Where to Find the Best Cocktails for Summer in NH

What to drink… now that it's finally warm.
Surf Sushi in Portsmouth is made for martinis. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a light bite and social drink.
Photo by Susan Laughlin

There’s nothing like a refreshing mixed drink on a warm summer evening. Sure, a nice chilled Sauvignon blanc would do nicely, but when the heat rises the spirits start to call.

I asked a variety of hip, in-the-know bartenders (aren’t they all?) what the mixed drink trends are and they came back with some surprising answers. It’s all about using fresh, house-made mixes, nostalgic/classic drinks with a twist, bitters for balance, the new flavored vodkas and rums and a bit of sparkle.

The mixology world has seen the same explosion of creative thinking that’s going on in the kitchen. There has been a move away from pre-made mixes, fixed recipes toward a flexible-wrist approach to mixing and matching the vast variety of pure and flavored spirits in the marketplace. A walk through the newest New Hampshire Wine and Liquor Outlet on Coliseum Avenue in Nashua boggles the mind with row after row of nicely packaged spirits, from moonshine in mason jars to classic cognac to cookie-dough-flavored vodka — the latter, a clear gateway drink for the timid.

Prosecco bubbles up from this refreshing drink served at San Francisco Kitchen.
by susan laughlin

Jared Bracci is one of Nashua’s most beloved bartenders. He was onto the crafted drink trend before it became the current rage. He says the public is more educated now and asking for sophisticated drinks, especially quality liquors just to sip and a creative approach to martini making. Now at San Francisco Kitchen in Nashua on Sunday evenings, he offers his magical potions for his fan base and anyone lucky enough to find a seat at the bar.

Bracci has his way of making drinks off the cuff. When a customer asks him to just make him a drink, a drink “omakase” if you will, he asks the patron four questions: What is your favorite color? What is your sign? What is your favorite fruit or spice? What did you just eat? Bracci says the color question is important because people who don’t like blue wouldn’t like a drink with blue Curaçao. Not sure what filters through Bracci’s mind when he thinks about astrology but he probably wouldn’t offer a Leo a pink martini. The palate question is a very good one. Here he might want to cut a greasy meal with a strong, acidic drink or a spicy dish with a sweeter offering. He says, “This is where we shine, just making up a drink on the spot with ingredients on hand.”

Champagne or sparkling wine is a trendy mix-in. A nice prosecco-laced drink is a great way to start the evening. “It’s celebratory,” says Bracci, who makes a nice one with a bit of Lillet, a French apéritif that is a fortified-wine blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscatel, and strawberry purée. He then fills the glass with the sparkler. Martha Stewart would top the drink with an edible flower.

Marc Charles, the regular bartender at SFK, is young, but enthusiastic about making interesting drinks. He says a popular drink for the younger set is a Baby Guinness Shot. Here a shot glass is filled with Coffee Patron Liqueur and Bailey’s is floated on top with a spoon. Yummy indeed, just have the sense to stop at one.

Lemon Drop: Signature drink at the Old Europe Restaurant.
by susan laughlin

At the Old Europe Restaurant in Concord, bartender/manager Jonathan Kelley takes pride in his from-scratch drinks. The house-made sour mix is made up several times a week using fresh-squeezed lemon, oranges and lime juices. They make the drink so delicious it’s hard to believe that anybody uses Rose’s lime juice. One of the most popular drinks on his menu is the Vanilla Lemon Drop Martini using Absolut Vanilla Vodka with hand-squeezed lemon juice. Kelley claims that when  you use the short-cut mixes it runs up the calories in a drink to 500. Yikes, two of those could top off your daily count pretty quickly.

 A few of Kelley’s personal favorite liquors include Belvedere Vodka and the flavored varieties of Absolut that are intensely loaded with extracts. He also has an imported espresso machine on hand for making expresso-based martinis with authority. Tuesday is Ladies Night (two-for-one prices), which is a great chance to try different drinks.

Jimmy Juice at The Old Ferry Landing in Portsmouth is an institution.
Photo by susan laughlin

On the Seacoast, Jimmy Juice is all the rage at The Old Ferry Landing anchored at 10 Ceres St. near Bow Street. Owners Jack and Jimmy Blalock (brothers of famed golfer Jane Blalock) came up with this now-classic drink years ago after a visit to Key West. In all of that paradise they couldn’t find a rum-based drink that said “you are in the tropics,” so they concocted one when they got home. It’s pineapple juice laced with three kinds of rum, the last being a dark Myers’s Rum floated on top. Let them make it for you …this one is best sipped on the deck with full view of tugs and the tide.

Up Bow Street at Surf Sushi, luscious summery martinis are the perfect foil for their creative maki. One favorite features Aperol apéritif, Espolòn blanco tequila and St. Germain elderflower liqueur. 

At Blue Moon Evolution in Exeter organic drinks are the order of the day. Try the Art in the Age Rhuby with vodka and organic lemon juice, splash of cranberry and organic simple syrup for a taste of early summer. They consider the bar “scratch” here and make their own bitters, grenadine and herb-infused simple syrup.

Chef Peter Varkonyi at the Home Hill Inn in Plainfield is designing new drinks built upon the classics, such as the Manhattan. He uses local Urban Moonshine bitters, extracts of herbs and spices, to give drinks a bit of bite and depth. He says “less is definitely more when using bitters, but they have their place. They give a sour tone to a drink that could have been too sweet … almost a puckering effect.” Aperol and Campari are also extracts with a burnt orange character that also adds herbaceous undertones to drinks. Just a splash is needed.

Varkonyi also explains that drink flavors evolve as the ice melts and the drink warms. The chilled drink is refreshing, but some of the flavor is missing until it warms a bit. That’s why a good cognac or bourbon served neat is warmed in your hand first. He suggests next time just try sipping a quality tequila instead of going for the frozen margarita.

Thinking margarita, Varkonyi offers a grapefruit juice marg that doesn’t need sour mix. Another is a nod to the Granite State with Jose Cuervo Silver, Cointreau, maple syrup, and lemon and lime juices.Another summery drink at the inn’s bar is the Dandelion, with cucumber, Canton (ginger liqueur), absinthe, rum, lemon juice and simple syrup.

How to Stock Your Bar

Chef Peter Varkonyi from Home Hill Inn in Plainfield suggests liquors to stock the home bar for both well drinks and sipping. Well drinks have other flavors so superior quality isn’t as necessary. Aged liquors are great for sipping neat or with ice.


Well: Bombay Sapphire (great for cucumber martinis and a great summer gin)
Sipping: Karner Blue Gin from local distiller Flag Hill in Lee, which has extractions of essential herbs from the distilling process


Well: Basil Hayden or Jim Beam
Sipping: WhistlePig (a rye style) from Vermont


Well: Mount Gay Silver, from Barbados
Sipping: Haitian “Rhum Barbancourt,” an aged rum excellent for sipping neat or with a twist of lemon


Well: Absolut or Smirnoff (both great for infusing, too).
Sipping: Ketel One (Chill it in the freezer for a couple hours first and drink sparingly with food.)


Well: Jose Cuervo Tradicional
Sipping: Don Julio, which is 100 percent agave and aged in oak

Summer Sipping Recipes

It’s summer. Look for drinks that are refreshing (not loaded with sugar) and use house-made infusions or freshly squeezed ingredients. They’ll be worth the sip.

The Pink Collins
From Chef Peter Varkonyi of Home Hill Inn

  • 2 ounces gin
  • Juice of one lemon and one lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pink peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry purée

Shake and serve with fresh mint. At the bar it is served with a pink peppercorn rim.

Green Tea Palmer
From Chef Peter Varkonyi of Home Hill Inn

  • Infuse vodka (quart) with green tea (3 or 4 bags) by letting it steep overnight but not longer as it may get bitter.
  • 3 ounces of lemonade
  • 2 ounces of steeped vodka
  • Top off with tonic water. Garnish with lemon wedge.

At the bar, the lemon wedge is cooked in sugar and then coated in raw sugar.

Categories: Summer Food and Recipes, Wine & Spirits