22 Ultra-Refreshing Summer Cocktails (Shaken, Stirred, Frozen)

It’s a vibe, really.

May 20, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

Bright, fruit-forward, crowd-pleasing, frozen, something you’d drink on a beach vacation—there’s no cut-and-dry definition of a summer cocktail. It’s a vibe, really. Here, I've gathered 22 concoctions you can enjoy pre- or post-sunset, separated into "by the glass," individual or two-person servings that could easily be scaled up; "by the pitcher," for a bigger crowd; and "frozen," because it’s the time for all things frozen.

P.S. It’s almost definitely too early to think about this, but I'm going to point you in the direction of red, white, and blue Paloma slushies for upcoming Fourth of July cookouts. You’re welcome.

By The Glass (Or 2)

1. Hello Summer Cocktail

Like a margarita, this tequila drink calls for a salt rim. Unlike a margarita, it calls for Lillet Blanc, a lovely addition. We suggest making extra watermelon juice to use in agua fresca, other cocktails, or just more servings of this one.

2. Aperol Spritz

When the Aperol Spritz’s credibility as a "good drink" was questioned in 2019 (remember those days?), the entire internet rushed to its defense. If you’re not a fan of Aperol’s sweetness, swap it for the slightly more bitter Cappelletti in this recipe—or go even more bitter with Campari.

3. The Desert Bird Cocktail

I’m obsessed with this cocktail, the recipe for which I coaxed out of San Antonio’s excellent Esquire Tavern. It puts bitter Campari and sweet pineapple together in an unexpected but mad-genius way. If you’ve ever had a Jungle Bird cocktail, it’s like that, except the rum is replaced with bacanora (or tequila or mezcal, if you can’t find it).

4. Basil-Vodka Gimlet

Gin’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but gimlets might just be, especially with basil’s herbaceous lift. So this version uses vodka (but gin lovers, you can stick to the original, if you’d like).

5. Strawberry Rosé Spritzer

A perfect recipe for a) using farmers market strawberries, especially if they’re too wilty for a salad, and b) scaling up, because the recipe makes lots of purée, and you need only a few tablespoons of it for each drink.

6. Mint Julep

Technically a spring cocktail recipe, since the julep is most famous for its association with the Kentucky Derby. But why limit such a refreshing beverage to a single season?

7. Pimm’s Cup

You could, in a way, say the Pimm’s Cup is like a British mint julep. They’re both associated with sporting events (Wimbledon, in this case); they both feature an upright wig of mint. I think that’s it. Oh, right! They’re both amazing.

8. Cold Brew Negroni

Summer’s favorite coffee, with everyone’s favorite "acquired taste" cocktail.

9. El Presidente

This Prohibition-era cocktail from Cuba calls for vermouth bianco, which is sweet (not the dry stuff for martinis). David Lebovitz says this plus grenadine gives the cocktail a légèreté—a "lightness that doesn’t overwhelm, but enhances."

10. Blackberry Caipirinha

Winner of our "Best End of Summer Cocktail" contest, this drink is the perfect reason to invest in a bottle of cachaça. For one, you can mix it up with berries all summer long; then when you get to autumn, switch to apples instead.

11. Garden Mule

A Moscow Mule, but for summer, with cucumber, blueberry, and mint.

12. Rosebud (Cointreau, Vodka, Rosewater, Cucumber & Mint Cocktail)

A multilayered, Citizen Kane–inspired cocktail, where you can use the extra Cointreau as a substitute for Grand Marnier.

By the Pitcher (2+ more)

13. Bowery Punch

This is a big-batch cocktail that will please both camps of booze-lovers: those who want something light and bubbly, and those who want something with a bit more punch. Pro tip: Use Cappelletti as the "Italian bitter apertivo." No, I do not work for them—it’s just really good.

14. “Adult” Shirley Temple Pitcher Cocktail

It’s not lost on me that this recipe is a mocktail that’s turned back into a cocktail—but it’s so worth the confusion, especially as the readdition of booze makes the drink way less cloying.

15. Southern Belle Punch

As community member fiveandspice writes in her headnote, it shouldn’t be called a punch if it doesn’t pack a punch! You are at liberty to use fresh or frozen raspberries here.

16. Zingy Michelada With Celery Salt

The undisputed king of beer cocktails, this michelada is perfect for very, very hot days.

17. Golden Plum Kir Royale "Bowle," A Fruity Summer Wine Drink

Got a bottle of white wine? Turn it into these kir-royales-by-way-of-Germany.


18. Frosé

There’s two portmanteaus on the idling mind right now: Bennifer, or "Againiffer," and frosé. This one’s more relevant, honestly.

19. Frozen Banana Daiquiri

You want to scale this one up and up and up—it’s irresistible.

20. Frozen Watermelon Five-Spice Daiquiri

A riff on the banana daiquiri above, this watermelon take has Chinese five-spice powder to add that certain je ne sais quoi.

21. Honeyed Peach Melba Bellinis

Bellinis are lovely, though a tad simple. This cocktail kicks it up several notches, combining sorbet, raspberry simple syrup, and a bottle of prosecco, each of which is great on its own but magical together.

22. Red, White & Blue Paloma Slushies

And we've come full circle. This frozen Paloma recipe, which uses berries to achieve those pretty colors, includes a great hack for squeezing all the juice out of your citrus—one that doesn’t involve squeezing!

What are you going to be drinking this summer? Sound off in the comments!

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Former Associate Editor at Food52; still enjoys + talks about food.