Fresh produce—including seasonal fruit juices and bright herbs—are cocktail staples these days. Mixologists and consumers alike prefer ingredients that come from their local farmers’ market rather than from a far-off factory. For these discerning cocktail makers and drinkers, fresh is always best—so when summer comes around, they rejoice.
“Making summer cocktails is so much fun because a lot of inspiration comes from seasonal fresh ingredients, including fruits, citruses and herbs,” says Ashela Richardson, brand ambassador for Flor de Caña rum.
Throughout winter, mixologists rely on items with longer shelf lives, like spices and dried herbs, to make drinks that are meant to be sipped and savored. But in the summer, Richardson says, bright, vibrant flavors are the focus in thirst-quenching drinks. “Longer, refreshing cocktails take center stage in the summer,” she notes.
Elliot Mizuki, manager at Polite Provisions in San Diego, also notes this major shift in drink styles from winter to summer, when consumers move from heavy coats and warm drinks to short sleeves and light libations. “We like to play with brighter and refreshing flavors in summer,” he says. “Polite Provisions has open skylights and a 10-table patio that makes it a great day-drinking destination, so we want to showcase the brighter aspects of our drinks, making more shaken cocktails served over ice.”
These easy-drinking cocktail styles are ideal for cooling down during the summer, but as Raymond Chester, beverage director at Lowcountry in Chicago, notes, these types of drinks are favored all year long. “A few times a year we reevaluate our cocktail sales, taking less popular drinks off the menu and introducing new ones,” he explains. “What we’ve found is that our summer-style cocktails sell the best year-round. People prefer these light, often sessionable, drinks.”
White spirits are most mixologists’ first choice when making summer cocktails. “I tend to stick with vodka, gin and blanco Tequila,” says Michael Monrreal, corporate mixologist for Las Vegas–based Clique Hospitality, which owns numerous venues nationwide, including The Still at The Mirage in Las Vegas and Lionfish at the Pendry hotel in San Diego.
Benjamin Schiller, beverage director for the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group and new cocktail bar The Sixth in Chicago, also notes a preference for clear spirits in his summer cocktails, as they have crisp and refreshing flavors compared to richer spirits like whisk(e)y. Lowcountry’s Chester says that these unaged spirits also tend to pair better with the bright produce that’s synonymous with summer, whereas heavier spirits have stronger flavors that can be overpowering.
Monrreal adds that his personal favorite summertime drink is the Gin Rickey, which is a simple combination of gin, lime and sparkling water. Flor de Caña’s Richardson notes that simple, straightforward cocktails like this are crowd pleasers. “In the summer we see people flocking toward sours, gimlets, mojitos and highballs,” she says. At Pacific Cocktail Haven in San Francisco, owner Kevin Diedrich’s Nicaraguan Highball ($10) blends Flor de Caña Grand Reserve 7-year-old rum, Bittercube tonic syrup and soda water.
Richardson says that although she generally uses unaged spirits in her summer cocktails, she makes an exception for Flor de Caña’s aged rums. “Flor de Caña rums shine through in cocktails because they’re drier than many aged rums, so they can be mixed with fruit and the resulting cocktail won’t turn out too sweet, but bright and balanced,” she says, adding that her current favorite summer drink is the Daiquiri Marrasquino. The cocktail features Flor de Caña Grand Reserve 7-year-old rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and Luxardo Maraschino liqueur. “This bright and citrusy drink is very easy to make,” she says. “The liqueur makes the citrus notes pop without adding too much extra sweetness or complicated steps.”
Lowcountry’s Chester notes that in addition to seeking out simple, minimal ingredient cocktails, consumers also favor drinks with lower alcohol content in the summer. “Consumers want lighter cocktails with regards to viscosity and flavor, but also in terms of abv levels,” he says. “No one wants to get drunk out in the blaring sun.”
At both The Still and Lionfish, Monrreal keeps his summer drinks on the low-abv end by using smaller amounts of the base spirits and larger amounts of either beer or wine. His Lucky Luciano ($16 at The Still) features Avión Silver Tequila, Aperol aperitif, fresh lemon juice, basil and Stiegl Radler Grapefruit beer, and his Raspberry Beret ($14 at Lionfish) blends Aperol, Cocchi Americano Rosa aperitif, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and Michel Girault Sancerre Domaine les Beaux Regards.
Chester takes a similar approach to his Simply Delightful cocktail ($12), mixing three ounces of Vezzu Giancarlo Extra Dry Prosecco with just one ounce of Ketel One vodka and a half-ounce each of Aperol, Solerno blood orange liqueur and Carpano Bianco vermouth, finishing the drink off with a couple dashes of Bittermens Boston Bittahs.
Bright And Balanced
The wide abundance of fresh fruits, herbs and other produce available during the summer gives mixologists the opportunity to bring bright and naturally sweet flavors into their cocktails. “I’m most excited for farmers’ market strawberries this summer,” Flor de Caña’s Richardson says, explaining that she adds macerated fresh strawberries to a traditional Daiquiri recipe for a fresh take on the classic. At The Skylark in New York City, beverage director Johnny Swet’s Strawberry and Rhubarb Caipirinha ($18) is a seasonal twist on the classic Brazilian drink, blending Avuá Prata cachaça, strawberry purée, agave nectar, lime juice and Fee Brothers Rhubarb bitters.
Fruit juices are prevalent in summertime cocktails. At Presidio Social Club in San Francisco, the PSC Rum Punch ($12) by general manager Maureen Donegan comprises Flor de Caña Extra Lite 4-year-old rum and pineapple, pomegranate and passion fruit juices, while Chester’s Hurricane ($12) at Lowcountry mixes Cruzan Light and Aged Dark rums, mango purée, simple syrup, fresh orange and lime juices, and Bittermens ‘Elemakule Tiki bitters.
“Consumers always seek out cucumber, strawberry, watermelon, mango, passion fruit and pineapple during summer months,” Clique Hospitality’s Monrreal says. His Pineapple Express cocktail at The Still ($16) blends Cîroc vodka, Pok Pok Som Pineapple shrub, fresh lemon juice, agave syrup and Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc beer.
Chester notes that all bartenders should take advantage of the fresh produce available in the summer, adding that they shouldn’t limit themselves to just fruit. “Vegetables and herbs are great as well,” he says. “I use basil in our Limeade at Lowcountry, for example.” The drink ($12) comprises Fords gin, lime juice, brown sugar simple syrup and fresh basil.
“Refreshing gin cocktails over crushed ice and with citrus elements are my favorite summer drinks,” The Sixth’s Schiller says. “And I love it when I’m able to use a seasonal herbal component like basil, blossoms, sage or marigold.” At The Sixth, Schiller’s The Doris ($12) features Fords gin, muddled cucumber, house-made orange flower water simple syrup, tonic water, Bittermens Boston Bittahs and house-made mint bitters, while managing bartender Joel Rund’s Zion Lion ($13) blends El Dorado 12-year-old rum, Germain-Robin absinthe, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, lime juice, mint, and house-made ginger and passion fruit syrups.
“In the summer I focus on flavors that pop,” Richardson says. “I love combining herbs with citrus or fruits because of the way they balance one another. Some of my favorite combinations are rosemary and apple, lavender and lemon, and pineapple and thyme. Herbs are highly aromatic and add a nice layer of complexity to the tasting notes of cocktails with acidic or fruity ingredients.”
Fruity and simple drinks may be in high demand in the summer, but today’s mixologists are always looking for ways to push the envelope, innovate and surprise their consumers. To get creative with their summer tipples, mixologists add unexpected flavors from liqueurs and house-made tinctures, proving that light and refreshing cocktails can still be inventive and modern.
Schiller’s Silly Rabbit cocktail at The Sixth ($14) mixes Fords gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, house-made mint tincture and soda water. The combination is then poured over four differently flavored ice cubes—raspberry, grape, lemon and orange. Rund heads the ice program at The Sixth, often creating new ice flavors and shapes, and Schiller says that consumers love this innovative twist.
House-made syrups and other tinctures, especially those featuring ingredients outside of the usual fruit flavors, add modern flair to any cocktail. At The Skylark, Swet’s Pistachio Cocktail ($18) features Beefeater gin, Singani 63 Bolivian brandy, parsley, house-made pistachio agave syrup and lime juice.
At Polite Provisions, Mizuki is unveiling two new cocktails this summer: his own 38th Parallel ($9) and manager Frank McGrath’s Purple Haze ($11). “These cocktails are vibrant in color and wildly different from one another, but they both play to the summer palate,” he says. The former comprises kimchi-infused Beefeater gin, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, mint, Sriracha hot chili sauce and a pinch of salt, while the latter features Beefeater, Giffard LichiLi lychee liqueur, house-made hibiscus and white peppercorn syrup, Scrappy’s Lime bitters, Regans’ No. 6 Orange bitters, and fresh pineapple and lemon juices. “The Purple Haze radiates with floral aromas and bright citruses, and is the perfect libation for early afternoon or a late-night cool down,” Mizuki says. “The 38th Parallel is more spicy and savory and plays with food flavors.”
From simple sours with fresh fruit juice to modern concoctions with unusual syrups, this year’s summer cocktails focus on pleasing a wide range of consumers looking for refreshment as the temperature climbs. “I’m excited to see the passion for cocktail making and drinking is still going strong,” Lowcountry’s Chester says. “I love that consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about spirits, cocktails and the commitment it takes to make amazing drinking experiences.”