A good summer cocktail is like an instant vacation, no matter where you are! Sipping a cool, refreshing drink is one of our favorite parts of any outdoor get-together, and this year we’ve vowed to mix our best cocktails yet. For tips, we turned to Josh Williams and Eric Prum, the creators of the Mason Shaker and authors of the book Shake, featuring simple recipes for seasonal cocktails. Here, they tell us all about making summer drinks — their go-to party concoctions, favorite flavors, and tips for serving a crowd. Read on, then try our new recipes!
How is cocktail culture different in the summer than the rest of the year?
Cocktail culture in the summer tends to shift outdoors, and we find more excuses to mix up drinks during the day to take advantage of the beautiful weather. Whether it’s an afternoon backyard BBQ or a bonfire on the beach, in summer we are naturally drawn outside to enjoy warmer temperatures paired with lighter, more refreshing cocktails.
For summer get-togethers we like to keep things simple, seasonal and delicious. We love to shake up batches of Spicy Mezcalitas, a spicy, smoky version of a traditional margarita, and Watermelon Daiquiris using fresh, in-season watermelon and locally distilled white rum.
Which ingredients do you gravitate to in the summer? Any favorite flavor profiles or combinations?
Summer is our favorite season for cocktails given the wealth of fresh, local ingredients that become available. We head to the farmers’ markets to take advantage of seasonal fruit like peaches, plums and blueberries, as well as fragrant herbs that peak in flavor during the summer months.
In summer we also tend to drink lighter, more refreshing cocktails that pair well with the warmer weather. We use a lot of citrus to wake up our taste buds, and often incorporate spicy notes in our cocktails that cool us down and keep us coming back for the next sip.
What are the best spirits for summer?
The best spirits for summer tend to be lighter and unaged, often times with lower alcohol content. We love using gin, tequila and rum as go-to liquors in the summer, often in combination with low-proof liqueurs like St. Germain, Aperol and Pimms. Our bottle of choice this summer is definitely mezcal: a smokey version of tequila that is currently appearing on the menus of a lot of high-end cocktail bars. We can’t get enough of it.
Can you share some of your favorite infusion ideas for summer?
We like to use fresh produce from the farmers’ market to create infused spirits that you can use for summer cocktails. The best infusions are often the simplest to make: cucumber-infused gin, peach-infused bourbon and fresh blueberry-infused vodka are a few of our favorites.
What cocktails and spirits pair best with grilled foods?
Our cocktail of the season to pair with grilled foods is the Spicy Mezcalita. To make the Spicy Mezcalita we replace the tequila in a traditional margarita with smoky mezcal and add slices of spicy jalapeño to the mix for heat. The flavors of smoke from the mezcal pair perfectly with the char on grilled foods. If you prefer something with a little less kick, beer cocktails using light summer ales are always crowd-pleasers when served alongside food fresh off the grill.
Do you have any creative serving ideas?
When we are serving cocktails for a small group of friends we like to use the Mason Shaker to mix up a single, large batch of a cocktail and then actually use the shaker as a serving piece. The Mason Shaker has an extra large 32-oz. capacity to pour out multiple servings, and the glass body of the shaker creates a striking visual of the cocktail, especially when using fresh ingredients.
What about garnishes — any fun ideas?
We love to use grilled fruit for garnishing finished cocktails. A quick pass on the grill caramelizes and concentrates the natural flavors of the fruit and, once cooled, will add a new dimension to your cocktail of choice. Making margaritas? Give your lime slices a quick char on the grill before adding them to your glass. Mixing a white sangria? Try grilling peaches and nectarines to use as a unique garnish.
Any tips for serving cocktails to a crowd?
When you have a group of friends coming together you always want to do as much prep work ahead of time as possible to make sure you don’t have to play bartender when you could be spending time enjoying the good company. Select cocktails that you can spend time on a few hours ahead of time that can be served in pitchers and punch bowls for guests to help themselves.
What are the best ways to keep summer cocktails cold?
We are suckers for a cocktail with crushed ice on a hot summer day. Whether served in a classic mint julep or a summer recipe of your own creation, crushed ice offers more surface area to chill a cocktail quickly and gets your drink as cold as possible. To prolong the chill of our cocktails, we like to keep a few of our favorite glasses in the freezer to pull out at a moment’s notice.
What are the most important techniques to master when making cocktails at home? Any tips for making it fun and interactive?
The two most important techniques to master when crafting cocktails at home are muddling and shaking. Muddling is the process of crushing ingredients in the bottom of a cocktail shaker to infuse their essence into a drink. We like to use an old-fashioned 10-inch wooden muddler to get good leverage on the ingredients (but we’ve been known to use a kitchen spoon in a pinch). Shaking a cocktail properly achieves three main things: it chills the ingredients quickly; it dilutes the cocktail to a drinkable level; and, perhaps most importantly, it actually adds air bubbles and tiny bits of ice to the mix, which give your drink body and texture.
Making cocktails at home should be fun and engaging! Use interesting ingredients you find at the market and share the stories behind the craft spirits you use with your guests. The more your guests can connect with the individual elements of the cocktail, the more they will appreciate the final product.
In infusing jar, combine 6 fl. oz. gin, 1 chile de arbol and 1/4 English cucumber, thinly sliced into rounds. Cover; shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Let sit for 2-24 hours. Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add strained gin and 12 fl. oz. Jalapeno-Lime Cocktail Mixer and shake. Strain into four ice-filled glasses. Top each with a splash of soda water. Garnish with jalapeno slices and cucumber slices. Serves 4.