The best warm-weather cocktails follow the low-proof trend of the moment. Composed of top-quality ingredients and featuring minimal alcohol, they are classics that never seem to go out of style.
French Spritz: Move over, Aperol spritz, because this supercharged version of the St-Germain cocktail is poised to surpass you in popularity. Combine club soda, Champagne or sparkling wine, and St-Germain with Suze, a French liqueur distilled from macerated gentian roots.
Pimm’s Cup: Invented in 1820s London, Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is a 25-percent gin-based liqueur infused with a secret blend of herbs and citrus. Mixed with club soda, Sprite, or English lemonade, it’s usually served with a bouquet of garnishes: apples, cucumbers, oranges, lemons, strawberries, and mint. Wimbledon attendees consume 80,000 pints each year at the annual tennis tournament, and it tastes just as good on your front porch.
Negroni Sbagliato: Sbagliato means “mistake,” and legend has it this drink came about when a bartender reached for a bottle of Spumante instead of gin. Proceed as you would for a Negroni (equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and sparkling wine in place of gin) and you’ll be rewarded with a refreshing cocktail and a clear head.
Michelada: For the ultimate beertail, combine a 12-ounce Mexican beer with the juice of two limes, two teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, two teaspoons of Tabasco, a teaspoon of Maggi (if you can find it), ice, and coarse salt. Add your favorite tomato-based juice (V-8, Clamato, etc.) to taste. Rim the glass with salt as you would for a margarita. The pinch of salt in the drink itself will ensure balance.
Diplomat: For the essence of simplicity, mix two parts dry vermouth with one part sweet, and add dashes of maraschino liqueur and orange bitters. The trick is to only use bottles from the top shelf: Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Dolin or Noilly Prat Original Dry, and Luxardo maraschino. Top it off with club soda for a variation called the Addington.
Sangria: If you’ve only had lousy sangria, rest assured it was made with lousy ingredients. A foolproof formula includes one bottle of decent Rioja (Crianza is fine), one cup brandy, one cup Cointreau or triple sec, one cup orange juice, one cup lemon juice, and club soda to taste. Marinate your favorite fruits in the mixture for the better part of a day. Those who prefer white wine can use a Spanish vino from Rueda or Jumilla.
For something with a boozier kick, the best summer libations are the mojito, Bee’s Knees, mint julep, and paloma. Consider the Martinez as a middle ground. This nineteenth-century forerunner of the martini follows the pre-Prohibition practice of de-emphasizing the main spirit in favor of the supporting ingredients. Use an ounce of gin (preferably Old Tom), an ounce of sweet vermouth, and dashes of Curaçao (or maraschino) and bitters; think of it as a Manhattan with gin in place of whiskey.
Want to avoid alcohol altogether but not at the expense of taste? Any expert will likely persuade you that zero proof is the new frontier. NI has written extensively about Seedlip, the revolutionary nonalcoholic spirit distilled in copper pot stills, and the brand has just added a third expression, Grove 42, to its existing Spice 94 and Garden 108. Other good bets include Ritual Zero Proof whiskey and gin alternatives, Proteau (crafted by former Momofuku bar director John deBary), and the U.K.’s Borrago, Ceder’s, and Pentire.