Even the fiercest AC fiends among us know what to expect once the calendar begins its inexorable lurch into our steamiest, stickiest season: Pesky sand, in, on and around everything. A sheen of sweat so wickedly omnipresent it starts counting as part of your outfit.
The most effective and appealing balm for a cruel, cruel summer, of course, is a chilly beverage specifically engineered to bolster sanity as the mercury climbs. For many, a minimalist approach is the way to go—hand over a frigid canned pilsner or a glass of rosé and call it a day. But we should never undervalue the elemental power of a properly made summer cocktail.
In partnership with Giffard, we sought the expertise of four of our favorite bartenders to school us on the subtle art of defeating the heat. The result: “Summer Four Ways,” a reimagination of time-honored warm-weather cocktail styles that injects new life into the “crushable” canon, inspired by the Giffard line of fruit liqueurs.
Founded in France in 1885, Giffard itself was born in balmy environs. Seeking respite from a serious heat wave in Angers, located in the Loire Valley winemaking region, chemist-turned-distiller Émile Giffard created a cooling, clear, herbaceous liqueur that went on to become his flagship Menthe-Pastille. More than 130 years and five generations later, the Giffard product line remains a palette to draw from for spirituous relief.
No matter their provenance, the best summer drinks tend to feature a few key characteristics. First, the big one: They tend to go easy on the alcohol. “One thing I look for is something a little lower-proof,” says Christine Wiseman, bar manager of Broken Shaker in Los Angeles. “When you’re in the sun all day and you’re drinking, it can take a pretty big toll on you.” Her Banana Shadow, a tweaked Daiquiri highlighting Giffard Banane du Brésil, embodies this dialed-back ideal.
Kristina Magro of Chicago’s Lone Wolf Tavern concurs, identifying liqueurs, sherries and fortified wines, cut with generous citrus, as her go-to categories. “You have to think light, fresh and cool,” she says. “You want to have a couple drinks without feeling goofy.” A clever riff on the classic Tuxedo, itself a variation of the Martini, Magro’s Suit and Tie is built around Giffard Lichi-Li.
Revitalizing our most parched beach bums, however, is a mission that demands more than just a well-considered toolkit. “Using a good-quality liqueur in cocktails, plus fresh juice, is really important in making sure cocktails taste great—but they should look great, too,” says Brooklyn bartender Fanny Chu. She would know: The resident “queen of crushable cocktails” at the rum-focused Donna is known for turning out creations festooned with eye-catching garnishes. “This is why tiki people gravitate toward tiki cocktails,” says Chu. “It just looks like something you want to drink.”
Dressed up with a hefty pineapple wedge, fresh mint sprigs, a vibrant lemon wheel and the requisite teeny umbrella, Chu’s KiKiKōlada nails the visual requirement and tastes luscious too, relying on Giffard Caribbean Pineapple and Blue Curaçao.
But if sight is considered when the task is extreme refreshment, scent should be, too. “Aromas from herbs, flowers and ripe fruit are lovely,” says Chantal Tseng of Washington, D.C.’s Reading Room. Additionally, “good solid ice that doesn’t melt too fast” and all things bubbly, whether sparkling wine or non-alcoholic carbonated mixer, are Tseng’s keys to summer sipping success. Revving up the classic spritz build with unexpected additions from the Greek Isles, Tseng’s Spritzus Narcissus incorporates Giffard Wild Elderflower liqueur to maximize aromatics.
Each of these drinks is meant to prompt escapism, that final ingredient that every proper summer cocktail should include. “People want to be able to take a mini-vacation … without actually traveling,” says Donna’s Chu. “A great cocktail can definitely help with that.”
Summer, Four Ways