Lemonade has long been the quintessential beverage of summer. From the pre-mixed sugary concoctions at childhood lemonade stands to the fresh-squeezed varieties at your favorite café, lemonade is an irresistibly refreshing drink on hot summer days in Texas. But sometimes, that perfect balance of sweet and sour could use a little something extra to elevate your frosty glass to a beverage that is a bit more grown-up. Add a splash of spirits and a dash of fruit and herbs for flavor. Yes, a lemonade cocktail. Fortunately, lemon and sugar pair perfectly with a wide variety of distilled liquids, fruits, and herbs. Whatever your preferences, you can sip on something sweet, refreshing, and all grown-up all summer long.
There are plenty of additives to toss in with lemons and sugar to elevate your drink to something altogether heavenly. Fruit and herbs are a great place to start, but how do you determine which are the most refreshing?
“Honestly, it’s all about trial and error,” Justin Ware said. Ware won the 2019 Heaven Hill Brands, Liquor.com Bartender of the Year competition.
But if you want less trial and more guaranteed results, Ware suggested taking a look at The Flavor Bible, a book geared toward culinary pursuits but perfect for cocktail mixing, too.
Need a few ideas to get started? Try rosemary and pomegranate, mint and raspberry, basil and strawberry, lavender and blueberry, or even jalapeño and cilantro for a refreshing beverage you will want to keep on pouring.
Choose Your Booze
Next, it is time to add the alcohol. But as you might imagine, not all liquor is created equal when crafting a spiked lemonade or lemonade cocktail. Again, it all comes down to preference and taste, but Ware suggested vodka, gin, and even whiskey as a good place to start.
“Vodka is a vehicle, but gin brings a little more to the party,” Ware said.
Michelle Fierro-Quintero, owner and senior bartender at The Black Orchid Lounge, on the other hand, has been experimenting with Japanese shōchū lately to make a drink with basil-infused simple syrup and citrus flavors.
“It’s so simple but amazing and refreshing,” Fierro-Quintero said. Many people can agree that it is exactly what lemonade should be.
Pick a type of alcohol that is easy to work with but with a flavor that will not overpower the fruit and herbs you are infusing into your cocktail. A flavored vodka, whether that flavor is lemon or another complimentary fruit (like one from Texas brands Deep Eddy Vodka or Western Son Distillery), can also kick your beverage up a notch.
Note, too, that the added spirit does not have to be hard liquor. Austin Eastciders suggested using their rosé cider together with lemon juice and Texas-based Seersucker Southern Style Lemonade gin with blackberries, orange slices, and lemon peel for garnish.
Likewise, Hotel San José, also located in Austin, is not the only place in the state that offers a shandy (lemonade mixed with beer). In the courtyard lounge, you can even try an activated charcoal lemonade popsicle dunked in your beer of choice if you prefer.
Infusion Delusion for the Perfect Lemonade Cocktail
Once you have picked your fruit and herb pairings and selected your alcohol, there is so much more to crafting the perfect lemony cocktail than simply placing all of your ingredients into a glass. The flavors may not meld, and you will be left sipping simple boozy lemonade, which is not a bad thing but may not be what you are after, either.
Instead, infuse your drink with flavor with one of bartenders’ tried and true methods: muddling, simple syrups, or cold process.
Each has different applications, but all are equally effective. Muddling is an excellent choice for soft herbs like mint and basil and most fruits, including those with oily rinds like citrus. Muddle your fruit and herbs by putting them in the bottom of a glass and pressing down with a muddling tool. Then add your liquids, mix or shake to combine, and strain so that, as Ware said, you can drink your cocktail instead of chewing it.
If making cocktails at home for one or two people, muddling is an excellent way to infuse fresh flavor. However, when you are hosting a party and playing bartender for a crowd, it is also the most time-consuming method, so you might consider trying simple syrups or a cold process syrup instead.
Simple syrup involves boiling one part sugar in one part water and tossing in herbs. Steep the herbs in the liquid for a lighter flavor or intensify the syrup by blending the mixture and straining it. Then bottle and keep it on hand for your next cocktail party.
Fruit is more delicate, though, and more sensitive to the heat of traditional simple syrup. If you want to make a fruit-infused syrup, Ware suggested using a cold processed syrup. It involves the same ratios, but this time use one part fruit juice (juice it yourself for the best results) and one part sugar. Instead of boiling it, move straight to blending with the fruit juice. Do not forget to strain! This preserves the bright, crisp flavor you want in a fruit and herb cocktail.
Then, feel free to experiment! Try making ice cubes with fruit juice and bitters or make lemon salt to shake on top of your beverage. Toss in a scoop of lemon sorbet for an ultra-refreshing treat. You can blanch citrus in hot water with salt, let it sit in the heat to dry out, and darken for a week to make black limes or lemons, then grate them on top of a cocktail for a briny taste and aroma — all things Fierro-Quintero has tried at The Black Orchid Lounge.
“The more creative, the better,” Fierro-Quintero said.
Make Your Own
Sure, you can pick up a lemon-forward cocktail at many bars and lounges across Texas, but if you would prefer to remain in the quiet comfort of your air-conditioned kitchen or shady patio instead of braving the summer heat, whip up a batch of spiked lemonade or a lemonade cocktail at home.
The Black Orchid Lounge’s Arak the Casbah
• 1 1/2 ounces Tequila Casa Dragones Blanco
• 1/4 ounce El Massaya Arak
• 1/2 ounce honey syrup
(Boil equal parts water and honey, then stir and let cool)
• 1 ounce grapefruit juice
• 1 sage leaf
• 2 scoops lemon sorbet
• 2 dashes hibiscus bitters
• Pinch of salt
Shake all in a tin shaker with ice and strain into a tall Collins glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a sage leaf.
Johnny’s Gold Brick Lemonade
• 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
or corn whiskey
• 1 ounce watermelon shrub
• 3 cups cubed watermelon
• 2 cups white sugar
• 3 ounces champagne vinegar
Blend all the above ingredients in a blender until watermelon is turned to juice and sugar is dissolved. Then add:
• 1 ounce lemon juice
• 1/4 ounce simple syrup
• 2 dashes salt tincture
Shake well, then strain over crushed ice into your glass.
Deep Eddy Vodka’s Balancing Act
• 2 ounces Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka
• 2 slices fresh jalapeño
• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
• Top with lemonade
Combine vodka, jalapeño, and rosemary in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain contents into a 10- to 14-ounce glass with ice, top with lemonade, and garnish with an additional jalapeño slice and rosemary sprig.