white, while the Sake Your Eda‘Mame’ ($17) at Komodo in Miami splits the base between Enter Black Dot sake and Stoli Elit vodka, mixed with fresh lemon and lime juices, simple syrup, puréed edamame and Musashino nigori sake, and shiso.
The Whistler’s Campos notes that while gin, rum, and agave spirits are the more obvious choices for summer cocktails, mixologists are experimenting with other spirits such as Pisco, aromatized wines, and cachaça. The Pisco Flower ($14) at The Lobby Lounge in the JW Marriott Chicago features ginger-infused Barsol Pisco, house-made hibiscus syrup, lemon and lime juices, and egg white. Polsky’s Warlock of Love ($13) at Harvard & Stone blends Avuá Amburana cachaça, Casa Magdalena rum, house-made watermelon syrup, lemon and pineapple juices, and mint.
Rustic Canyon’s Reed incorporates amaro into many of his cocktails. “The great thing about amaro is that the flavor is very different between brands,” he says. “If I find a cocktail is lacking in a certain flavor category or coming on too strong in another, choosing the right amaro will help balance the drink.” His Smokeshow cocktail ($16) blends Angeleno amaro with Yola mezcal, Leopold Bros. American Orange liqueur, house-made grapefruit-rosemary syrup, fresh lemon juice, and muddled raspberries. At Split-Rail, Washow’s Nothing Left to Burn ($8) features Averna amaro, Wild Sardinia Mirto liqueur, lemon and grapefruit juices, and simple syrup.
While fruity drinks will always be popular in the summer, bitter, herbal, and savory flavors are growing more common, notes Da Cruz of The Up Room. His and Hollingsworth’s Duck Fried Rice ($14) features lemongrass-infused Ford’s gin, sesame oil-infused Aylesbury Duck vodka, Bittermens Tepache spiced pineapple liqueur, lime juice, and house-made Aylesbury duck fat tincture. Temple Court’s Mirzoeff also doesn’t shy away from vegetables and bitter ingredients in her summertime drinks. Her Ian Fleming ($18) mixes carrot-infused Simple vodka, Hendrick’s Gin, and Italicus Bergamotto aperitif, while her Harper Lee ($18) features Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Cynar amaro, La Guita Manzanilla Sherry, and cucumber.
“Savory is the newest summer cocktail trend,” Da Cruz says. “I like to surprise my guests—unexpected flavors and weird combinations are my favorite.”