Summer brings continuous reminders that contentment is forever a moving target. It’s an ongoing mission to adjust to the needs of the season, and the degree of difference between perfect and unbearable can be so slight. An uptick in humidity, a scarcity of shade, a blocked breeze, a too-heavy meal — any one of these could flip the switch on a summertime gathering, from perfection to disaster.
Picking the wrong drink can also ruin a day. Give us not the single-malt sipped neat but tall glasses of ice and sunny citrus to throw back — but at the same time, nothing too sweet, too reminiscent of childhood popsicle pouches left out in the sun. We want to cool down in the oppressive heat, raise glass after clinking glass in celebration of being alive together with the sun on our skin as the song of the year plays on a loop. And yet too many of our go-to cocktails pack a heavy punch, and a hangover will only make the next hot day exponentially worse.
Luckily, there are options beyond light beer and artificially flavored hard seltzer. The bar menu trend of embracing thoughtful cocktails that are lower in alcohol can be replicated at home. Try an apéritif base like Lillet instead of vodka or gin to mix refreshing summer drinks that are lighter on booze without sacrificing complexity.
Hailing from Bordeaux and dating back to 1872, today Lillet comes in three varieties. The oldest is the Blanc (there’s also Rosé and Rouge), an aromatic white apéritif with notes of candied orange and honey balanced by a twinge of bitter quinine, with a floral nose. As apéritifs go, Lillet Blanc is a guaranteed crowdpleaser — not too bitter, or too herbal or too sweet. Just right.
The Lillet Blanc spritz is topped with seltzer to make it last twice as long. The brand-official Lillet Spritz is just Lillet, plus sparkling or tonic water with fruit garnish, but the basic drink is infinitely adaptable, from infusions to fanciful bitters and garnishes. Here’s a simple citrus version that’s perfect for a holiday picnic.
Serving size: one beverage
- 2 oz. Lillet Blanc
- 1 1/2 oz. fresh pink grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
- Orange bitters
- Seltzer, chilled
You don’t need any specialty equipment to mix or serve a simple cocktail. Improvise with what you have. But here’s what I keep at hand:
Add ice, Lillet Blanc, juices and a few dashes of bitters to the cocktail shaker and shake until frosty. Strain into a tall glass over fresh ice, then top with seltzer.
A tip if you’re on the go: Pre-mix by combining the first four ingredients, scaled up for a round, in a quart-sized Mason jar. Throw the jar and your seltzer in your picnic basket and go. When you arrive, add ice to the jar and shake, then pour and top with the sparkling water.
In her book “Apéritif,” Rebekah Peppler’s Mai cocktail pairs Angostura bitters and a bay leaf garnish with Lillet, sparkling water and the citrus of your choice. You can also swap out the Lillet for French vermouth for a dry variation.
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