Four Drink Recipes Perfect for Summer

The very word “cocktail” says “fancy.” But summer is all about casual. Try these four (one for every month until fall) summer drinks and liven even a barefoot sunset on the dock into a personal cocktail party.

Everything I know about great cocktails I learned from a trio of loons.

Which turns out to be far more than you’d expect, particularly regarding that singular pleasure of pairing the perfect cocktail to a golden summer evening.

Most people pick drinks mindful of what they are eating — And worry they are getting it wrong. But that’s only the start. It’s also about matching drink to mood, to location, to season. It’s the whole package, and food is just a sliver of that.

Not that I knew this until recently. For much of my adult life, no occasion was wrong for a big bodacious red. I had no need for whites or craft beers, and certainly not for cocktails. Particularly not cocktails.

Cocktails are fussy, call for too many ingredients I don’t have, require so much more work than simply extracting a cork and pouring.

Or rather, that’s what I thought. Until the loons came into my life.

Three years ago I bought a small cabin on a small lake in a small town in our small state. Suddenly, sunny Saturday afternoons were bonding time with the resident loons. From my dock I’d sit and watch the three of them, sleek and dappled black, glide across water glistening with flashes of gold.

It was a moment that merited a drink. Except that while a bold red is brilliant when cooking dinner or while devouring a roasted-this-or-that, it is utterly out of place on a warm dock in July. I needed a drink that relished a warm breeze and lapping water. I needed a drink that craved sun and a gently swaying dock.

I needed the perfect cocktail, or what my wife later dubbed a “docktail.”

Finding it involved much trial and error. I started with gin and bitter lemon on ice, then migrated to a pisco sour before settling on a bourbon and pineapple.

In time, I discovered other lakeside pairings — the perfect hammock drink, the ideal evening campfire cocktail, the great grilling companion, the easy crowd pleaser. And they all shared two traits, two things that have become the hallmarks of any cocktail I mix, whatever the season or location.

  • A great cocktail must come together quickly and easily. I leave intricate mixology to real bartenders. I’m more of a dump-and-drink sort of guy, though I’ll sometimes tolerate a quick shake or blend.
  • A great cocktail is versatile, adapting to what you have rather than dictating what you need. A long ingredient list is a total buzzkill. And I really despise recipes that require minute amounts of obscure liquors.

Of course, you don’t need loons to master this (ducks work, too). Just consider when, where and with whom you will enjoy your drink, don’t worry so much about the food, and be willing to experiment from there.

To get you started, I’ve included several of my favorite summer cocktails — paired not to food, but to where, when and with whom the food might happen.

For May: Trashy Sangria

For me, summer starts in May — on the deck and by the grill. And this is what I drink while I’m there. A little sassy and a little sweet, a red sangria is the perfect bridge between New Hampshire’s wet and sometimes cool spring and … well, its wet and sometimes cool start to summer.

But true sangria requires time and effort. My trashy sangria is what you whip up in a minute, then slurp while tossing some steaks on the fire.

Use whatever red wine you happen to have open, unless it’s an expensive red. In which case, open a $10 bottle. And if you have some fruit handy, toss it in. Raspberries, strawberries and oranges are particularly welcome.

Servings: 1

  • 4 ounces good (not great) red wine
  • ½ ounce lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • Ice

In a large drinking glass, stir together the wine, lime juice, sugar and orange juice, mixing until the sugar is dissolved. Add ice.

For June: The Gin and Dock

It usually takes until well into June until I’m willing to venture into the water here in New Hampshire. But during those weeks of waiting for the lake to warm up, I’m happy to bide my time on the dock with a book and a drink.

This is my version of a gin and tonic. The bitter lemon soda (which isn’t actually all that bitter) tames the bite of the gin, producing a mildly sweet cocktail that might make you think of a grown-up version of 7-Up.

Don’t have any bitter lemon soda handy (Polar makes my favorite)? Ginger ale or Sprite are fine substitutes (but maybe cut it back to 1 ounce, since they are a bit sweeter).

Servings: 1

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces bitter lemon soda
  • 1 thin slice lemon
  • 1 thin slice cucumber
  • Ice

In a tumbler, combine the gin, bitter lemon, lemon slice and cucumber slice. Use a spoon to gently muddle the lemon and cucumber a bit, then stir. Top with ice.

For July: The Heat of Summer

The heat is on. And the corn is coming in. This is the drink you need to beat the former and celebrate the latter.

By law, bourbon is made from a grain mix that is at least 51 percent corn. But I like to push that number a little by adding some of the real deal to my drink. The natural starchy sweetness of corn kernels lend a subtle, but delicious flavor – and just a touch of body – to this drink.

The pineapple? I just tossed that in because it’s delicious. And it pairs so well with everything else. In fact, if you’re feeling lazy, skip the corn entirely (though it would be a shame) and just make yourself a quick cocktail of 3 ounces of bourbon stirred with 1 ounce of chilled pineapple juice.

Sip this one with dinner off the grill, particularly if the menu includes burgers, ears of corn and potato salad.

Servings: 1

  • ¼ cup corn kernels (frozen, canned or fresh)
  • ¼ cup chunks pineapple (canned is fine)
  • 4 ounces (½ cup) bourbon
  • ½ ounce honey, agave syrup or simple syrup
  • Ice

In a blender, combine the corn, pineapple and bourbon. Pulse the blender until the corn and pineapple are well chopped, but not pureed. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Pour through a mesh strainer, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.

Transfer the bourbon to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake, then strain into a tumbler.

For August: Lush Watermelon Slush

This is the drink I make when we have a crowd at the camp. Those crowds usually involve a fair number of kids, so I grab a monster watermelon and cut half of it into wedges. The kids get messy and sticky, then jump in the water to clean up.

Meanwhile, I take the other half of the watermelon and whip up a treat for the adults. Watermelon purées wonderfully, adding a refreshing sweetness to cocktails. Combined with ice and vodka, it a deliciously grown-up summer slush.

And while you’re at it, if you have leftover watermelon, purée it in the blender, then pour into ice cube trays and freeze. The cubes are great in lemonade, gin and tonics and orange juice.

Servings: 6

  • 3-pound wedge watermelon, cut up (about 4 to 5 cups of chunks)
  • 1½ cups ice cubes
  • 1 cup vodka
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup honey

In a blender, combine all ingredients. Purée until very smooth. Serve immediately.


Categories: Summer Food and Recipes, Wine & Spirits