Summer cocktails should be bright and thirst-quenching, and they shouldn’t require a ton of effort. This isn’t the season for ten types of bitters and measuring things with an eyedropper. It’s about a couple ounces of good liquor, fresh fruit and herbs, and the right tools to make it all work. Pick your poison, and we’ll tell you how to make the best version you’ve ever had, with barware that makes it a breeze.
What You Need: Muddler
Light rum, lime juice, a little sugar syrup, and a lot of mint. Those are the makings of the perfect mojito. And perfect means releasing as much mint oil as you can.
For that you need a muddler. The best-looking ones are solid wood, with a streamline construction for added leverage. (Try this one from Bamber, $12, amazon.com).
To make the cocktail, muddle 6 mint leaves and the juice of half a lime in the bottom of a glass. The leaves should be crushed but not completely shredded. Add ice, then pour in two ounces of light rum and one ounce of simple syrup (see note below). Stir well. Top with sparkling water to fill glass.
Note on simple syrup: you can buy this, or make it at home by combining equal amounts sugar and water in a small pan, and heating until the sugar has fully dissolved. Cool, and get on with cocktail hour.
What You Need: Copper Mugs
Considering how simple it is, the Moscow Mule is a showstopper. It’s hard to beat for refreshing zing, and you can make a batch in the time it takes people to walk in the door.
The key is the right cup. We’re not sticklers—you can serve us red wine in a white wine glass, or a martini in a mug—but Moscow Mules are served in copper. It gives them the extra-frosty appeal that makes them so great.
There are lots of copper mugs, but these from Coppertisan are handmade by skilled artisan, making each mug unique (Moscow Mule Copper Mug, $50 for set of 4, amazon.com). Once you’ve got your mug, add ice and two ounces of vodka (that’s the “Moscow” part). Then fill with a favorite ginger beer—we like the spiciness of the Ginger Brew from Maine Root ($26 for 12 bottles, allnaturalsoda.bigcartel.com).
What You Need: Ice Crusher
The Mint Julep can and should be enjoyed long past Kentucky Derby day. Because a good mint julep is the adult snow cone.
For that, you need crushed ice. Yes, you might also want proper julep glasses ($20 each, crateandbarrel.com), and a muddler comes in handy. But if you have to pick one thing, get the ice right.
We rely on the “ice crush” button on the Cuisinart SmartPower Deluxe Blender ($90, cuisinart.com). If you want something analog to take out on the patio, grab a crank crusher to do the job (Victorio Portable Hand Crank Ice Crusher, $22, amazon.com).
Muddle or vigorously mix four mint leaves, two ounces of bourbon and one ounce of simple syrup in the bottom of the glass. Fill partway with crushed ice, stir. Top with crushed ice, mounding on top. Slap a sprig of mint back and forth on your palm to release oils in the leaves, then tuck it into the ice as garnish. Serve with a short straw.
What You Need: Mini Juicer
We love a good Margarita. We don’t love store-bought Margarita mixes, which are packed with sugar. Make your guests Margaritas on the rocks with your own fresh lime and orange juices.
Use Chef’n’s sturdy handheld lime juicer ($20, chefn.com) or orange juicer ($32, chefn.com), which make quick work of citrus halves. Or check out Cuisinart’s compact citrus juicer ($30, target.com).
Salt the rim of a rocks glass by rubbing it with a lime wedge and dabbing it upside down in a plate of kosher salt. Add ice, two ounces of tequila, one ounce of Cointreau, and once ounce each of lime and orange juices—or more to taste. Stir, and garnish with a lime round on the rim.
What You Need: Tiki Glasses
Are none of these cocktails summery enough for you? Not happy until you get a tiny paper umbrella? Time to go tropical.
There are many ways to make a Mai Tai, but as the drink was invented in Waikiki, we like some pineapple in ours. In a shaker or pint glass, combine one ounce of light rum, two ounces of pineapple juice, a splash of Cointreau or triple sec, a splash of grenadine and a splash of lime juice over ice. Mix or shake, then strain into a tiki glass full of ice. Top with a floater of one ounce of dark rum. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.
For serving, the classic option is ceramic (Tiki Mugs by KC Hawaii, $32 for four, amazon.com), but if you want to see that dark rum floating on top, go for glass (Libbey Modern Bar Tiki Glasses, $15 for four, amazon.com). After all, this is one pretty cocktail. For as long as it lasts.