The forthcoming long weekend should be spent lounging around, preferably near a body of water and not requiring a ton of energy to make whatever you’re drinking. These are 10 cocktails (most of which only have three ingredients) that demand very little of the bartender beyond squeezing some citrus and pulling bottles off the shelf. And a good number of them are light-bodied and not too alcoholic, which means you can enjoy them throughout the day. The only real prep required is making up a big batch of simple syrup to have on-hand and loading up on lemons, limes and grapefruit. Then you’ll be all set for Labor Day weekend drinking.
At Bramling Cross in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, a year-old gastropub from all-star chef Ethan Stowell, beer and cider take center stage, with more than 50 bottles and taps. Bartender Jeff Steiner puts the beers to use in cocktails that go way beyond the basic Shandy or Boilermaker. For this slightly bitter and super refreshing drink, Steiner uses Rainier beer (named for Seattle’s Mt. Rainier), which is a lager-style brew, but feel free to swap it out for your favorite lager.
This tall sipper from San Francisco bartender Duggan McDonnell is a take on the classic Buck or Mule family of drinks that are made from ginger ale with citrus and liquor elements. It’s a great construct for peak summer drinking. McDonnell uses Averna, a Sicilian amaro with a signature bitter orange edge. Try subbing in different amari to see how it changes the drink.
One of the most classic three-ingredient drinks, and one that any home bartender should have a signature version of, is the Daiquiri, a super refreshing rum- and lime-based cocktail that had its start in Cuba. Feel free to test out different rums, squeeze in key limes or add a dash of your favorite bitters—this is an incredibly versatile drink. Just know that it goes down easy.
This cocktail from Michael McCollum, the bartender at Nashville’s Bastion, is inspired by one of his favorite classic cocktails, the Jack Rose (apple brandy, grenadine and lemon or lime), but McCollum swapped the brandy for Amaro di Angostura. The bracing drink, named for a character in pirate legends (Angostura is from Trinidad, hence the name), is all about the balance of the spice and bitterness of amaro, vibrant lime and the sweet-tart grenadine. "It's the perfect transition cocktail to ride from summer to fall," he says. At Bastion, McCollum likes to make his own grenadine, but for the sake of ease, a purchased one is fine, too. We recommend the one from Small Hand Foods.
This old-school drink has its roots in midcentury Los Angeles, where it was first made at the Vendôme Club and named for a nearby diner that was shaped like a round derby hat. Even though it’s made with bourbon, it’s a remarkably light cocktail thanks to the bright-flavored grapefruit juice. And a simple syrup made from honey gives it a nice richness and complexity. It’s completely acceptable to have this as a holiday weekend brunch drink.
Wine spritzers may have gone out of fashion in the ’80s, but this drier version, made with St-Germain elderflower liqueur, shows that the sentiment of a fizzy wine drink is one to hang on to. If you have leftover white wine from the night before, pop it in the fridge and make this classier alternative to a Mimosa in the morning. No one will judge you if you pop open a fresh bottle either.
Tequila almost always gets paired up with citrus, but this surprising combination of reposado, sherry and pear liqueur shows it can be much more versatile than that. This boozy cocktail makes a sensational summer/fall crossover drink, with the pear component giving a freshness that runs parallel to the nutty manzanilla.
Tiki expert and San Francisco bartender Martin Cate knows his way around a rum drink. This easygoing punch is best made with an aged Barbadian rum, especially Mount Gay, which has been made on the island for more than 300 years. The rum has a nice caramel edge but stays remarkably light in the drink, which is spiced up with Angostura bitters, which come from another island, Trinidad and Tobago.
Mixing your cocktail