Soaking up the sun with a drink in hand is undeniably quite an atmosphere, and it’s one we can’t get enough of as the weather brightens up in Chicago.
Whether it’s at a bar or restaurant, in someone’s backyard, poolside, or lounging in a folding chair around a campfire, sipping a cocktail in the open air is a celebration of summer just around the corner.
If you’re heading out for anything from a birthday picnic to a languid beach hangout, big batches of pre-emptive cocktails are the answer. While there are an increasing number of canned or ready-to-drink cocktail options at the grocery store, most stick with a few tried-and-true classics, leaving drinkers with a limited range. The untested limits of homemade batch cocktails make them versatile enough for any occasion or taste, and they’re easy to transport in canteens or 2-litre bottles, or frozen for longer trips in coolers.
We asked some of Chicago’s best cocktail makers and shakers what they’d prepare for a drink that can not only serve as an ice pack in a cooler when frozen in zip-lock plastic bags, but also meet all kinds of drinking needs, from sweaty post-hike toast to starry end of nights. You can get most of the ingredients at local stores — though some can probably be found specifically at liquor stores — and the recipes are scalable so everyone can enjoy.
With minimal prep work and maximum payout, these five cocktail recipes are just a benchmark, mix and pour way of a superior summer drinking experience.
Note: Each recipe makes a single serving of the cocktail, although each syrup recipe makes about 10 servings. Multiply by the number of servings you want for a custom batch.
Creator: Tia Barrett (Esmé, Entente, Boka Group, Alinea Group)
Best for: During the day on the beach or hanging by the water
Tasting Notes: Floral with a slight bitterness
Drink this if: You like Aperol spritzes or Stoli Doli martinis and plan on drinking all day in the heat?
Pro tip: Freeze these in ice cubes and top with the club soda for an extra chilly take on the spritz
“Bitter flavors make you want to eat, which is another way to slow down drinking,” says Barrett, who notes that low-proof cocktails are key to avoiding an unwanted afternoon nap. “This drink is clear, refreshing and easy.”
2½ us Hendricks or another neutral gin
us pineapple syrup (see below)
us St. Germain
mineral water taste
46 our pineapple juice
cup of white sugar
1 roasted cinnamon stick
1. For the pineapple syrup, mix pineapple juice, salt, white sugar and toasted cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Reduce the liquid by half until it is straw yellow and thickens, ideally to the consistency of maple syrup. (Extra syrup can also be used in cocktails to sweeten fresh fruit, coffee or pancakes.)
3. Once your syrup is ready, mix it with your alcohol and water, then top up with club soda. Alternatively, you can freeze the mixture before adding club soda, make ice cubes, then add club soda.
Creator: Timothy Heyward (Kasama, Sky, Milk Room)
Best for: Evening sipping by a campfire on a warm summer night
Tasting Notes: Citrus and cola with a touch of dry nuts
Drink this if: You like Manhattans and fortified wines like Madeira
Pro tip: Fill a 2 liter plastic bottle with a batch of this cocktail for a delicious nightcap by the fire
“I’m kind of looking to get people to drink more fortified wines,” Heyward says. “It lends itself well to warmer temperatures, and I love how it melds with bitters and riches, as well as aged spirits.”
us Averna Amaro or Meletti Amaro
ounce Rittenhouse Rye or other high-proof whiskey
1½ our Broadbent Rainwater Madeira
1 dash of Angostura bitters
1 dash of orange bitters
1 our water/to taste
1. Mix all ingredients together. Serve neat or with a large ice cube.
Creator: Chad and Alicia Hauge (Common Good Cocktail House, Mott St, Longman & Eagle)
Best for: If you’re in doubt between inside and outside and need a drink that can do anything
Tasting Notes: Bonfire tea time with floral and citrus notes with a peaty punch
Drink this if: You like both delicate and intense
Pro tip: This drink is best enjoyed while relaxing with good music.
“I like it when I drink a cocktail and there are layers; high notes, deep lows and something that connects it together,” says Chad Hauge.
1½ our Suntory Toki whiskey
our Laphroaig Scotch whiskey
ounces chamomile lemongrass syrup (see below)
our fresh lemon juice
1½ our water
Chamomile lemongrass syrup
1½ our cleaned, bruised and chopped lemongrass stalks
10 our water
10 our honey
20 grams chamomile (about 10-12 tea bags)
1. In a saucepan, combine the lemongrass, water and honey and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce Turn off the heat and simmer for 10 minutes before adding the chamomile and simmering for another 5 minutes.
3. Voltage through a fine sieve and let cool.
4. Combine syrup with the rest of the ingredients.
creators: Chad and Alicia Hauge (Common Good Cocktail House, Mott St, Longman & Eagle)
Best for: Sweating outside by playing volleyball or walking
Tasting Notes: Toasted tea with grassy, earthy and funky notes with a barrel-forward and vanilla flavour
Drink this if: You like Arnold Palmers, mules and the Caribbean?
Pro tip: Take a deep breath and connect the flavors with nature while drinking.
“When you’re outside, you’re exposed to all these smells that make you breathe more deeply, and suddenly your horizons are wider because you’re not surrounded by buildings,” says Chad Hauge. “This cocktail is for those physically demanding days.”
1½ our Clement VSOP Vieux or your favorite old Rhum agricole
1½ our brewed genmaicha (or black tea if you prefer a less roasted taste)
1 our ginger-honey syrup (see below)
1 our water
8 our water
8 our honey
3 our finely chopped fresh ginger root
1. Combine ginger honey syrup ingredients in a blender, transfer to a pot and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, then let cool.
3. Voltage through a fine mesh.
4. Combine with other ingredients.
Creator: Julieta Campos (Fifty/50, Heavy Feather, The Whistler, Berkshire Room)
Best for: After a walk on a sunny, warm day and hanging out in the back of a camper with some friends
Tasting Notes: Deep berry balanced with nutty and citrus
Drink this if: You want to quench your thirst and don’t like too sweet drinks
Pro tip: Enjoy this as you sit on a rock by a river before rejoining the group.
“It’s a refreshing afternoon cocktail,” says Campos. “It won’t dry you out. It’s clear and you don’t commit yourself to a drink with a high alcohol percentage in the middle of the day.”
1 our Lustau Don Nuño sherry
our St. George spiced pear liqueur
our Fruitful Blueberry or another blueberry syrup or liqueur
our fresh lemon juice
6 drops mole bitters (for a batch of 10 servings, 60 drops is about ⅛ ounce)
1. Combine ingredients.
2. Garnish with mint, berries and powdered sugar.
Grace Wong is a freelance writer.