If you're anything like me, you probably don't drink a lot of vodka. Sure, you might keep a bottle around for the occasional Bloody Mary. And yet vodka has its place—its crisp flavor is a natural match for refreshing summer cocktails. And because it's fairly neutral, you can pair it with just about anything: Earl Grey tea, lemongrass, or even tomatoes. From a classic Moscow Mule and updated Cosmo to vodka-spiked LaCroix, we've rounded up 15 of our favorite vodka cocktails to keep you cool on a hot summer day.
My first choice when it comes to vodka cocktails any time of year, the Moscow Mule is even more refreshing once the temperature starts to rise. It's so simple that you don't really need a recipe—just spike ginger beer with vodka and squeeze in half a lime. The copper cup isn't required, but I swear the drink doesn't taste right without it.
Pamplemousse Cooler (Vodka-Cucumber Cocktail With Grapefruit LaCroix)
Simply pouring booze into LaCroix might sound good, but it doesn't really work—most of the flavors have a bitterness that doesn't work with alcohol without some help. Bring some other ingredients into play and the story changes—this Pamplemousse LaCroix and vodka cocktail is brought together with simple syrup, elderflower liqueur, and muddled cucumber.
Fizzy Ginger Cocktail With Pickled Watermelon Rind
This crisp, slightly spicy cocktail is made with bubbly Prosecco, dry vermouth, and vodka infused with fresh ginger. What really makes the drink is the garnish of watermelon rind pickled in a sweet and spicy brine flavored with cinnamon, peppercorns, clove, and red pepper flakes.
Sometimes you want to keep it simple, so we make this drink with just three ingredients: grapefruit juice, vodka, and Lillet Blanc (a citrusy wine-based aperitif). With such a short ingredient list it's important that each one is high quality—squeeze the grapefruit juice fresh and pull a decent bottle of vodka off the bar.
Mixing one or two individual drinks is fine, but pitchers are the way to go for summer entertaining. Next time you throw a cookout try stirring up a batch of this complex sipper made with Earl Grey tea, vodka, lemon juice, mint, and ginger syrup. Even better for entertaining, the tea and syrup can be made well ahead of time and kept in the fridge.
I never let strawberry season pass without mixing at least a few cocktails. To make this one we muddle the fruit with simple syrup, lime juice, and mint leaves, shake with vodka, and top with club soda. Muddle the strawberries first before adding the mint—you want the berries to be completely pulverized, but the mint will turn bitter if you're too rough with it.
These days gin is the most fashionable spirit for making a Martini, to the extent that some bartenders refuse to use the name for a version made with any other spirit. Vodka Martinis probably get a bad rep because of the sweet, flavored versions that took over in the '90s, but the simple mixture of vodka and sweet vermouth makes for a totally respectable cocktail.
Fresh Tomato Martini
If you are going to flavor your Martini, stick with good, natural ingredients. This summery version turns to in-season produce by using tomato-infused vodka. We keep the drink super dry with just a dash of vermouth and add a tiny bit of acidic white vinegar to highlight the tomato.
I can't think of many drinks that are as maligned as the poor Cosmopolitan, and I don't doubt that most versions are less than stellar. But all it takes are better ingredients to make the Cosmo into a drink worth keeping in rotation—we make ours with citrus-flavored vodka, high quality triple sec, unsweetened 100% cranberry juice, and freshly squeezed lime juice.
The Upgraded Cosmopolitan
This recipe keeps the citrus-flavored vodka (Ketel One Citroen works well), Cointreau, and fresh lime juice from the classic Cosmo recipe, but from there we make a few changes. The big one is replacing the cranberry juice with cranberry sorbet, which adds just a touch of extra sweetness to the drink. We finish the cocktail with a float of sparkling wine for a little fizz.
Thai-Style Bloody Mary With Cilantro and Fried Shallots
A classic Bloody Mary is never a bad choice for a summer brunch, but this intense Thai-style variation is even better. We start with the standard vodka and tomato juice, but replace the Worcestershire with fish sauce and the Tabasco with sambal oelek. Cilantro brightens the drink up, a brown sugar simple syrup adds sweetness, and beer gives it a little fizz.
Thyme for a Salty Dog
One reason to use vodka over, say, gin, is that its more neutral flavor gets out of the way and lets other ingredients shine. That's the case in this spin on the Salty Dog, which is all about the bitter grapefruit and woodsy thyme. Don't skip salting the rim—it further amplifies the flavors.
A far cry from the vodka sour you'll find in the average dive, this cocktail is made with lemongrass-infused vodka and shaken with eggwhite to produce an elegant foam. You can infuse the vodka the old-fashioned way in a week or two, but with a whipped cream canister you can do it instantaneously.
Rhubarb and Ginger Cocktail
Rhubarb is puckeringly tart, so recipes often pair it with sweet fruits like strawberries or raspberries. Here we go in a different direction, making the rhubarb into a syrup and mixing it with spicy ginger ale (or ginger beer, if you want it even stronger). If you're looking for something non-alcoholic, this tastes great without the vodka.
The Phil Collins
The Tom Collins—made with gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup—is ripe for variation. Scott Marshall of The Hawthorne in Boston came up with this version, swapping the gin for cucumber vodka, which gets mixed with lime juice, Yellow Chartreuse, and a dash of cranberry bitters.