Summertime’s Sizzling Sips

Elevate seasonal soirees with one-of-a-kind drinks.

The Dirty Bird. Photo by Fred + Elliott

Ah, sweet summertime. With daylight that lingers well into balmy nights, festivities are no longer beholden to the temperature-controlled indoors. From beach bashes to ice cream socials, a bit of sunshine is the perfect excuse to let loose, gather your loved ones, and throw a warm-weather celebration. 

While you scribble your to-dos for the party, add one more to the list: Develop a signature drink. As intimidating as that may sound, creating a crowd-pleasing cocktail is a simple way to elevate a seasonal soiree—and show off your deft hosting capabilities. 

To level up your next fête, follow these four steps. 

Consider the Occasion

The intention of your party will undoubtedly have an impact on your cocktail. Is it on a holiday? Is it relaxed or high-end? If you’re hosting a family-friendly backyard barbecue, you may opt for a main ingredient with a lower ABV, like a liqueur, to keep things laid back.

Staying on Theme

Once you’ve nailed down your event’s vibe, it’s time to explore the theme. If you’re celebrating someone, try to incorporate components that best represent the birthday girl or boy or the happy couple’s anniversary. If they have a favorite spirit or flavor, that’s a surefire way to keep the guest of honor happy.

If your affair is devoted to a theme, source ingredients reflective of that. Coconut rum, passion fruit liqueur, pineapple juice, and other tiki flavors may suit a tropical-inspired poolside hang. For a picnic, try botanical-rich gin as a base spirit, and integrate floral flavors like elderflower liqueur or crème de violette.

Picking a Base Spirit

If the theme doesn’t immediately set you on a course, choosing a base spirit is a great foundation to build on. Gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey are the most common, each with distinctive merits.

Thanks to its clean, neutral flavor, vodka is often viewed as the perfect vessel for other flavors. As the most popular spirit in the country, you don’t have to worry about guests being turned off by it. Tequila, another beloved liquor, brims with flavor: earthy and sweet, with hints of oak and honey.

Rum and whiskey provide a boozy heft to a cocktail. Since rum is distilled from fermented sugarcane, it often flaunts caramel notes; whiskey is usually smokier, spiced, and vanilla-leaning. Gin, made from juniper berries, tends to have a fresh, green flavor with a hint of citrus. 

The Presentation

From garnishes to glassware, how you serve your tipple can drive home the theme. Expressed citrus peels, edible flowers, creative rims (think sesame seeds or chili salt), and more can enhance your custom cocktail’s flavor while adding visual intrigue.

For a cocktail with a lot of mixers and ice, Collins or highball glasses are the go-to. Cocktails served without ice look stylish when poured into a coupe or martini glass. For higher-volume beverages, opt for a red wine glass or rocks glass. If all that sounds too fussy, disposable cups work, too—we’re not judging!

The Dirty Bird

Recipe by wine guru and Richmond restaurant veteran Michael Smith of Native Selections

2 oz. Bell Isle Coffee Moonshine

2 oz. pineapple juice

1 oz. ginger simple syrup

1/2 oz. Campari

3/4 oz. fresh lime juice.

Shake all ingredients, strain over ice into a hurricane glass. Garnish with umbrella, cherry,
and lime wheel.

Click here for additional tips and recipes!

This article originally appeared in the August 2024 issue. 

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