Juicy, refreshing and distinctly seasonal, the watermelon’s crowd-pleasing tendency is self-explanatory. But, since its ’90s heyday when the fruit starred in sweet ’tinis and slushy cocktails, the oft-maligned “basic” watermelon cocktail has grown up.
In today’s watermelon cocktail canon there are, of course, sophisticated takes on the usual suspects, such as the Sandia Stormking, an update to the watermelon Margarita where the fruit infuses the tequila; or the Watermelon Cucumber Cooler, where a pinch of wasabi salt intensifies the flavor. But there are also new formats altogether that use the easy-drinking nature of watermelon to introduce unexpected or challenging flavors. In Lynnette Marrero and John Ware’s Meloncholia, for example, a base of pisco, rosé and watermelon juice is paired with ginger syrup and a few dashes of a habanero tincture for a drink that is equal parts surprising and crushable. Orlando Franklin McCray’s two-ingredient Watermelon Pastis, meanwhile, can be an approachable first taste of anise-forward pastis, a relatively unfamiliar spirit stateside.
Above all, whether it’s thrown into a punch, spritz or swizzle, the watermelon cocktail should stay true to its signature easy-drinking nature. Here are our favorite recipes that showcase all that the summer fruit can do.