If you're throwing a Labor Day bash this year, your guests will need a few beverages to cool off with after all those smoky, charred dishes from the grill. Beer and wine are probably necessary—see our picks here for great, affordable summer wines—but a good cocktail or two, like a lemony Diablo-inspired punch or an amazingly refreshing pineapple-and-IPA pitcher cocktail, will undoubtedly be a special treat. On a hot day especially, and if you have a small enough group that you can blitz frozen cocktails to order, you can't go wrong with a frosty frozen Negroni, or a Daiquiri sweetened with peaches. But don't forget that a good host provides nonalcoholic drinks, too! Basics like perfectly tart-and-sweet lemonade and the best iced tea, or fancier zero-proof options, like a nonalcoholic rhubarb lime gimlet, will add variety to your menu and provide a more fun choice than water or soda for non-drinkers. Scroll on for these and more beverage options for your Labor Day party.
Frozen Gin and Tonic
The only thing better than a cool gin and tonic on a hot day is an icy one. To make this fabulous frozen version, we blend together gin, concentrated tonic syrup, simple syrup, tangy lime juice, and a dash of aromatic orange bitters. The secret to blending this drink (and most of our frozen cocktails) without over-diluting it is to chill all the ingredients in the freezer—the mixture won't freeze, thanks to the alcohol and sugar content, but will drop considerably in temperature—before blitzing them up with ice cubes.
Frozen Jungle Bird
Any talk of warm-weather cocktails inevitably leads to talk of tiki drinks. The Jungle Bird is one such cocktail, dating back to the '70s and consisting of rum, pineapple, lime, and Campari, for a drink that's fruity with hints of bittersweetness. For our slushy frozen version, you'll use both bold, dark blackstrap rum and funky Navy-strength rum, plus a little maple syrup to underscore the blackstrap's richness.
Sweet Peach Frozen Daiquiri With White Pepper and Green Tea
Just the mention of a "frozen Daiquiri" is usually enough to send cocktail nerds running. But when the drink comes from your blender at home, not from a rotating slushie machine, it's easy to make a Daiquiri with actual depth. In this recipe, we blend white rum with lime juice and fresh peaches, then sweeten the mix lightly with a white pepper and green tea syrup.
Savory Cucumber and Green Chartreuse Frozen Daiquiri
Want a drink that's even further removed from the typically over-sugary, fruit-punch-style Daiquiri? Try this vibrantly green version, made with cucumber juice, white rum, and lime juice, plus herbal Green Chartreuse. The cucumber flavor is mild enough that the cocktail feels refreshing and naturally sweet, instead of aggressively savory.
The slightly bitter Negroni, made with equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, is one of my go-to summer cocktails. But its signature flavors work just as well, and taste even more satisfying, in a frozen drink. We do change the ratios a bit, easing up on the vermouth and Campari and letting a floral, botanical-heavy gin take the lead.
Watermelon White Negroni Slushie
This drink adds a summery twist to a typical White Negroni—a variation made with Cocchi Americano and dry vermouth—by using watermelon. To avoid over-dilution, we stay away from watermelon juice or fresh fruit and instead use a homemade watermelon-infused gin.
Who doesn't love a margarita in the summertime? Frozen margaritas are certainly weather-appropriate, but on-the-rocks margaritas tend to be more popular, and they're less work to make in bulk. This super-simple cocktail requires only three ingredients: tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice (four if you count salt for the rims of the glasses). While sour-mix margaritas use a boatload of sugar to cover up the poor quality of the booze, a margarita made with decent tequila needs only the Cointreau as a sweetener.
El Diablo con Limón (Tequila Punch With Cassis and Lemon)
This bright, berry- and lemon-infused summer punch is based on the Diablo, a highball made with tequila and crème de cassis. Inspired by a drink served at Portland, Oregon's Clyde Common, we add black tea and seltzer, but streamline the process using a lemon-peel syrup and lemon juice instead of the lemon-and-lime combination the bar favors.
Fizzy Strawberry Pisco Punch
This effervescent make-ahead cocktail comes from a recipe used at Seattle's Sitka & Spruce. For the base, we stir together pisco (or a pisco-style grape brandy), lemon juice, a complexly flavored strawberry-thyme syrup, and a woodsy aperitif called Bonal. Mix it all up as early as 10 hours in advance, and, when your guests start to arrive, just pour it into glasses and top with dry sparkling wine.
The Upgraded Paloma
Our new-and-improved version of the classic tequila cocktail gets a sophisticated grapefruit flavor from a cordial made by macerating the fruit in sugar. (The cordial takes 24 hours, but can be made several weeks ahead of time.) When it's party time, mix the citrusy syrup with tequila, Campari, and lime juice, then top with seltzer.
The Pineapple Hop
I'm a beer guy, but can also appreciate a good cocktail now and then. This drink gives me both by combining IPA with a tangy pineapple shrub, white rum, and almond-scented orgeat, with the bitter, piney IPA effectively cutting through the sweetness of the other ingredients. Make the drink base ahead of time, so that all you have to do on Labor Day is pour in the beer.
Sergeant Pepper (Pineapple-Gin Cocktail With Cumin)
While the Pineapple Hop offsets sweet pineapple with beer, this cocktail tames the fruit with an herbal, peppery gin (we like Calyx). The syrup, flavored with peppercorns and cumin, adds as much nuance as sweetness. Shaking the pineapple and lime juice with ice gets the drink pleasantly frothy without the addition of egg white.
Grilled Summer Smash
If you're grilling on Labor Day, why not extend the advantage of all that deep, smoky flavor to your cocktails, too? This one combines Brazilian cachaça with the complex flavors of grilled nectarines, cherries, and even limes. Earthy lemon thyme pairs well with the charred lime to give the drink a savory edge. Once the fruit comes off the grate, simply muddle it with the syrup and thyme, then stir with crushed ice and cachaça in a rocks glass.
Jewel of Oaxaca
For a different sort of "grilled cocktail," we bring grilled mango together with smoky mezcal, allowing the sugar in the fruit to soften the assertiveness of the liquor. A simple syrup made with dried ancho chili peppers highlights the mezcal's smoky quality, for a cocktail that's sweet, smoky, and earthy all at once.
Mezcal Mary With Roasted Jalapeño and Bacon
If your Labor Day party is an all-day affair, starting with a Bloody Mary or two is a great choice. But, instead of a traditional Bloody Mary, why not try a version that echoes all that grilled flavor? Here, we lose the vodka in favor of mezcal and add spice with a roasted-jalapeño purée. A bacon-strip swizzle stick as garnish is...well, it's a little over the top, perhaps, but you won't be concerned about that when you're nibbling on it.
White Peach Sangria
Sangria is a traditional and delicious choice for an end-of-summer event, but frequently ends up terribly sweet. For a more restrained take, try this sangria, made with dry white wine, gin, lemon juice, and woodsy rosemary for a slightly savory touch. Ripe peaches macerated briefly in sugar add just enough fruity sweetness without dominating.
Sparkling Grapefruit Sangria With Lillet Rosé
Rosé is often thought of as the ultimate summer wine, and indeed, a few chilled bottles of rosé might be enough to make your cookout a success. But an even better option is this bubbly, blush-pink sangria made with Lillet Rosé, a fruity French aperitif, plus tart grapefruit juice, fresh mint, and a sparkling white wine like Cava. The bitter zests used to make the Lillet contribute necessary complexity to save the drink from getting overly sweet.
Ultra-Flavorful Fresh Lemonade
Yes, you can make lemonade just by mixing lemon juice, water, and sugar—but you can also do much better by incorporating an intense Fresh Lemon Syrup, made of lemon rinds macerated in sugar. Combine the syrup with lemon juice and water, then dilute the powerful concentrate over ice for the most lemony lemonade you've ever had.
Lychee-Thai Chili Lemonade
Adding a dose of chili heat to your lemonade is a surprising way to make it even more refreshing. Here, we bolster it with fiery Thai red chilies, fragrant fresh lychees, and a pinch of salt. Do be careful with the chilies—just half a pepper provides enough spice for a whole pitcher of lemonade.
Sparkling Sumac Lemonade
This sparkling lemonade is flavored with a piquant, citrusy spice called sumac—you may be familiar with it from the spice blend za'atar, but it's also totally at home in drinks and desserts. As a bonus, the vibrantly colored powder gives the lemonade a beautiful red hue.
Ultra-Flavorful Fresh Limeade
Using a macerated-rind syrup to make a strong lemonade base works just as well with limes, resulting in a somewhat more floral, tropical drink that's better than any bottled version. Though it takes only about three hours for the citrus oils in the lime rinds to dissolve the sugar, you can let them macerate for up to 12 if that's easier on your schedule. But don't let them sit any longer, or the syrup will take on a noticeably bitter edge.
The Best Cold-Brewed Iced Tea
What's the best way to make iced tea? Brewing the tea hot and cooling it down makes intuitive sense, but it often winds up tasting bitter and stale. Brewing iced tea in the sun, an old-school Southern technique, can encourage bacterial growth and, frankly, does nothing to improve the finished drink. No, the best way to make iced tea is also the simplest—just mix together tea and water and let it cold-brew in the fridge for a few hours, for tea with a lovely aroma and minimal astringency.
The Best Arnold Palmer
If you're lucky enough to have pitchers of both our lemonade and our iced tea in the fridge already, you can, of course, combine the two for a pretty darn good Arnold Palmer. But if you're starting from scratch, here's how to make an even better version: Start by making the macerated-lemon syrup as you would for lemonade, but leave out the water entirely when making the lemon concentrate. Instead, just mix the syrup and lemon juice straight into the tea.
A good horchata, the Mexican rice- and almond-based drink that's a regular on taqueria menus, is both creamy and light, and nicely but not overwhelmingly sweet. Here, we give the classic a jolt of caffeine by infusing it with dark-roast coffee beans. A cinnamon stick blended into the base mixture turns it warming and spicy.
Frothy Iced Matcha Green Tea
If you're looking for an alternative to iced black tea or iced coffee in the summertime, iced Japanese matcha green tea is a fine choice, and it couldn't be simpler to make: Just mix the powdered tea with water and serve. We tested various ways of mixing and found that the best method of getting it good and foamy is just shaking it in a tightly sealed jar or cocktail shaker.
Making a mocktail worth drinking depends on harnessing the strong, sophisticated flavors to be found in many nonalcoholic ingredients. This drink is a perfect example, combining aromatic mint and shiso leaves with tart Granny Smith apple juice and rice wine vinegar infused with cucumber. Be gentle with the herbs—you'll want to muddle them enough to extract plenty of flavor, without pulverizing them.
Tangy Kumquat-Pear Juice
Bitter and spicy flavors can successfully mimic the flavor of alcohol, making them ideal for nonalcoholic cocktails. The spice in this case comes from fresh ginger; the bitterness from kumquats (peel, seeds, and all). Sweet Anjou pears form the base of the drink.
Fig and Balsamic Soda
Figs and balsamic vinegar are already a terrific pairing, but probably not one you'd normally associate with drinks. Adding seltzer to a blend of homemade fig syrup and balsamic vinegar lengthens the drink without covering up the primary ingredients' flavors. For a fig syrup that tastes as figgy as possible, we use both slow-roasted fresh figs and store-bought dried ones.
This cool pitcher drink starts with a rhubarb syrup flavored with ginger, orange zest, and allspice. Assembling the drink requires nothing more than combining that syrup with lime juice and ginger beer—a spicy brand, like Bruce Cost, is best. This is delicious on its own as a nonalcoholic beverage; you can also add a shot of rum for a great twist on a Dark 'n Stormy.
Booze-Free Rhubarb Lime Gimlet
In this recipe, the rhubarb comes in the form of a vinegary shrub rather than a syrup, its tartness supplying some booze-like heat. We add tangy lime juice, balance out all those sharp flavors with sweet maple syrup, and top it all off with seltzer (but just a little—the drink doesn't need much dilution).
Spicy Honeydew and Coconut Water Agua Fresca
Honeydew doesn't get the love it should—how often have you seen a half-empty bowl of fruit salad littered with honeydew chunks, sad and uneaten? Still, the cool, sweet flavor of fresh melon is lovely when the fruit is in season, and it's even better in this delicate agua fresca, which mixes honeydew juice and coconut water. A simple syrup spiked with chile de árbol adds just the barest heat.