Kids are going back to school. Municipal pools have closed. But a few minutes in Houston's still-merciless sun will tell you that summer is still in full swing. And a look at the calendar will tell you that summer cocktails are still in fashion until September 23, the official first day of fall.
These sweltering afternoons and balmy evenings call for something cold, refreshing, and dare we say, low in alcohol. Here are three less boozy late summer cocktails that are perfect to make at home with alternatives to the typical vodka, gin, tequila, and whiskey drinks.
Sometimes bitter is better
Liqueurs bring sweet, savory, and bitter twists to summer cocktails. The king of the bitter category is the Italian amaro (it literally translates to “bitter”) with Fernet-Branca soaking in the spotlight. These spirits spiked with spices, herbs, roots, fruit, or botanicals are great as either an aperitif or a digestif, and they are great mixed in cocktails.
Amaro Lucano is made with a family recipe of more than 30 herbs that are dried, crushed, and steeped in alcohol. The recipe, passed down for four generations, makes a lusciously sweet and mildly bitter, caramely liqueur with loads of spice and herb flavors. The sweetness makes it an impeccable companion to fresh fruit. Pureed strawberries and fresh lemon with a bubbly fizz make Amaro Lucano sunshine in a glass. While it clocks in at 28-percent alcohol, it’s got far less kick than vodka.
Bitter Berry Bash
- 2 ounces Amaro Lucano
- 1 ounce fresh pressed lemon juice
- 1 ounce fresh strawberry puree (or strawberry jam)
- Splash of dry sparkling cider, such as Argus Cidery
Shake all ingredients except cider and strain into a cup with ice. Top with sparkling cider. Garnish with a strawberry.
Feelin’ fino with sherry
The fortified sherry wine might conjure images of old British women in floral dresses and big hats, but it’s actually a sophisticated wine worthy of sipping or mixing in your next cocktail. Hailing from Andalucía on the Southern coast of Spain, sherry is made with the cool breath of the Atlantic, a cozy blanket of yeast, and a slow ride through a complex system of barrels. The result is an absolutely unique wine that leaves an indelible impression, just like the Spanish seaside.
Try the Mr. Pepe cocktail, a riff on a traditional mojito using the Tio Pepe fino sherry rather than rum. The dry, light-style sherry is great in summer cocktails. It only has 15-percent alcohol and the bottle will keep forever even after you open it. It’s a natural complement to seafood and a dip in the pool.
Developed by Yamasaki Tsuyoshi, Star Bar, Tokyo
- 1.5 ounces Tio Pepe fino sherry
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1.5 ounces soda water
- 6 pieces of lime
- 12 mint sprigs
Crush the six lime pieces and mint sprigs in a rocks glass and add all of the liquid ingredients. Fill the glass with crushed ice and garnish with a mint leaf.
Vermouth is one of the best-known aperitif wines with its heavy connection to popular cocktails like the Manhattan and martini. It’s also delightful served neat or over a smack of ice to get that appetite revved up with bittersweet goodness.
The first documented vermouth recipe was made by Italian distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano in 1786. Carpano Bianco is still made with a similar recipe in Sicily and Romagna with Trebbiano, chardonnay, and Cortese grapes, along with herbs, roots, and barks giving it mischievous citrus and spirited spice flavors. Mix this 15-percent wine with orange soda in our Summer Spritz. This is super easy to make and even easier to love.
- 2 ounces Carpano Bianco vermouth
- San Pellegrino Aranciata sparkling orange soda
Fill a tumbler or high ball glass with ice, add the Carpano Bianco, and fill with the San Pellegrino. Add a wedge of citrus for garnish.
Kickback, relax, and let the last rays of summer soak in with a fantastic drink.