The Top 10 Summer Cocktails of All Time

The Top 10 Summer Cocktails of All Time

As summer approaches, it’s natural to ask, aloud even perhaps, what should I be drinking right now? While selections like white wine and cold beer are obvious, numerous cocktails abound which feel tailor-made for summer sipping. But which are best? To find out, we polled the Drinkhacker staff and asked for each writer’s list of their personal favorite 10 summer cocktails. We ranked and argued and analyzed, and after a little math came up with what is obviously the most definitive list of summer cocktailing ever published. So, while you’re welcome to drink whatever you’d like starting around Memorial Day, what you should be consuming is simply a matter of science.

Imagery courtesy of our AI friends at Microsoft “we put mint on everything!” Copilot!

10. Pimm’s Cup

The Pimm in Pimm’s Cup is James Pimm, a British shellfish monger who eventually became proprietor of some of London’s fanciest restaurants, which were patronized by some of London’s highest aristocracy around 1800. He devised the cocktail to accompany shellfish, with a gin-based spirit mixed with fruits and spices. The cocktail has endured over the centuries and is commonly regarded as the official drink of Wimbledon and numerous other social events. I’ll often drink or serve this simple cocktail over the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate the demise of the British Empire. -RT

Pimm’s Cup
2 oz. Pimm’s No. 1
1/2 oz. lemon juice
ginger ale or sparkling lemonade
mandatory garnishes: cucumber slice, a sprig of mint, strawberry
optional garnish: thin slices of orange or lemon.

Add ice to a highball glass. Add Pimm’s No. 1 and lemon juice, top with ginger ale or sparkling lemonade, and stir. Add your garnish of choice while singing “God Save the King” at the top of your lungs using your best Julia Child voice.

9. Gin and Tonic

A drink so straightforward that its name almost entirely contains its full recipe, the classic gin and tonic is about as clean and refreshing as a summer cocktail can get. Herbal notes from your favorite gin mingle with the tart sweetness of fresh lime in an effervescent bed of tonic water and ice. This drink originates as an elixir of health in the apothecaries of Europe, owing to the antioxidant properties of juniper and the anti-malarial and cramp-relieving properties of quinine tonic. While conventional tonic water is the norm for this old standby, we sometimes prefer an elderflower tonic to lend the drink a bit more of a floral character. For the gin selection, a top-shelf, wood-forward spirit is a good choice to stand out against the tonic and lime. Try the piney St. George Terroir, which is as complex and subtly entrancing as a walk in the hills of Monterey, California. -RS

Gin and Tonic
2 oz. gin
5 oz. tonic water
1 wedge lime

Build the drink over rocks, gin first, then tonic. Stir, then squeeze the lime over the surface and drop the wedge into the glass.

8. Mai Tai

The story of the Mai Tai is the story of tiki, one of the most iconic drinks – if not the most iconic drink – to come out of ‘40s rum culture. Designed by Trader Vic himself in 1944 in his Oakland watering hole, it’s a deceptively simple drink that, nonetheless, is invariably bastardized outside of high-end and tiki bars. (If the recipe has orange or pineapple juice in it, walk away. Even Microsoft Copilot can’t get this right.) We make it here with just four ingredients, though you’re free to jazz up the rum selection and use a combination of products if you want to get fancy. I’ve made a batched Mai Tai with 13 rums in it, just for kicks – and it was delightful. I also find myself drinking these almond-scented beauties mostly in the warmer months, poolside, as the hearty slug of lime juice is effective at tempering the significant amount of rum in the recipe. Throw in a little paper umbrella if you think it’ll help slow you down. -CN

Mai Tai
2 oz. dark rum
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. orgeat
1/2 oz. triple sec

Shake ingredients with crushed ice and pour the whole shebang into an old-fashioned glass (do not strain). Garnish with the spent, overturned shell of the lime and a mint spring. That lime represents your new island home.

7. Sangria

There are so many ways to make a delightful sangria (“bloodletting” in Spanish and Portuguese) with seemingly infinite regional distinctions. But in general, a sangria involves a wine mixed in a pitcher with sweet fruits (usually citrus or berry) and a touch of sugar. Anything else is limited to your taste preferences and imagination. -RT

1 bottle of Gamay, Zinfandel, or Garnacha wine (note: it’s okay to go cheap here)
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1 tablespoon of sugar
summer fruits of choice (start with lemons, limes, and oranges), quartered

Vigorously mix the juice, sugar, and cut fruit together in a large container. Add wine and brandy and stir well. Store in refrigerator to cool. Serve over ice in mason jars or any other handy vessel.

6. Old Fashioned

There are endless arguments on what constitutes the ideal Old Fashioned. Heck, there’s even a full book deconstructing it element by element. Our writers have also suggested some engaging variations using reposado tequila and rum. There are so many variants on this cocktail that a few of my friends have remarked that the Old Fashioned is more a state of mind than it is an actual “cocktail.” Deconstructionist theories aside, for the sake of this list we are going to keep it as close to the most universally recognized version as possible. -RT

Old Fashioned
2 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey (we usually opt for Old Grandad 114, Rittenhouse Rye, or the highest-proof whiskey on the shelf)
1/4 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
orange peel for garnish

In an Old Fashioned glass, add the simple syrup and Angostura bitters. Add a large ice cube. Pour in 2 oz whiskey over the ice. Stir gently for about 30 seconds to combine the ingredients and chill the drink. Express the oils from the orange peel over the drink by gently squeezing it over the glass, then garnish with the peel. It is also permissible to rub the orange peel around the rim of the glass for extra aroma.

5. Paloma

Sometime in the 1950s, when Squirt soda became popular in Mexico, Jalisco locals are said to have begun mixing the grapefruit-flavored soda with tequila. Over time and iterations, the drink we now know as the paloma took shape. Most takes on the paloma include either tequila or mezcal, grapefruit juice or grapefruit seltzer, a squeeze of lime juice, and some kind of sweetener. Paloma traditionalists stick to the fizzy soda roots, though we personally prefer a juice-forward variation, eschewing sodas and seltzers all together. -RS

2 oz. blanco tequila or mezcal
4 oz. grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar or simple syrup
1 oz. grapefruit soda or grapefruit seltzer
grapefruit slice

Stir tequila or mezcal into a glass with ice, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and nectar or syrup. Add soda and gently stir once more. Garnish with grapefruit slice.

4. Mojito

The classic mojito is a perfect summer crowd-pleaser. For me, it’s all about the fresh mint. A few leaves, muddled in the glass, and I’m halfway to summer. White rum is light and slightly sweet, and the fresh lime juice (don’t even think of using concentrate!) adds a bright citrus note that finishes the deal. For something different, you can replace the rum with gin. The result is a cocktail that is both cooling and delicious yet complex – and really easy to make. Once the weather turns warm, remember to pick up fresh mint and lime, and bring on summer! -RL

2 oz. white rum (or substitute gin)
1 oz. lime juice
2 tablespoons simple syrup
club soda
5 leaves fresh mint plus 2 more for garnish
slice of lime for garnish

Muddle the mint and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, lime juice, and rum/gin. Shake vigorously until ice cold. Pour over fresh ice, top off the glass with club soda, and garnish with a slice of lime and fresh mint leaves.

3. Negroni

Like most cocktails, the genesis of the Negroni is largely one of creation myth. Depending on who you ask, it was either accidented into existence by Count Camillo Negroni in 1919 when he requested an Americano using gin instead of the typical club soda, or it was concocted a century-and-change earlier, quite literally during the Franco-Prussian War, by French general Pascal Negroni. I’ve accepted both into my Negroni headcanon, the texture of each origin story indicative of the broad appeal of the cocktail. Sure, in each instance the recipe was discovered or developed by a count. But in the latter case it was created amid one of the deadliest conflicts of the 19th century, man. With three simple ingredients and a twist (or slice!) of the humble orange, the Negroni has become a bit of everything to everyone. Digestif, aperitif, cold weather cocktail, warm weather refreshment. Gorgeous in a lowball but easily and infinitely batchable due to its equal-parts recipe. Tart it up with a London Dry or use something modern and let the bittersweet Campari take the lead. Just never, ever skimp on the quality of the vermouth. -JG

1 oz. gin
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. Campari
orange peel

Stir equal parts gin, vermouth, and Campari with ice until cold. Pour through a strainer, over fresh ice, into an ideally chilled rocks glass. Express, twist, and dunk the orange peel into your now-perfect Negroni.

2. Aperol Spritz

Chris called this the “it” cocktail of 2010, and it has certainly worked its way into the zeitgeist as a major summer cocktail staple. Spritz cocktails have been around for centuries but the debate as to when the Aperol Spritz recipe was formalized is questionable, with historians throwing out dates ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s. Either way, it is one of the most refreshing summer cocktails out there, and also one of the easiest to make. -RT

Aperol Spritz
2 oz. Aperol
3 oz. Prosecco (chilled)
1 oz. soda water (chilled)
orange slice

Fill a large wine glass with ice cubes. Pour Aperol over the ice. Add chilled Prosecco to the glass. Top it off with chilled soda water. Gently stir the ingredients together. Garnish with a slice of orange, either floating on top or placed on the rim of the glass. Optional: Enjoy while watching historians argue online as to when this recipe became formalized.

1. Margarita

Without question, our judges agreed that the margarita was the most versatile summer cocktail. The classic calls for only 3 base ingredients: tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. But the variations from there are limitless, and every self-respecting mixologist has their own signature twist. We are way past “salt or no salt” as the fork in the margarita road. Want it spicy? How about a rim of spicy salt or an infusion of jalapeno. Feeling fresh? Mull some cucumber or splash some elderflower liqueur into the mix. Throw in mezcal instead of tequila for a mezcalita. Or leave it up to your guests: Whip up a base pitcher of this tangy concoction and then let the improvisations fly with a spread of citrus wedges, liqueurs, salts, and dry pepper spices on the side. Skip the premade mixes if you can; high-quality tequila and fresh ingredients shaken right before serving make a world of difference. -MU

2.5 oz. tequila
1 oz. triple sec
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice

Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optional: add salt rim to the empty cocktail before pouring.

Writeups by Christopher Null, Monica Uhm, Rob Theakston, Jonathan Glover, Robert Strohmeyer, and Robert Lublin.

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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