Low and Steady: Low-Alcohol Cocktails for Summer Day Drinking

Summer is prime time for day drinking, but if you do it wrong, your whole afternoon will be wasted (in more ways than one). These low-alcohol drinks are perfect for sipping over many golden hours—and are a great choice for your Labor Day party if a cooler full of canned cocktails or spiked seltzer won’t cut it.

Drew Lazor wrote the 2018 book “Session Cocktails” and from his reporting, it’s clear we’re entering something of a golden age for low-alcohol cocktails. “Bars are offering more dedicated low-ABV sections on their cocktail menus than ever before,” says Lazor. Even nonalcoholic mocktails are gaining momentum. “Traditionally, here in America folks associate the value of a drink with its potency but that’s starting to change. Menus that do the legwork for the drinker help close that gap, encouraging us to step out of our routines and try new things.”

Related Reading: Everything You Need to Know About Mocktails

If you’re building a home bar to accommodate low-alcohol cocktails, Lazor suggests having a good bottle (or two) of vermouth on hand. “We’re quick to think of it as nothing more than an adjunct in a martini or Manhattan when it can just as easily be the star of a drink. There are some really cool American-made vermouths on the market nowadays, but I still think the best place to start is with a French brand like Dolin.”
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When approaching low-ABV cocktails at home, “there is no hard-and-fast definition, but we worked off a few parameters in the book. First, use no more than 3/4 ounce of a strong spirit in your mix. This is generally enough to still feel the presence of the spirit in the glass, and you can make up the rest in lower-ABV additions.” Also, consider the style of the drink itself, says Lazor; “The spritz, collins, or kir royale formats, lengthened with sparkling wine or soda water, are such a natural fit for sessionability.”

Related Reading: Summer Spritz Recipes Are Fun, Bubbly, and Low-Alcohol

If you’re near Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Lazor recommends a stop at Nitecap where owner Natasha David has “always done an incredible job of showcasing and celebrating session cocktails.” And if not, here are a few low-ABV cocktail recipes to make at home this summer.
Sunny Day Real Estate
Recipe by Alex Day (originally published in Session Cocktails)

Lizzie Munro

2 ounces dry vermouth like Dolin Dry 3/4 ounce raspberry syrup 1/2 ounce Aperol 1/2 ounce lemon juice soda water

Combine vermouth, raspberry syrup, Aperol, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a collins glass with ice, top with soda water, and garnish with a lemon wheel.
The Elder
2 slices of cucumber 1 ounce St. Elder elderflower liqueur 1/2 ounce lemon juice 1/2 ounce strawberry syrup

Muddle two slices of cucumber. Shake ingredients with ice. Double strain over ice in a collins glass. Top with seltzer.
Haus & Juice

1 ounce Haus (floral low alcohol spirit) 1 ounce fresh blood orange juice Splash of soda water

Build all ingredients in a cocktail glass and top with soda water. Garnish with blood orange wheel.
Seedlip Garden108 Non-Alcoholic Spirit, $37.50 on Amazon Comparable to gin but without the booze. Buy Now Sugarlandia Spritz
Don Papa Rum

3/4 ounce Don Papa Rum 1 ounce Aperol 4 ounces Prosecco pinch sea salt

Combine rum, Aperol, and sea salt in a wine glass over ice. Stir until chilled, and top with Prosecco. Garnish with a roasted sprig of rosemary.
Italian White Wine Glasses, 4 for $22.99 on Amazon For all your summer spritz needs! Buy Now Aperol Spritz
Recipe from Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company

Ellie Groden

1 ounce Aperol 3 ounces good Champagne like Champagne Ayala Soda water

Build in a wine glass with ice. Top with soda water
New Mule 
KEEL Vodka

1 1/2 ounces KEEL light vodka 3 ounces ginger kombucha 1/4 ounce agave Squeeze of lemon

Build in a glass and serve over ice, stir and serve with a lime wheel.
Peacock Buck
Recipe by Nicolas Bennett (Cedric’s at The Shed)

Cedric’s at The Shed

2 1/2 ounces rosé like Domaine Zafeirakis Rosé 1/2 ounce Cinzano Dry Vermouth 3/4 ounce lime juice 1/2 ounce ginger syrup 1/4 ounce cane syrup

Shake ingredients and fine strain over pebble ice in a wine glass, topped with soda.
Everything Zen 
KEEL Vodka

1 1/2 ounces KEEL light vodka 1 ounce pineapple juice 1/2 teaspoon matcha powder 3/4 ounce honey 1/2 ounce fresh lime

Combine all ingredients, shake, and strain over fresh ice into rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
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