Soaking up the sun with a drink in your hand is undeniably a whole vibe, and it’s one we can’t get enough of when the weather perks up in Chicago.
Whether it’s at a bar or restaurant, in someone’s backyard, poolside or lounging in a fold-up chair around a campfire, having a cocktail in the open air is a celebration of summer coming around once again.
If you’re heading out for anything from a birthday picnic to a languid beach hang, big batch, make-ahead cocktails are the answer. While there are an increasing number of canned or ready-to-drink cocktail options at the grocery store, most stick to 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 palate, and they’re easy to transport in canteens or 2-liter bottles, or frozen for longer trips in coolers.
We asked some of Chicago’s best cocktail makers and shakers what they would whip up for a drink that can not only double as an ice pack in a cooler when frozen in zip-lock plastic bags, but satisfy all kinds of drinking needs, from sweaty post -hike toasts to starry ends of nights. You can get most of the ingredients at local stores — though some are most likely found specifically at liquor stores — and the recipes are scalable, so everyone can indulge.
With minimal prep work and maximum payoff, these five cocktail recipes are only a measure, mix and pour away from a superior summer drinking experience.
Note: Each recipe makes a single serving of the cocktail, although each syrup recipe makes enough for approximately 10 servings. Multiply by however many servings you want for a custom-sized batch.
Creator: Tia Barrett (Esme)
Best for: Hanging out on a beach or by the water during the day
Tasting note: Floral with a slight bitterness
Drink this if: You like Aperol spritzes or Stoli Doli martinis and plan to drink all day in the heat
Pro tip: Freeze these into ice cubes and top with the soda water for an extra chilly take on the spritz
“Bitter flavors make you want to eat, which is another way to slow down that rate of drinking,” says Barrett, who notes low-proof cocktails are the key to avoiding an unwanted midday nap. “This drink is bright, refreshing and easy.”
2½ ounces Hendricks or any other neutral gin
¾ ounce pineapple syrup (see below)
½ ounce St. Germain
½ ounce Aperol
soda water to taste
46 ounces pineapple juice
⅛ tsp salt
½ cup white sugar
1 toasted cinnamon stick
1. For the pineapple syrup, mix pineapple juice, salt, white sugar and toasted cinnamon stick in a pot 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 be used to sweeten fresh fruit, coffee or with pancakes in addition to application in cocktails.)
3. Ounce your syrup is ready, mix it with your alcohol and water, then top it off with soda water. As an alternative, freeze the mixture before adding soda water and make ice cubes, then add soda water.
Creator: Timothy Heyward (Kasama, SKY, Milk Room)
Best for: Evening sipping near a campfire on a warm summer night
Tasting note: Citrus and cola with a touch of dry nuttiness
Drink this if: You like Manhattans and fortified wines such as Madeira
Pro tip: Fill a 2-liter plastic bottle with a batch of this cocktail for a delicious fireside nightcap
“I’m kind of on a quest to get people to drink more fortified wines,” Heyward says. “It lends itself well to warmer temperatures, and I love how it melds with bitter and rich things, as well as barrel-aged spirits.”
¾ ounce Averna Amaro or Meletti Amaro
¾ ounce Rittenhouse Rye or any high-proof whiskey
1½ ounce Broadbent Rainwater Madeira
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
1 ounce 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 vacillating between indoors and outdoors and need a drink that can do it all
Tasting note: Bonfire tea time with floral and citrus notes with a peaty slap
Drink this if: You like something delicate and intense
Pro tip: This drink is best enjoyed while relaxing with good music.
“I love when I drink a cocktail and there are layers; high notes, deep low notes and something that ties it together,” Chad Hauge says.
1½ ounce Suntory Toki whiskey
½ ounce Laphroaig Scotch whiskey
¾ ounce chamomile lemongrass syrup (see below)
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
1½ ounces water
Chamomile lemongrass syrup
1½ ounces cleaned, bruised and chopped lemon grass stalks
10 ounces water
10 ounce honey
20 grams chamomile (approximately 10-12 tea bags)
1. In a pot, combine the lemongrass, water and honey and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes before adding the chamomile and simmering for an additional 5 minutes.
3.Strain through a fine mesh and let cool.
4. Combine syrup with remaining ingredients.
Creators: Chad and Alicia Hauge (Common Good Cocktail House, Mott St, Longman & Eagle)
Best for: Sweating outdoors from playing volleyball or hiking
Tasting note: Toasted tea with grassy, earthy, and funky notes with a barrel-forward and vanilla flavor
Drink this if: You like Arnold Palmers, mules and the Caribbean
Pro tip: Take some deep breaths and connect the flavors with nature while drinking.
“When you’re outdoors, you’re exposed to all these smells that make you breathe deeper, and suddenly your horizon is bigger because you’re not surrounded by buildings,” Chad Hauge says. “This cocktail is meant for those physically demanding days.”
1½ ounces Clement VSOP Vieux or your favorite aged Agricultural Rum
1½ ounces brewed genmaicha (or black tea if you prefer a less roasted flavor)
1 ounce ginger-honey syrup (see below)
¾ ounce lemon
Ginger honey syrup
8 ounces water
8 ounce honey
3 ounces 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 let simmer for 5 minutes, then let cool.
3.Strain through a fine mesh.
4. Combine with remaining ingredients.
Creator: Julieta Campos (Fifty/50, Heavy Feather, The Whistler, Berkshire Room)
Best for: After a hike on a sunny, hot day, and while hanging out in the back of a camper with a few friends
Tasting note: Deep berry balanced with nuttiness and citrus
Drink this if: You want to quench your thirst and don’t like your drinks too sweet
Pro tip: Enjoy this while sitting on a rock near a river before joining the group.
“It’s a refreshing midafternoon cocktail,” Campos says. “It doesn’t dehydrate you. It’s bright, and you’re not committing yourself to a drink with high alcohol content in the middle of the day.”
1 ounce Lustau Don Nuño sherry
½ ounces St. George spiced pear liqueur
¾ ounces Fruitful Blueberry or any other blueberry syrup or liqueur
¾ ounces fresh lemon juice
6 drops mole bitters (for a batch of 10 servings, 60 drops is approximately ⅛ ounce)
1. Combine ingredients.
2. Garnish with mint, berries and powdered sugar.
Grace Wong is a freelance writer.