This summer, when the sun’s beating down and you need something cool to drink, don’t reach for a beer. The most refreshing and delicious thing you can drink in the heat, whether sitting around the pool or just wilting on the couch when you don’t have air conditioning, is a dead-simple highball.
Here’s what you do: Fill a tall glass with ice, add about an ounce of the liqueur of your choice and top with club soda. Easy. Liqueurs come in an astounding variety of fruity, herbal and even spicy flavors, but what they share in common is sweetness, which makes just about any of them work beautifully in this drink. You can fancy it up by adding a squeeze of lemon or lime; splashing in a little gin, tequila or whiskey; or swapping the soda for sparkling wine or ginger ale, but you don’t have to. And the best part is that the drink is very low in alcohol, so you can sip them all day long.
LEJAY CRÈME DE CASSIS ($32)
The good people of France’s Burgundy region have their summer-drinking shit together with the Kir, a mix of local white wine and crème de cassis, a liqueur made from intensely tart blackcurrants. Founded in 1841, Lejay was the original crème de cassis brand, but up until this year it wasn’t imported into the U.S. Thankfully, that’s changed, and you can now enjoy its rich berries-and-stone-fruits flavor Stateside.
The drinks world lost a giant last month when Rob Cooper—who invented St-Germain, revived the century-old liqueur Crème Yvette and created both Slow & Low and Lock, Stock & Barrel Rye Whiskey—died at just 39 years old. Toast Cooper’s memory with his delicious elderflower liqueur. Its floral-melon notes match beautifully with just about any ingredient you can think of (people call it “bartender’s ketchup” for a reason), but enjoying it with only soda emphasizes its delicate elegance.
OM COCONUT & LYCHEE LIQUEUR ($30)
Created by drinks writer Natalie Bovis, the Om line is one of a very few certified-organic liqueurs out there, made from organic sugar cane-based vodka and sustainably grown ingredients. The coconut and lychee flavor brings a nice Asian character to a highball that’s somehow both rich and subtle at the same time.
BOOMERANG LIQUEUR ($30)
The popular cherry liqueur maraschino is quite delicious in a highball, but this creation of Seattle’s Brovo Spirits takes that to the next level. It’s essentially a spiced-cherry liqueur, adding cinnamon, peppercorn, vanilla, walnut and a little Cayenne pepper to the tart fruit. It pairs wonderfully with whiskey, but a simple highball emphasizes its levels of sophisticated complexity.
ANCHO REYES ANCHO CHILE LIQUEUR ($33)
Ancho chiles, which are sun-dried poblanos, are indeed fairly spicy. But keep in mind that peppers are still fruits. Made with anchos and a secret mix of other flavors, this liqueur emphasizes the chiles’ fruitier notes, offering flavors of apple, nuts and tamarind over a subtle burn. Despite that heat, it’s a surprisingly versatile cocktail ingredient.
GIFFARD CRÈME DE PAMPLEMOUSSE ROSE ($29)
Orange liqueurs, including triple sec and curaçao, are probably the most familiar type to many drinkers, but I didn’t include one in this story because they tend to be a bit insipid and dull on their own—they need tequila and lime juice to spice them up in a Margarita. If it’s citrus you’re after, try this grapefruit liqueur instead, which is plenty sweet but also has some bitter complexity. In a highball, it comes out something like an even lighter Aperol Spritz, and it’s great for poolside sipping, or alongside brunch.
AMARO MONTENEGRO ($29)
Amaro literally means “bitter” in Italian, but not every liqueur in the category is as palate-dominatingly powerful as Fernet Branca. In fact, Montenegro has a reputation as one of the kinder, gentler amari. It offers some bitterness, sure, but there’s also floral sweetness, spice and even a bit of acidity. It makes a complex highball but one that’s still thirst-quenching and refreshing.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM SOME BARTENDERS