There are few things more satisfying than a refreshing cocktail on a warm summer day. It's no surprise, then, that summer-themed cocktails provide such fertile ground for creative bartenders.
If there's any unifying characteristic of summertime cocktails, it's the usage of very fresh ingredients. Colorful fruit, fresh-squeezed juices and just-picked herbs are common partners to a wide variety of spirits. Vodka, gin, brandy, whiskey, rum, tequila, aperitifs, fortified wines — all can be thirst-quenching when prepared with summer in mind.
What's a great summer cocktail, anyway? Is it an iconic favorite, like the margarita, pina colada or daiquiri; or is it a semi-obscure classic, like the Pimm's Cup or an Americano? Spiked lemonade, or a fruit-and-herb-infused cooler? Is there room for whiskey? Yes to all of the above — that's the beauty of this category of drink.
At Clearwater's Opal Sands Resort, director of food and beverage Justin Burk has created a lineup of cocktails perfectly suited to the season. The setting is Sea-Guini, the resort's sea-and-Italian-cuisine-inspired restaurant, offering views of the beach in a modern, upscale dining area and lounge.
Burk's cocktails — like the fruity-floral Raspberry Time, which uses thyme from the restaurant's hanging garden — offer a glimpse into some of the current summer cocktail trends, from the use of fresh berries, handpicked herbs and freshly squeezed citrus to beach-friendly spins on classics and visually striking concoctions involving exotic infusions.
These drinks are evidence of a growing trend that is expanding the flavors associated with summer. Spirits as diverse as gin, rum, mezcal and vodka are now frequently featured, with flavor profiles ranging from light and fruity to sweet and sour to smoky and even spicy.
Edison: Food+Drink Lab in Tampa regularly updates its cocktail list to include these kind of seasonal flavors and ingredients. Bar manager Shelby Goelz offers a lineup of 10 house cocktails that include a variety of exotic spirits — ever tried aloe-based liqueur? — as well as drinks that focus on local ingredients, like the Tropic-ana Tipple, which utilizes Old St. Pete Vodka and simple syrup infused with Jamaican Ruby Red tea from Davis Islands' TeBella.
"We try and stay seasonal as often as possible, as well as do our own juicing and our own infusions," Goelz said. There's also much attention placed on attractive garnishes. The Tropic-ana Tipple, for example, includes a sprig of fresh mint carefully wrapped in a grapefruit peel. "The servers asked, 'Are we going to do this garnish every time?' Yep, every time."
The Bends in downtown St. Petersburg is always dependable when it comes to seasonal cocktails. These drinks are piloted frequently, sometimes even on a daily basis. Two of the new additions for summer are the fantastically named Goth Summer and the Soft and Wet, the latter of which debuted at a Prince-themed party following the musician's death in April.
Co-owners Craig Dragoonis and Matt Kaye take cues from the classic tiki drinks of the '50s and '60s, stacking bold, tropical flavors atop a range of spirits, resulting in highly sippable but surprisingly potent drinks. Some of these creations involve surprising pairings, going beyond riffs on the classics and into wholly new territory.
"I'm inspired by tiki culture, and I love researching other tropical climate areas' cocktails," Kaye said. "We encourage our bartenders to come up with cocktails that excite them personally. It makes for a more eclectic menu."
Whereas yesterday's summer cocktails may have come from a frozen drink dispenser, today's feature a refreshing level of sophistication. These are drinks that can go to the dinner table or a dance floor just as easily as a poolside lounge chair.
Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.