Summer is ripe for watermelon drinks. From Margaritas to coolers, the fruit graces seasonal cocktail menus every year without fail. Despite being a key element in many easy-drinking cocktails, though, the ingredient is more finicky than one might imagine. “The pink flesh doesn’t sit well in drinks,” says Kelsey Ramage, of the sustainability-minded Trash Collective, describing the way watermelon’s “pink scum” tends to float atop drinks. Plus, juicing or incorporating the flesh of the fruit leaves the rind behind as waste.
Along similar lines, once a pineapple has been juiced for a Piña Colada, and its fronds have been deployed as a crowning garnish, the spiky remnants of the peel are often discarded—but there’s still plenty of fruit left behind.
With watermelons and pineapples, those green odds and ends present an opportunity to create an entirely new cocktail ingredient, ideal for upgrading sours, highballs and more.
Ramage’s Watermelon Rind Cordial, made simply with the rinds and sugar, is easier to mix into drinks than the fruit of a watermelon. Her Green Pineapple Cordial, meanwhile, is made of the spent peels, blended with water, sugar and basil. Both recipes create verdant sweeteners that squeeze out the last bits of life in the summer fruit.
Based on how much flesh is left on a rind, the cordials can take on different flavor profiles. More flesh yields a flavor akin to each fruit’s typical sweet-tart character, whereas less flesh brings out a grassy, slightly vegetal side. Even the cordials’ hues—green from the chlorophyll in the rinds —offer a new perspective on the typically golden pineapple or bright pink watermelon.
Though it doesn’t function as an exact one-for-one swap for fresh juice, the stock certainly has its place in the canon of escapist drinks. Substituted for simple syrup or Demerara syrup, pineapple cordial easily amps up a run-of-the-mill Jungle Bird or Ti’ Punch, for example.
Ramage points out that gin- or tequila-based cocktails would complement the cordials’ green grassy notes, as would terroir-driven spirits like rhum agricole. In her own cocktail, the Chairs Up Daiq, Ramage pairs the spirit with the pineapple cordial, alongside lemon juice and orange bitters.
“It’d make a really cool Margarita,” she says, noting another benefit of a cordial, as opposed to juice. “Watermelon juice is really unstable; it doesn’t hold up in a batch at all, as the alcohol seems to burn the delicate flavor.” Cordial tends to hold up better, though it’s still best used within 24 hours.
For something even simpler and at a lower ABV, Ramage offers a final suggestion: “You could add a bit of sherry in there and make yourself an afternoon spritz.”