10 Easy Vodka Cocktails Because Summer
While we love a wide variety of wine, beer and spirits, sometimes nothing says summer like refreshing vodka cocktails. The clear spirit may get a bad rap for being “basic” in comparison to more flavor-forward offerings like gin, Tequila and whiskey. But vodka’s neutral profile makes it the perfect building block for cocktails. This allows the drink’s other ingredients to shine without being overpowered by oak, botanicals or heavier spirits.
This selection of vodka cocktails spans a variety of styles, including the fruit-forward Cape Cod cocktail, jalapeño-spiced Summer Heat, classic gin-meets-vodka Vesper Martini, and rich Espresso Martini. And if you feel like a throwback to the ’90s, we’ve even included how to make a classic Cosmopolitan recipe that won’t cause you to cringe.
Jump straight to a vodka cocktail recipe
Courtesy Jason Galang, beverage director, Aspen Kitchen, Aspen, Colorado
Summer may seem like an unusual time to feature a drink from Aspen, best known as a ski town. But the region hums even when the ski lifts are still, and the Colorado mountains provide a stunning backdrop for summer sipping.
Enter this classic Rickey, updated with peak-summer fruit and a splash of Prosecco. Created by Jason Galang when he was beverage director for Aspen Kitchen (he’s since moved to a New York City venue), this drink showcases plump summer blackberries and Woody Creek Vodka, a local potato vodka made just northwest of Aspen. The end result is a sweet-tart, lightly fizzy highball just right for cooling off when the mercury spikes.
- 3 large blackberries
- 2 ounces Woody Creek Vodka
- ½ ounce agave nectar
- ½ ounce lime juice
- Splash of Prosecco
- Lime wheel, for garnish
In a mixing glass, muddle the blackberries. Add vodka, agave nectar, lime juice and ice. Cover, shake well and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Top with Prosecco. Garnish with lime wheel.
Greet your guests with a spin on the classic Cape Cod cocktail, as old-school Cherry Heering adds a touch of refreshing sweetness. Look for starfish-shaped silicon ice molds at kitchen supply or party stores.
- 16 ounces vodka
- 4 ounces Cherry Heering liqueur
- 48 ounces cranberry juice
- 1 orange, sliced, for garnish
- Starfish-shaped ice cubes, for garnish
Combine vodka, cherry liqueur and cranberry juice in large punch bowl. Mix well. Garnish with orange slices and ice cubes. Serves 8.
Courtesy Dylan Holcomb, bartender, Beatrice & Woodsley, Denver
If you have a French coffee press, break it out for this fresh, colorful punch. “Pressing down on the French press will bring out even more cucumber, cantaloupe and mint flavors, creating an even richer drink,” says Kevin Delk, owner of Denver’s woodland-inspired Beatrice & Woodsley. No press? No problem. You can build this bubbly libation in a pitcher.
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 8 slices cucumber, divided (plus additional for garnish)
- 8 cantaloupe balls; plus additional for garnish
- 2–3 mint sprigs, plus additional mint leaves
- 4 ounces vodka
- 2 ounces ginger liqueur
- 4 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- Prosecco, to top
Combine sugar with 5 tablespoons water in saucepan over medium heat, and cook until dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Put 4 slices of cucumber, 4 cantaloupe balls, the mint sprigs and ice in large French press or pitcher. Set aside.
In cocktail shaker, muddle remaining cucumber slices, cantaloupe balls and mint leaves. Add the vodka, ginger liqueur, simple syrup, lemon juice and ice. Shake well, and strain into the French press or pitcher. Top with Prosecco.
Pour into Collins glasses (if using a French press, you may need to scoop additional ice into each glass first). Garnish each drink with a cucumber slice and melon ball. Serves 6.
• The tradition of a late-morning meal began during the late 1800s in the United Kingdom as the “hunt breakfast,” according to Farha Ternikar’s book, Brunch: A History (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014). Following an early-morning hunt, servants would prepare a feast of meats caught that day for the hunting party, resulting in a later-than-usual eating time.
• The word “brunch” first appeared in print in an 1895 article in Hunter’s Weekly. In “Brunch: A Plea,” British author Guy Beringer wrote: “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.
Courtesy Infinity Beverages, Eau Claire, WI
- 1½ ounces Infinity Chile Pepper Vodka
- 2½ ounces lemonade
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- Cucumber and jalapeño slices, for garnish
In mixing glass or cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients, except garnishes. Pour over ice. Garnish with cucumber and jalapeño slices.
“A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.” —James Bond, Casino Royale
While Bond’s signature drink, by his instructions, could technically qualify as a double, we’ve toned this classic down to more reasonable standards. Also, while Kina Lillet was discontinued in 1986, Lillet Blanc is an appropriate substitute, though many prefer Cocchi Americano as it still contains quinine, the key ingredient that has since been removed from the Ian Fleming-era Lillet. Likewise, Gordon’s Gin has been reformulated to a lower proof in some markets, causing many cocktail traditionalists to insist on using an alternative 94-proof London dry gin, such as Broker’s or Tanqueray.
- 2 ounces gin (94 proof)
- ⅔ ounce vodka
- ⅓ Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano
Combine all ingredients into a shaker. Fill with ice and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a large, thin lemon lemon peel.
Courtesy Brick 29 Bistro, Nampa, ID
- 1 lemon
- Sugar, to rim glass
- 2½ ounces Koenig Huckleberry Vodka
- 1½ ounces cranberry juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup
Juice lemon, and use rind to wet rim of martini glass. Pour sugar onto plate. Gently press wet rim of glass into sugar. Set aside. Combine 1 ounce lemon juice, vodka, cranberry juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, and strain into prepared martini glass.
The Espresso Martini, like many cocktails that rose to prominence during the 1980s and ’90s, gained a somewhat bad reputation after decades of abuse. It evolved from an elegant, upgraded coffee to something more akin to a milkshake, but the classic black Espresso Martini remains a delicious choice for those who seek a pick-me-up while they wind down.
It may be a surprise that the Espresso Martini didn’t originate from the menu of a fast-casual restaurant hidden away in a strip mall. Rather, it is the creation of the modern cocktail legend Dick Bradsell, a London-based bartender credited with numerous innovations from the 1980s through the 2000s. A handful of his more famous creations include the Bramble (gin, lemon, crème de mûre), the Treacle (dark rum, simple syrup, bitters, apple juice) and the Green Fairy (absinthe, lemon, bitters, egg white).
In an era when Tom Cruise earned fame as a bottle-flipping master of the Alabama Slammer, Bradsell was known for crafting tight, well-balanced drinks where every ingredient mattered—a precursor to today’s modern mixology scene.
The Espresso Martini is said to have been created in 1983 at the Soho Brasserie. A well-known actress was said to ask Bradsell to make a drink that would “wake me up, and fuck me up.”
With vodka as his canvas, Bradsell combined the spirit with two types of coffee liqueur, Kahlua and Tia Maria, and a strong, short-pull espresso, or ristretto. He called the finished drink a Vodka Espresso, before later changing the name to Espresso Martini to capitalize on the craze for drinks served in the popular V-shaped glass.
While Bradsell tweaked his recipe over the years, this version is close to the original. It’s a favorite for people who enjoy a drink with strong coffee flavors and a bit of sweetness. A short-pull espresso guarantees a concentrated shot, though any espresso can be used.
Likewise, any coffee liqueur will do, though Tia Maria tends to be less sweet and viscous than the more popular Kahlua. It creates a consistency more in line with a real espresso.
Bradsell died of brain cancer in 2016. While toasting his life at London bar Swift, Bradsell’s daughter, Bea, lead patrons in a call-and-response chant in honor of her late father: “Wake me up! Fuck me up!”
- 1½ ounces vodka
- ½ ounce coffee liqueur, like Tia Maria
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional, or to taste)
- 1 ounce espresso, short-pull preferred
- 3 coffee beans, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice, adding espresso last. Shake vigorously for 10–15 seconds, or until well-chilled. Strain into chilled martini glass, and garnish with 3 coffee beans in center of glass.
Courtesy Paul MacDonald, bartender, Friday Saturday Sunday, Philadelphia
Another cocktail that showcases a dry Riesling style, fresh herb-infused vodka plays well with mineral and citrus notes in the wine. MacDonald favors Gustave Lorentz, made in France’s Alsace region. “The characteristic Riesling petroleum note is strong enough to shine through all the citrus and greenery in the drink,” he says.
If you don’t want to infuse vodka, substitute a gin that’s not too heavy on juniper, like Plymouth.
- 1 ½ ounces fines herbes-infused vodka (recipe below)
- ¾ ounce dry Alsatian Riesling
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- Asparagus shoot or fresh herb sprig, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in Collins glass. Fill three-quarters of the way with crushed ice and stir rapidly with swizzle stick or long spoon. Top glass with additional crushed ice. Garnish with asparagus shoot or herb sprig.
In large mixing glass, use muddler or wooden spoon to gently crush ½ tablespoon fresh chives, ½ tablespoon fresh parsley and ½ teaspoon fresh tarragon. Add 1½ cups vodka and infuse for 24 hours. Remove herbs, and strain infused vodka through coffee filter or cheesecloth. Store away from sunlight.
Is this a martini or a vodka-based Manhattan, a drink usually made with rye whiskey? The answer lies somewhere in between. It’s no wonder that Stewart’s vodka pick is one made by a renowned whiskey distiller. The finishing touch? Orange bitters, “because they’re reminiscent of the orange twist in a whiskey Manhattan,” she says.
About the Vodka
Wheatley Vodka is a small-batch spirit crafted by Harlen Wheatley, master distiller at Buffalo Trace Distillery, a Kentucky whiskey maker. And yes, wheat is a key component. The vodka is notably soft on the palate, which makes it ideal for a martini-style drink where the spirit takes the starring role.
- 2 ounces Wheatley Vodka
- 1 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Orange peel, for garnish
In rocks or stemmed glass, stir together all ingredients (except garnish) with ice. Garnish with thick piece of orange peel.
Ah, the Cosmo. Is there any other recipe more emblematic of the terrible excesses of bar culture in the ’80s and ’90s? After skyrocketing success due to its association with HBO’s hit show Sex and the City, the Cosmo has fallen badly out of fashion.
However, the real joke is on people scoffing at what can be a delicious, refreshing, well-balanced drink. Cosmos are firmly in the sour family of drinks, and not too far removed from daiquiris, margaritas, whiskey/gin sours and others that don’t bear the same stigma.
At its core, the Cosmo is just a kamikaze (an equally terrible cocktail name that just means vodka, sugar and lime) with a couple of small tweaks. Simple syrup is swapped out with triple sec for a touch of citrus, and a splash of cranberry is added for tartness. That’s it. No special flavored vodkas or sugary supermarket mixers required here. You could think of it as a vodka margarita with a touch of cranberry. In fact, the basic structure of the Cosmo (spirit, liqueur, lime and a touch of fruit juice) isn’t far removed from that of a Hemingway Daiquiri, a classic cocktail lauded by bartenders and revered by classy drinking types the world over.
So, the next time you’re binge watching old episodes of SATC on your couch, here’s how to fix yourself a proper Cosmo.
- 1 ½ ounce vodka
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- ½ ounce triple sec
- ½ ounce cranberry juice
- Orange twist, for garnish
Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until chilled. Double-strain (from shaker through fine mesh strainer) into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.
- 1The Blackberry Lime Rickey Cocktail
- 2The Cape Cod Cocktail
- 3Otho’s Brunchapuncha Cocktail
- 4Summer Heat Cocktail
- 5Vesper Martini
- 6Huckleberry Martini
- 7How to Make a Real Espresso Martini
- 8The Alsatian Riesling Swizzle
- 9The White Manhattan Cocktail
- 10How to Make a Cosmo the Right Way