If ordering and looking at your most popular cocktails doesn’t pump you up, then your summer cocktail recipe hasn’t captured the essence of summer.
The best summer cocktails are mixological representations of the season. The winter cocktails focus on warmth and spice, the spring cocktails on freshness, and the fall cocktails on earthy moderation. But summer cocktails are a bit more one-dimensional. In a good way. Sours and sweets commingle in ice-cold liquor while citrus flavors blow up in your mouth. The best summer cocktails have a lot of energy.
We’ve chosen 10 easy summer cocktails that are popular, refreshing, and simple. And that makes them profitable. How to successfully manage a bar is all about boosting your bar profitability. Throw some of these simple summer cocktails on your drink menu and you may not need to do any menu engineering. Because people hunt these drinks down.
You’ve already got all, or most, of the ingredients on hand (if you’re a bar). And the recipes are short and sweet so your bartenders won’t miss a beat. Given all that, we think these are the best summer cocktails out there. Some are newer than others, but they’re all classic summer cocktails.
Vodka Cocktails for Summer
The French martini is a relative newcomer in the cocktail world, but it blew up. It was invented in the 1980s in NYC. And it spent the next decade growing in popularity during the “cocktail renaissance” of the 80s and 90s. First the trendy Balthazar brasserie in New York put it on their menu. In a few years, it made its way to the menu of London’s Met Bar. And in the late 90s it made in-roads across Europe. For a drink invented in the 1980s, it has an impressive global market to this day. Oddly enough, the french martini isn’t technically a martini at all. It contains no vermouth and shouldn't be served in a martini glass.
The French is a simple combination of a base liquor, a cocktail modifier, and a juice. The use of chambord, a dark berry liqueur, gives it a nice sweet depth. But the pineapple juice is what lights the fuse. Combined with the smooth astringency of vodka, sweet berries and vibrant pineapple create a uniquely clean and refreshing summer cocktail. The result is an opaque, frothy purple elixir that eats summer days for breakfast.
French Martini Ingredients
- 2 ounces vodka
- .5 ounces black raspberry liqueur (May we suggest Chambord?)
- 1.5 ounces pineapple juice
French Martini Recipe
- Add all ingredients, with ice, into a cocktail shaker and shake
- Strain into a chilled cocktail or martini glass
It was 2005 in Fort Myers, Florida. A pair of rainbow-colored, tiger-striped pants billowed in the wind. It was the Dirty Gator Open, a golf tournament. A man named John Daly put out his cigarette and stepped up to the tee. The crowd gasped, “Who is this guy?” “What’s up with his hair?” “Is he wearing Zubaz?” Public interest began swirling around John Daly, the man who appeared least likely to be a professional golfer.
An enterprising bartender at the club picked up on this public interest. He also knew John had a bit of a drinking problem. So he began selling Arnold Palmers spiked with vodka and calling them John Dalys. For John Daly was a man who seemed to be laughing in the face of golf traditions. We can assume that, if served that legendary golf course drink, the Arnold Palmer, he’d probably spike it with vodka. And the drinks took off.
At first, John Daly wasn’t happy with this. But he ended up bringing John Dalys to market and now he’s got a stake in the whole thing. It’s ultimately a happy story. It’s also one of the best refreshing summer cocktails. An Arnold Palmer is iced tea and lemonade. That’s obviously refreshing. And it becomes a very easy summer cocktail recipe with the simple additional vodka.
John Daly Ingredients
- 1.5 ounces vodka
- 2 ounces lemonade
- 2 ounces iced tea
- Lemon slice
John Daly Recipe
- Fill a large highball glass with ice
- Add all ingredients and stir
- Garnish with a lemon slice
Gin Cocktails for Summer
We continue with cocktails named after people with the Tom Collins. Nobody knows if Tom Collins existed. In fact, whether or not Tom Collins existed was such a point of contention that it spurred the great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874. What you are about to read is a true story.
In 1874, across these United States of America, it became popular to ask someone “Have you seen Tom Collins?” The person predictably answered “No, I don’t know who that is." The asker of the question would go on to explain that Tom Collins was in town and talking all kinds of smack about them. The asker would insist that a man named Tom Collins was insulting them somewhere in town. And it would be best if they put a stop to it. In such a way, people went off huffing and puffing searching for some obnoxious Tom Collins that didn’t exist. Again, this is a true story. A song dedicated to the hoax is now enshrined in the U.S. Library of Congress.
We do now that there was a guy named John Collins who mixed up a similar drink in London around the turn of the 19th century. Here is a rhyme written about John Collins around that time:
My name is John Collins, head waiter at Limmer's,
Corner of Conduit Street, Hanover Square,
My chief occupation is filling brimmers
For all the young gentlemen frequenters there.
The hilarious history behind the Tom Collins makes it all the more endearing. What it doesn’t make it is a more refreshing summer cocktail, because that’s impossible. The Tom Collins is like an ice-cold, sweetened, herbal lime spritzer. When it touches your tongue on a hot day, you are saved.
Tom Collins Ingredients
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- .75 ounces lemon juice
- Slice of lemon
Tom Collins Recipe
- Add the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup into a Collins or highball glass 3/4ths full of ice
- Fill a glass with club soda and stir
- Garnish with lemon slice and cherry
The gimlet is like a Tom Collins, but without the insane story or carbonated water. The original recipe for a gimlet called for “gin and a spot of lime.” And in 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, the same book in which the greyhound made its debut, the recipe calls for equal parts gin and Rose’s Lime Juice. Today, we prefer our drinks a little stiffer. So the recipe has grown more alcoholic with time. Now it’s two parts gin to one part Rose’s lime. A combination that keeps it light, refreshing, but not too sweet. One of the best summer cocktail recipes available, if you ask us.
The gimlet is a product of circumstance versus creativity, though honed and perfected with time. Its origins are at sea, when limes were mandatory rations for British sailors to battle scurvy. Gin was the drink of choice for many British sailors of the time. It was also a natural complement to the limes they were required to eat. “You must eat this lime” is a phrase sadly lost to this part of history. The gin and lime juice made each other more palatable and countless seamen avoided vitamin deficiency.
As for the name, it’s from one of two places. It could get its name from a small tool used to tap barrels of liquor on ships. It could also get its name after a British naval officer named Sir Thomas Gimlette who was an enthusiastic adopter of the gin-lime combination.
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce Rose’s lime juice (use .5 ounces fresh lime juice and .5 ounces simple syrup if you’ve got no Rose’s)
- Lime wedge
- Add the gin, Rose’s, and ice in a shaker and shake
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a lime wedge
Summer Whiskey Cocktails
The old pal is in the Negroni and boulevardier cocktail family. Instead of sweet vermouth, the old pal uses dry vermouth. And where a Negroni has gin and a boulevardier bourbon, the old pal has the spicier rye whiskey. A lot of bartenders today make boulevardiers with rye instead of bourbon because it creates a fuller flavor profile with the Campari. Well, that’s what the old pal does in a way. Just with a different kind of vermouth.
The recipe comes to us from the great year of 1927, with the publication of Barflies and Cocktails. Another peculiarity it shares with the boulevardier is that it’s named after an American who lived in Paris. In this case William “Sparrow” Robinson, who was a newspaper editor for The New York Herald. Harry MacElhone, a bar owner who had a hand in the creation of the boulevardier, is credited with the creation of the old pal.
The combination of sweet vermouth and Campari is too sweet for a raw, summer cocktail. By using dry vermouth, the old pal immediately becomes one of the most refreshing summer cocktails around. It's an even more refreshing version of the common three-ingredient formula of base liquor + Campari + vermouth. The complexity and bitterness of Campari shines a light on the slow-burning spice of rye whiskey but disarms it. The entire mixture is perfect for warm, summer sipping. This here is one of the best summer whiskey cocktails and one of the best summer cocktails in general.
Old Pal Ingredients
- 1 ounce rye whiskey
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce dry vermouth
- Lemon peel
Old Pal Recipe
- Add all ingredients in a shaker with ice and mix
- Strain into a cocktail grass
- Garnish with a lemon peel
The whiskey sour is the summer whiskey cocktail. It’s also the single best easy summer bourbon cocktail. The great state of Wisconsin has the honor of being the first location this classic summer cocktail was mentioned in print—back in 1870. Thank you, Waukesha Plain Dealer.
“Sours” are a family of drinks and more accurately thought of as a principle of mixology. They're one of the oldest approaches to making drinks. It’s a simple, well-worn formula: base types of alcohol + sour mixer + sweetener. The gimlet above is basically a sour because Rose’s Lime isn’t a lime juice, but a sweetened lime cordial.
Like the gimlet, the sour has its roots in the mandatory presence of lemons and limes on maritime vessels. Because of this, they’re some of the earliest cocktails on record.
Any drink that successfully combines sweet, sour, and liquor is going to be a popular summer cocktail. The key is finding easy summer cocktail recipes. Summer cocktail recipes you already have the ingredients for and take your bartenders under a minute to make. Well, that’s the whiskey sour, the undisputed champion of easy summer cocktails.
The whiskey sour’s cherry garnish is a great representation of the drink itself: sweet and fun. The sugar acts as a bridge between the sweetness of the bourbon and the fresh lemon juice. The result is subtly sweet, very drinkable, and a joy to behold. Tip one back on a warm summer sunset and feel yourself melt into the sweet dusk breeze.
Whiskey Sour Ingredients
- 2 ounces bourbon
- .75 ounces lemon juice
- .75 ounces simple syrup
- Orange wheel
Whiskey Sour Recipe
- Combine bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice and shake
- Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice
- Garnish with an orange wheel and cherry
Summer Rum Cocktails
The daiquiri is a family of cocktails and holds an esteemed position in the cocktail pantheon. It's one of the “six basic drinks” in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, an epic and influential 1948 cocktail book. The name is from a Cuban iron mine where an American mining engineer named Jennings Cox was stationed in Cuba in the 1890s.
The drink found its way to the NYC bar scene in the early 1900s and stayed under the radar until the 1940s. Rum was much easier to come by during WWII than whiskey and vodka. FDR’s “Good Neighbor” policy increased trade incentives between the U.S. and Latin America.
There tend to be two daiquiris in the public imagination, though. One is the simple combination of rum, citrus, and sugar that serves as the foundation for many other drinks. And has its origins in the maritime battle against scurvy. The other is the slightly more flamboyant frozen daiquiri. Which is a daiquiri but blended with crushed ice to create a slushy.
Uttering the word “daiquiri” to a bartender should get you the first, simple summer rum cocktail. Embrace its simplicity and history. Enjoy its light jade color and humble sweet-and-sour refreshment. It’s one of the easiest, best summer cocktails you’ll find. And it’s a classic summer cocktail to boot.
- 1.5 ounces white rum
- 1 ounce lime juice
- .5 ounces simple syrup
- Lime twist
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake
- Strain into a cocktail glass
- Garnish with a lime twist
A Cuba Libre is a rum and coke with lime juice. Because of the heavy U.S. presence in Cuba during the Spanish-American war, there was an influx of Coca-Cola. The drink soon became popular in Cuba because of the ease of acquiring the ingredients.
While it doesn’t have to be Coca-Cola, it usually is. And while it doesn’t have to be Bacardi, it usually is.
You see, in 1965, Fausto Rodriguez, a Bacardi advertising executive, publicly produced a notarized affidavit. It stated that, in 1900, a 14-year-old Rodriguez witnessed a member of the U.S. Army order a Bacardi mixed with Coca-Cola. A nearby group of intrigued soldiers ordered a round themselves. And the drink was born. It's coincidental that Fausto grew up to be a Bacardi advertising executive. But, c’est la vie. Maybe that inspired him.
The name is from a previous drink known as the Cuba Libre—a saying of the Cuban independence movement—made of water and brown sugar. And, interestingly, the Cuba Libre is a historically important drink that’s representative of two world orders. One, colonialism in the Caribbean, was fueled by the rum trade. And another, modern commercialism, is perfectly represented by Coca-Cola and its proliferation around the world. That specific time and place, Cuba during the west’s transition from colonialism to capitalism, created a drink that reflected itself.
On the lighter side, the drink is an incredibly easy summer cocktail. Much like Cuba 100 years ago, rum and Coca-Cola are still readily available almost everywhere. The occasional addition of lime juice is a mixological stand-by that gives the already thirst-quenching combination a sharper kind of refreshment. But we go straight rum and coke in this recipe. Like the old days.
Cuba Libre Ingredients
- 2 ounces rum
- 4 ounces Coca-Cola
- Lime wedge
Cuba Libre Recipe
- Add rum and coke in a highball glass 3/4ths full of ice
- Garnish with a lime wedge
Tequila Summer Cocktails
Like the Cuba Libre, the Paloma uses a soft drink as a mixer. Pick your favorite grapefruit-flavored soda and mix it with tequila. A two-ingredient drink is an easy summer cocktail if we’ve ever seen one.
But what makes this one of the best simple summer cocktails is that it’s the most refreshing summer cocktail on this list. There’s something about grapefruit soda that hits the spot on oppressively hot days, to which Mexico is no stranger. Grapefruit soda spiked with tequila, then, rises to the level of elixir during the summer.
If you’re after a tequila-based cocktail on a hot day, skip the margarita and order a paloma. The word translates in English as both pigeon and dove. Which makes sense, because the paloma cocktail has the ability to be a blue-collar, sessionable summer cocktail. Or, with the right tequila and craft soda, a refined meditation on the collision of bitter, sour, and sweet.
- 2 ounces tequila
- 6 ounces grapefruit soda
- Lime wedge
- Salt the rim if you wish (adds a margarita-esque festive component to the drink)
- Add ingredients in a highball glass 3/4ths full of ice
- Garnish with a lime wedge
This simple summer cocktail is the reason for the epic, generations-long blood feud between the cities of Phoenix and Sausalito, CA.
Just kidding! But there was first a version of the Tequila Sunrise created in Phoenix in the 1930s. Then an updated version created in Sausalito in the 70s. To which city is its creation credited? Both, we guess? You don’t hear much about this issue, so it seems both cities have settled the dispute honorably.
The original 1930s version consisted of tequila, soda water, creme de cassis, and lime juice. But today’s version—the one that’s directly descended from the 1970s Sausalito—is tequila, orange juice, and grenadine. The story goes that Mick Jagger tried a Tequila Sunrise at a party in 1972 and the Rolling Stones started drinking them. They ordered them all across the country during their tour, and the drink took off.
The name comes from the look of the drink. After adding the tequila and orange juice, strategically pour the ruby-red grenadine cascading down the side of the glass without dispersing into the rest of the drink. The result is an orange color at the top of the drink and a fade to deep orange at the bottom.
The sweet pomegranate grenadine waits patiently at the bottom. As you sip the tequila-orange juice from the top, the drink gets progressively sweeter and more complex. Each drink is a journey to the drink’s sweet red heart. It’s one of the most fun tequila summer cocktails out there. And, in the grand scheme of things, one of the best summer cocktails, period.
Tequila Sunrise Ingredients
- 1.5 ounces tequila
- 3 ounces orange juice
- .5 ounces grenadine
- Orange slice
Tequila Sunrise Recipe
- Pour tequila and orange juice in a glass (any glass) over ice
- Pour the grenadine slowly down the inner side of the glass
- Garnish with an orange slice and cherry
The Best Summer Cocktails Are Easy Summer Cocktails
Classic summer cocktails are classic because they’re simple. They’re timeless. They’ve existed for many decades across all sorts of countries and cultures. They are popular cocktail recipes with popularity you can depend on. And that’s the first part of keeping a below average restaurant liquor cost and making drinks profitable.
The second part of how profitable bars are is the cost of ingredients and effort. The 10 drinks above are all made with ingredients your bar should already have. And because they’re such easy summer cocktails, your bartenders can make them in a flash. And that means making more of them. You can also check out some of the best bartending books for more inspiration.
Another great idea is to offer some of these as happy hour ideas. Seasonal cocktails are always great bar promotion ideas. And once you sell one, it’s not a huge jump to have your bartender upsell to a premium liquor. It’s worth a shot.
Have fun out there, children of summer!