Cocktail onions don’t get as much play as olives or lemon twists at the bar. But they’re a delicious garnish (or snack) that is easy to make at home. A Gibson (which is just a Martini garnished with onions) is the most notable use for these, but you could also use cocktail onions in other savory drinks like a Bloody Mary.
Going DIY with cocktail onions is simple—and skips the weird preservatives the store-bought variety often have. Here are a few recipes to choose from … or make them all! Pearl onions are sweeter than your typical onion, aside from being the right size. You can even buy them frozen and peeled for your convenience.
Basic Cocktail Onions ~ These have a standard pickling brine that you can adjust to taste, if you’re feeling creative.
Spicy Pickled Onions ~ For a spicier take on the cocktail onion, this recipe includes some fresh chili peppers.
Vermouth-Spiked Cocktail Onions ~ Vermouth is a key ingredient of the Martini, so it’s also great in the onion brine you’ll use to make Martini garnishes.
Lemon-Scented Cocktail Onions ~ If you can’t decide between garnishing with a twist or a cocktail onion, here’s a way you can do both all in one.
Blood-Orange Cocktail Onions ~ Beautiful blood oranges add a little color and sweetness to your otherwise white and savory garnish.
Photo by Muy Yum
Honey Fig Redemption from 12 Bottle Bar
Figs are fantastic! They’re everywhere right now, as we transition from the hot hot summer into the (still hot for some reason) fall. Muddle it, infuse with it, roast and puree it! There’s so much figs can do for your cocktails.
Hey, Fig Spender ~ This drink uses a fig-infused bourbon as a base for a Manhattan-like cocktail. I used Dubonnet, but it’s also good with sweet vermouth. The fig-infused bourbon would also make a great Old Fashioned!
Fig Cocktail No. 1 ~ For a lighter, more summery drink, try this one made with vodka, rosemary simple syrup, lemon, and of course figs. A fresh and unexpected flavor combo!
Two-Hit Fig Punch ~ Whiskey and spiced rum turn this fresh fruit punch into a complex and very adult party punch.
Honey Fig Redemption ~ Rye and red wine, along with honey-mint syrup and lemon, elevate the simple fig into a sophisticated cocktail.
Roasted Fig Cocktail ~ A roasted fig and balsamic vinegar puree is the star of this whiskey drink, which also has the autumnal flavor of maple syrup on its side. Yum!
Watermelon & Cucumber Tonic from First Look Then Cook
A Gin & Tonic is the easiest, most customizable cocktail there is. There are a lot of ways to turn this basic drink into something fresh and fancy. Here’s to gussying up America’s favorite highball!
Cucumber Rosemary Gin & Tonic ~ A weensy bit of chopping and muddling gives you a very sophisticated new drink with a unique flavor combo that complements gin’s botanicals.
Mamani Gin & Tonic ~ Jalapeño and Cilantro (or basil, for you cilantro haters) are fun additions to the classic, with cucumber, celery, and tomato as optional additions to make it even more garden-y than before.
Peach Infused Gin & Tonic ~ This one takes a little advanced planning, but it makes for an easy drink that tastes super-fancy … once you do the initial work of infusing gin with peaches.
Watermelon & Cucumber Tonic ~ As you can probably tell by now, cucumbers and gin are good buddies. But add a little watermelon and then you really have something special.
Rhubarb Gin & Tonic ~ Another one where a little advance work can mean quick cocktails to come … rhubarb syrup is a great addition to any bar, and it can turn a basic G&T into a delicious treat.
I didn’t realize what Cynar could do until I went to Buenos Aires, where it’s a more popular cocktail ingredient than vodka. Even though Cynar is made with artichoke leaves, it doesn’t actually taste like artichokes. It has more of a bittersweet herbal flavor that adds a little kick to drinks. (The Cynar folks tell me it’s named after cynarin, a property of artichokes that makes your tastebuds perceive food and drink as sweeter.)
Speaking of the Cynar folks … they sent me a lovely package that included Cynar and some other cocktail ingredients. I don’t post recipes sent by brands unless I like them. And this one was a big hit with me! It’s light and refreshing (perfect warm for late-summer nights) but with a sophisticated depth and hint of sweetness that doesn’t take over your palate like sweeter Mojito-style cocktails can.
Cynar isn’t as whammo bold as Campari, though they are both aperitifs. But it still offers that touch of Italy and bitterness that is perfect for before a meal (or after).
Red Letter Day
1 ounce Cynar
1 ounce Applejack
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce ginger syrup
1/4 ounce grenadine
Club soda to top (about 4 ounces, according to taste)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Pour all ingredients except the club soda and bitters into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top with soda and bitters.
I used Laird’s Bonded Applejack, Morris Kitchen ginger syrup, and Fee Brothers grenadine. But you could make your own ginger syrup by cooking up 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water, and a six-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced. As for grenadine, I recommend making DIY grenadine.
Recipe by Tonia Guffey of Dram in Brooklyn
Borderline Escape from Saveur
Cantaloupe. It’s not just for breakfast. Late August is a great time to get juicy, flavorful cantaloupe—whether it’s from the supermarket, farmers market, or your own garden. It’s an easy fruit to convert into a cocktail ingredient. You could also try any melons similar to cantaloupe, like gaia or ambrosia melons. No melon liqueur necessary! (Although if you want to use your fresh fruit to make your own melon liqueur that will kick Midori’s butt any day, try this simple DIY melon liqueur recipe.)
Pimm’s and Cantaloupe ~ I’m a big fan of Pimm’s, and this simple sparkling recipe is a refreshing way to use the stuff besides the famous Pimm’s Cup.
Cantaloupe Cooler ~ This vodka cocktail has a little lemon, cucumber, pepper, and basil to bring excitement to the humble cantaloupe.
Borderline Escape Cocktail ~ Cantaloupe and tequila are a fantastic pairing. Add chili, lime, and salt … and you’re on your way to a summer party drink.
Cantaloupe Cocktail ~ A little gin and ginger turn cantaloupe into a sophisticated tipple for brunch or sunny afternoons.
Melon Rumballa ~ Use a combination of melons for this fun rum punch to make it colorful, or stick with whatever melon you have on hand. Who said a melon baller wasn’t a practical tool?
The garden at Savvy Housekeeping is overflowing with cucumbers! So we got together and made this lovely, late-summer cocktail with some of the bounty. It has a delicate and sweet flavor that’s a good antidote to the muggy weather we’re having now. We used lemon cucumbers and purple basil, but you can also use English cucumber and whatever your favorite basil variety is.
Cucumber Basil Gimlet
1 English cucumber or 2-3 small lemon cucumbers
8 basil leaves
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 oz gin
Peel the cucumbers, then chop into chunks and discard the peels. Muddle basil, cucumber, lime, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and gin, then shake for 15-30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Photo by Savvy Housekeeping
Thai Basil Daiquiri from Serious Eats
Basil is my favorite herb, hands down. Now that basil in the garden is starting to wind down, it’s time to harvest those delicious leaves and make cocktails with them! It’s such a flexible herb that it pairs well with all sorts of flavors. Here are a few basil drinks to try:
Basil Gimlet ~ Basil adds some excitement to the simple gin, lime, and sugar cocktail. You could make it with vodka instead.
Strawberry Basil Mojito ~ Whip out the muddler: Strawberries and basil complement each other perfectly, especially in a refreshing Mojito.
Thai Basil Daiquiri ~ Another classic rum cocktail gets the basil treatment, with this delicious summer recipe from Dave Arnold at New York’s Booker & Dax.
Basil Prosecco and Limoncello ~ Light and lovely, with some bubbles—sounds just right for the summer heat.
Bufala Negra ~ An unexpected “tart and tangy” drink with bourbon, balsamic syrup, and ginger beer is an exciting new way to use basil.
Blackberry Meyer Lemon Gin & Tonics from Spoon Fork Bacon
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a plentiful supply of loaded blackberry bushes, you’ll soon be wondering what exactly to do with your haul. My neck of the woods has blackberries popping out of practically every nook and cranny. But even if you have to go on the hunt, it’s worth it. They have a nice, tart-sweet balance and add a jammy flavor to cocktails. Here are some tasty ways to drink your blackberries! (If you really have a lot, try this DIY Blackberry Liqueur.)
Blackberry Ginger Cooler ~ Blackberries and ginger (with a boost from our friend vodka) make for a refreshing summer flavor combination. I think you can skip the blackberry liqueur or Chambord in this one and instead use more fresh blackberries.
Blackberry Plum Smash ~ Smashing fruit with whiskey is one of my favorite ways to use summer fruit in cocktails. Bonus: This one is a beautiful deep purple.
Blackberry Meyer Lemon Gin & Tonic ~ Nothing like sprucing up the good old G&T with delicious fruits. Great for a late afternoon outside.
Black Rose ~ While we’re improving on old favorites, this drink is basically a Blackberry-Rosemary Vodka Soda. Light and easy sipper!
Peach and Blackberry Muddle ~ Smashy smashy! Only this time, peach and blackberry are the perfect pair for this bourbon drink.
July 21 is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday. I’m using that as an excuse to mix up some Hemingway Daiquiris, so named because the drink was (supposedly) invented for good old Papa by Constantino Ribalaigua Vert at El Floridita in Havana, Cuba. So shake up a few of these bad boys, grab a copy of your favorite Hemingway novel (might I suggest “The Sun Also Rises”), and celebrate!
I made mine with Brugal Extra Dry, because those folks are always sending me lovely samples. But you can use whatever white rum you like. I would not suggest using dark or gold rum at all. Some say Hemingway liked his frozen and doubled in size (aka the Papa Doble), which would mean blending this with some ice instead of shaking. I haven’t tried it myself, but the weather definitely calls for it. Remember that maraschino liqueur is NOT maraschino cherry juice. Not even close. Luxardo is the most common brand, and it’s a good one.
1 1/2 ounces white rum
1 ounce fresh Ruby Red grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for about 15 seconds. Strain into coupe or Martini glass. Optional: Garnish with lime wheel or grapefruit twist.
Bourbon Cherry Cooler from Honestly Yum
Beautiful ripe fruit is the best part of summer. It’s time to stop by those cherry stands while we still can and put some cherries in the cocktail shaker! If you have any extras, try making some DIY cherry liqueur or homemade cherry bitters.
Bing Cherry Mojito ~ Mojitos in the summer? You don’t have to ask me twice. Add ripe red cherries, and it’s even better.
Bourbon Cherry Cooler ~ Bourbon, Aperol, and cherries is a winning combination. Top it off with a little lemon, sugar, and sparkling water, and that’s what I call a summer cocktail.
Fresh Cherry Margarita ~ Cherries balance nicely with the grassy notes in tequila. Cherry up that Margarita already!
Grilled Cherry Old Fashioned ~ Cherries and Old Fashioneds go together so well. But add a little smokiness from the grill and then you really have something unusual.
Cherry Balsamic Shrub ~ Tart and refreshing, you can mix this into a lovely non-alcoholic drink with some seltzer or add some gin, vodka, or white rum.