Cocktail & Other Recipes By Spirit Vodka Cocktails

Homemade Zima

Bottled homemade Zima cocktail
Image:

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

If you were of drinking age in the mid-1990s (or especially, perhaps, if you weren’t yet), chances are you cracked open a bottle of Zima. Just as White Claw has become synonymous with spiked seltzer, Zima was shorthand for the fruity beer malternatives that ruled the decade. 

Inspired by the “clear craze” that would also bring us Crystal Pepsi and Clear Beer, Coors filtered low-grade beer through charcoal to create the lightly carbonated lemon-lime drink. Originally marketed toward men as an alternative to “girly” wine coolers when it debuted in 1993, the drink became popular among college women anyway—and the butt of several jokes on Late Night with David Letterman. For all its cultural influence, Zima didn’t taste like much: Slate has described the flavor as “tinfoil soaked in Fresca.” And despite an out-of-the-gate success that saw 1.3 million barrels sold, the not-quite-a-beer, not-quite-a-wine-cooler never really took off. By 1996, sales had dropped to 403,000 barrels. Although it seemed destined to remain in the ’90s, like beepers and acid-wash jeans, Zima actually stayed on store shelves until 2008, and MillerCoors even re-launched the infamous fizzy drink for a limited time in 2017. 

Whether you’re craving ’90s nostalgia or just a thirst-quenching drink, you can make a much more delicious version of Zima at home, thanks to this recipe from Nick Jones, the former bar manager of the now-shuttered Pabu Izakaya in Baltimore and now the market manager of Sagamore Spirit. While at Pabu, Jones was inspired by the success of his bourbon lemonade cocktail, which riffed on another bottled drink: Jack Daniel’s Lynchburg Lemonade

This take on Zima is equally refreshing: A mix of vodka, the Japanese milk-based soda Calpico, lemon and lime juices, and sugar is topped with club soda. The neutral vodka base ensures the resulting cocktail goes down as easy as the drink that inspired it, and tangy Calpico soda lends citrusy flavor and a slightly milky mouthfeel—not to mention it’s an export of Japan, the only country where you can still buy Zima today (You can find Calpico at many Asian markets and some grocery stores, including Walmart). Freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices, meanwhile, balance the sweetness of the soda and sugar for a drink that’s no joke. Note that the quantities given below make one serving but can easily be multiplied to fill multiple bottles or a pitcher. 

It might taste better than the original, but some things remain the same: It’s still best enjoyed poolside, on a hot summer day. To truly honor the classic, don’t skip the glass bottle.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka

  • 1 1/2 ounces Calpico

  • 1/4 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed

  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 ounce water

  • 1 ounce club soda, chilled

Steps

  1. Add all ingredients except the club soda into a mixing glass or bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves.

  2. Add the club soda and stir gently and briefly to combine.

  3. Pour into a 6-ounce glass bottle and seal with a swingtop stopper or crown cap. Serve chilled.