How to Stock Your Bar for the Summer
Everything you need to keep yourself in good drinking shape all summer long.
Maybe you’ve already pulled out the swimsuits and flip-flops, but now that summer has officially arrived, here’s the essential question: Is your bar summer-ready? ’Tis the season for G&Ts, Dark & Stormies and Frosé, and it’s high time to get your bar into summer shape. Here are our picks for the booze, bottles, and cocktail necessities you’ll want for the season.
A Great Gin
Let’s start with the basics. I’ll take a martini or Negroni any day of the year, but at heart, gin is a summer spirit; who can resist a G&T after a long day in the sun? While there are hundreds and hundreds of gins out there, I tend to stick to the classics. Beefeater 24 is a killer bottle from the iconic London Dry gin distiller; similar to Beefeater classic, but with the addition of Japanese sencha and Chinese green teas along with grapefruit peel. It’s smooth and dynamic and oh-so-mixable — stir it up with a chilled green tea if you’re feeling fancy, or put together a perfect, simple G&T: Beefeater 24 and Fever Tree tonic over ice, with a grapefruit slice to garnish.
A few others I’m loving this season? Napue Gin, a Finnish rye-based gin that’s perfect in a G&T with tonic, a big sprig of rosemary, and the smallest splash of 100% cranberry juice; The Botanist, made on the Scottish island Islay with 22 local foraged botanicals; and Four Pillars gin, an Australian brand made with unusual botanicals including lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry leaf.
Tonic, of course
If you’re bothering to buy great gin, it’d be a shame to mask it with sub-par tonic. Opt for Fever Tree or Q and you can’t go wrong. Try Q’s Indian Tonic, both more bitter and more sweet than their standard, made to stand up to juniper-heavy gins.
Rums, Rums and More Rums
Historically made in warm, tropical climates, rum is a no-brainer for summer, but which bottles do you reach for? I’m a fan of Mount Gay Black Barrel for dark & stormies and the like
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; and Brugal Extra Dry for a crisp, snappy classic daiquiri. They’re both workhorse rums, a solid foundation for any dark or light rum drink, respectively, you want to build.
For something a little more, ah, extreme, try out Plantation’s “O.F.T.D.,” or Old Fashioned Traditional Dark rum, a blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados that clocks in at an incredible 69 percent alcohol — tongue-tinglingly boozy, but delicious and dynamic enough to excel in a ton of cocktails. Perhaps even better for the summer: “Stiggin’s Fancy Pineapple Rum,” also from Plantation. I’m generally averse to flavored booze of any kind, but this is made by some of the best rum guys in the business — a partnership between cellar master Alexandre Gabriel and cocktail authority David Wondrich. It’s bright and tropical and luscious with the taste of real pineapple, in a spirit that’s balanced and not overly sweet.
We don’t need to explain the appeal of an Aperol Spritz to you, right? No? Okay then, this summer, swap out the Aperol for Aperitivo Select — similarly light and easy-drinking, but a little more sophisticated and with an even prettier ruby-red color. While we’re talking red and bittersweet, Cappelletti is another outstanding bottle, a little sweeter and juicier thanks to its wine base; it’s delicious on its own over ice, or in any of these simple cocktails.
The Best Fruit Liqueurs
Back in the ‘90s, fruit liqueurs were garishly colored abominations — ever had an appletini? Then you’ll understand the neon-green drinks we’re talking about. But there’s no reason fruit liqueurs can’t be delicious. We’re absolutely loving Giffard’s line of liqueurs, a generations-old French producer that manages to take whatever fruit or flower they get their hands on and somehow make it taste like a better, boozy version of itself.
You know you like it. Everyone’s ordering spicy tequila drinks at cocktail bars, but it’s also quite simple to make at home. Take tequila, drop jalapeños in it, strain it out: Done. Here’s our guide on how to make it and what to do with it. No need to break out super-fancy tequila since you’re covering the taste up with spice, but you do want a bottle that’s made with 100% blue agave; Pueblo Viejo is a great value-minded bet.
Lots of Bubbles
It’s summer; you want your cocktails to sparkle. Grocery store Prosecco is fine, but if you’re willing to creep up to $10-15, you can do way better. Try a Crémant de Limoux — the region of Limoux claims to have invented sparkling wine — like Gerard Bertrand’s “Thomas Jefferson” crémant.
We’re loving cava this season, too. Dibon Cava Brut Reserve has a little more body and character than your average bottle, and you can often pick it up for around $12; I’ve bought cases for parties. Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blanc is another winner, made with 100% Chardonnay — common in French sparkling wines but quite unusual for Spain.
An Unexpected Whisky
We probably don’t need to tell you to stock up on bourbon for your mint juleps, right? Good. (Old Forester is a great pick.)
But let’s branch out a bit. Ever tried Japanese whisky? Even Scotch fans concede that Japan makes some of the best whisky on earth. Try to get your hands on a bottle of Nikka Whisky Coffey Malt.
And for Irish whiskey? Knappogue Castle 12 Year Irish Whiskey is delicately fruity and quite mellow, a light, sophisticated whiskey equally suited to sipping neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails. Or for something really out-of-the-box, try Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye from New York Distilling Company. It’s a light rye base with a blend cherries and dried orange peel — it tastes like a light Old Fashioned all on its own, but works great in summer punches, too.
Plenty of Bar Toys
Take 10 minutes and $20 and kick around online, and you’ll find enough paper straws and umbrellas and flamingo-topped swizzle sticks to last well beyond the summer. (You know that every drink tastes better when topped with a flamingo.)
Summer tends to mean outdoor entertaining. If you’re looking to go a half-step up from red Solo cups (although, I mean, you don’t have to), Tossware makes great wine glasses (good for Spritzes, too) and flutes — elegant enough to feel classy, sturdy enough to be washed and re-used, but are fully recyclable, too.
The julep gets its own holiday with the Kentucky Derby, but it’s a perfect all-summer drink; if you don’t have julep cups, now might be the time. You’ll also need a muddler: here’s a solid one. And no julep is complete without crushed ice. Our most indulgent, over-the-top bar toy this summer is the Opal Nugget Ice Machine — a countertop ice maker that was popular enough to raise over $2.7 million in funding on Indiegogo. It makes perfect ice for juleps, cobblers, and more — like the chewy, crunchable little pellets you get in the best fountain sodas.
Of course, you can go lower-tech, too. When pro bartenders need to crush ice à la minute, they pull out a canvas Lewis ice bag and a big ol’ mallet and pound, pound away.
And since so many summer drinks are best with an herbal garnish, it’s an ideal time to grow a little herb garden — even if it just sits in your window.
Happy summer drinking!