Beautifully Balanced Summer Cocktails

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked to host cocktail-making demonstrations

You may not know this but I’ve written several books on cocktails, including five volumes of the Mr. Boston Bartender’s Guide (collaborating with renowned barman, Jim Meehan). The very first book I ever wrote, however, was a “ghost writing” assignment to help the cocktail master craftsman, Dale DeGroff, organize notes and stories he’d been writing for three decades into what became the wildly successful, “The Craft of the Cocktail.” From there, I wrote my own book called, “Cocktails in New York,” which debuted in 2004. In cocktail years, that was a lifetime ago. And while we’ve come a long way in what we expect of a great cocktail. At the core of all of these books was, and remains, integrity – what you put into drinks yields what you get. What DeGroff, Meehan, and I said then, we continue to repeat now: If you study the classics, the foundations, you can make anything. And who doesn’t want to call making cocktails studying? 

“What you put into drinks yields what you get.”

Your homework this summer is to revisit two classics that are utterly refreshing thanks to a good amount of natural acidity, by way of fresh-squeezed citrus. At these demonstrations, I’d show you that the best way to learn how to make a cocktail is to make lemonade first. The cornerstone of cocktail making is in the understanding of the relationships between “strong and weak” and “sour and sweet.” “Strong,” refers to the main alcohol component of the drink, such as gin, rum or bourbon; “Weak,” means the lesser alcoholic beverages, such as liqueurs, fortified wines, and even juices; “Sour,” mainly means citrus fruits, such as lemon or lime; and “Sweet,” accounts for sugar and syrups.

Making lemonade allows you to tailor the foundation of what could become dozens of cocktails:



  1. Squeeze some lemons and pass that juice through a strainer
  2. Make simple syrup by shaking a cup of sugar with a cup of hot water (shake until all the sugar is diluted; you can store this in fridge for months, btw).
  3. Pour 2 ounces of fresh-squeezed lemon juice into a glass.
  4. Stir in a teaspoon of simple syrup, and then top with seltzer water. If it’s too tart, you could add more syrup; too sweet, further dilute with seltzer or add more lemon juice.
  5. Now that we’ve got the “sour and sweet” covered, and the seltzer is our “weak,” all we need is something “strong” to make it a cocktail. Vodka would probably do nicely here; though you could add anything you desire.

So, there you have it! Here are two more cocktails I love, especially in summer. I’m including a staple recipe for the most refreshing, effortless cocktail of all summer drinks, gin & tonic:

Gin & Tonic

What you need:

  • gin
  • tonic water
  • lime
  • ice


  1. Pour gin into a glass
  2. Add ice (or don’t, if you’re British)
  3. Top with tonic water (preferably chilled)
  4. A squeeze of lime adds sour to our “strong and weak”; no sweet in that one.

Tom Collins

What you need:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (or simple syrup)
  • Chilled club soda


  1. Add gin, lemon and syrup to a Collins glass and stir
  2. Fill glass with large chunks of ice and top with chilled club soda. Serve with a straw. 


What you need:

  • 2 ounces light rum
  • 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • Chilled club soda


  1. Pour sugar and lime juice into a cocktail shaker and stir until sugar is dissolved
  2. Add the rum and fill shaker with ice. Shake well for 10 seconds
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a wedge of lime.