18 Essential Summer Cocktail Recipes
Summer sipping is a lot more interesting with these refreshing drinks
Summertime is the perfect time to enjoy crisp and refreshing cocktails for cooling off. I don’t know about you, but I live in the South — Tennessee to be exact — and our summers can be pretty miserable. Before being quarantined became a thing, I imagined my summer would look a little different. For starters, I’d be able to visit my favorite bars and restaurants, maybe do a bit of traveling, all while sipping on my favorite summer beverages. Since those plans are on hold, you can now find me at home making these drinks while I enjoy summer from the comfort of my porch.
So what are some essential summer cocktails? For me, they’re drinks that are packed with flavor, easy on the eyes (everyone loves a pretty cocktail), and most importantly, easy to recreate at home. While I have cocktails that I enjoy year-round, I generally find myself switching up how I sip my spirits in the summer. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who does this, right? For instance, sometimes you’ll find me trading my winter whiskey and ginger beer for a whiskey smash in the summer. Maybe this little fact about myself is less about the seasons and more about making sure I get to enjoy all of my favorite drinks in a 12-month span. That’s something I’ll have to explore at a later date.
Some of the cocktails on this list of best summer cocktails are what we’d call classics — cocktails that have been around forever. Even though many of them are historically classic, though, they may have been altered a bit to reflect summer flavors. When thinking about how to make summer cocktails at home, remember that they should be simple and easy. You should spend less time behind the bar (or your kitchen counter) and more time enjoying the drink, and that’s the approach here.
Let’s close our eyes and imagine we’re all on our way to a much-needed summer getaway while sipping on some of these summer must-haves.
Summer isn’t complete without an Aperol spritz. Aperol is a bright orange bitter Italian apéritif, and once paired with prosecco and club soda, it becomes a summer sipper that’s absolutely perfect for relaxing. Best of all, it’s a light beverage so no one will judge you if you have more than one (I always have more than one).
Are bourbon summer cocktails a thing? Yes, they are and I’m a huge fan. Believe it or not, bourbon transitions really well from season to season. Last summer I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, and had my fair share of bourbon in the Kentucky heat. The key is to pour it in an icy, fruity summer beverage like this blackberry smash.
The Bramble is the summer cocktail you need but probably haven’t heard of yet. It’s a drink that was created in London in the 1980s and I just recently found out I’m two years older than the Bramble (yikes). The main flavor of a Bramble is blackberry and one of its main ingredients is crème de mûre, a blackberry liqueur. Fun fact: blackberry bushes are called brambles. Who knew?
There’s the frozen daiquiri you get when you’re at an all-inclusive resort and then there’s the classic cocktail that you shake in a cocktail shaker and drink after a long day. Both are delicious but this one packs an extra punch. It’s tart, strong, and just what the doctor ordered for this weird year we’re having.
While you can certainly make this drink without fancy bar tools, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a muddler. It's a tool that will let you muddle, or blend, the fresh mint leaves and lime easier and faster. Let’s be honest, the quicker you can make this mojito, the quicker you can enjoy its refreshing flavors.
Ask me what are some easy summer cocktails and this lemonade would obviously make the list. There’s nothing better on a hot summer day than a glass of ice-cold lemonade; it’s the quintessential beverage of the summer. But if you’re 21 and up, add a little elderflower liqueur and you’ve got yourself the perfect porch sipper. St. Germain, a French floral liqueur, is one of the most recognized brands of elderflower liqueur — add some to your bar.
Champagne lovers, I didn’t forget about you. After I gave birth, my first adult beverage was a cold glass of Champagne; it was all I craved. I strongly believe Champagne should be enjoyed year-round but in the summer, only a French 75 — the bubbly stuff with gin, simple syrup, and fresh lemon juice — will do.
What happens when you freeze a bottle of rosé? You get one of the most refreshing summer cocktails, frosé! Well, it’s not exactly as easy as freezing that one thing, but almost. To make a delicious batch of frosé, you’ll only need a blender and 4 basic ingredients. File this under delicious and light summer drinks.
Margaritas of all varieties are essential to summer. Yes, even ones with jalapeños. If you’re nervous about the spice level, don’t be. You can adjust the heat by removing the pith (the white lining) from the pepper, along with the seeds.
The spritz should be the drink mascot of the summer. Once I learned the basic ratio for making any type of spritz, I was sold. So here’s my secret, which really isn’t a secret at all: To make any spritz, just remember 3, 2, 1 (3 oz. sparkling wine, 2 oz. liqueur — in this recipe, it’s lemony limoncello — and 1 oz. soda water). See, it’s as easy as 1-2-3 ... or 3-2-1. Now I’m confused.
11. Mezcal Paloma
A paloma is like the margarita’s first cousin. You can certainly tell they’re related but you can also see (and taste) their differences. Typically a paloma is made with tequila (hence its close relation to a classic margarita) but this recipe kicks it up a notch by swapping out tequila for mezcal — a sometimes smoky, agave-based liquor. And then instead of fresh lime juice, it's made with grapefruit juice, plus grapefruit soda for a little fizz.
12. Moscow Mule
One thing is for sure when it comes to Moscow mules: they're at their best served in traditional copper mugs, which keep your drink cold and look nice on your at-home bar. If you like fresh ginger, try adding some to your mule. Here’s how: Take a garlic press and squeeze a piece of ginger into your drink. No garlic press, no problem. Just use a cheese grater to add in some fresh ginger bits — trust me on this.
13. Peach Margarita
Before moving to Tennessee, I lived in Atlanta for almost 10 years. On Sunday afternoons, my friends and I would grab a table at our favorite Mexican restaurant and enjoy pitchers of margaritas. My favorite flavor was always peach because it reminds me of summer. Still to this day, I’m a sucker for a peach margarita on a hot summer day.
14. Piña Colada
I don’t know about you but if I simply say the words “piña colada”, I can’t help but sing “The Piña Colada Song” on repeat. It may be cliché for a piña colada to be on this list, but when you blend pineapple, coconut, and coconut rum or white rum, it just screams summertime. Is “The Piña Colada Song” in your head now?
A cooler is a sweet, sparkling, and usually fruity drink that’s perfect for making big-batch summer cocktails. Thinking of hosting a party? You’ll definitely want to add this one to your list of perfect summer cocktails for a house party. On a hot summer day, this cooler lives up to its name.
You may have noticed an ampersand missing from this drink title and that would be correct. Even though I love a G&T (that’s what all the cool kids call gin and tonics) a Spanish gin tonic is slightly different. While the ingredients are the same, it’s the add-ons that make these stand out from a regular gin and tonic. To make a Spanish gin tonic you get to have a little fun by adding in a variety of aromatics like peppercorns, rosemary, basil, orange slices — basically anything your heart desires.
17. Whiskey Smash
Do you have a friend who isn’t a fan of whiskey? Introduce them to a whiskey smash and I promise you’ll win them over. There’s a restaurant in town that my friends and I frequent and I always order a whiskey smash. My favorite part of a smash is the ice. Sometimes bartenders use crushed ice and sometimes it’s shaved. Either way, on a hot Tennessee day, it’s the most enjoyable drink around.
I used to think only red sangria existed until someone introduced me to another option made with white wine. I love both types of sangria but visually, white sangria allows you to show off the colorful summer fruit you’ve tossed inside. Sangria is one of the best wine summer cocktails because it’s easy and versatile; you can enjoy it with brunch or at a backyard BBQ.
So put on Will Smith’s “Summertime” (it’s my go-to summertime anthem) and start making one of these fun summer cocktails. Cheers!