Five Drinks that Redefine "Beach Cocktail"
From a julep that evokes the feel of feet in the surf to a bracing margarita with a whiff of salinity, bartenders draw inspiration from aquatic influences.
Often, there’s more than just a carefree sun-and-sand attitude behind these drinks. Some showcase spirits infused with sea fare like salt or kelp, or spirits with naturally briny characteristics, like smoky, salty Scotch in the Smoke on the Water cocktail.
Other creations are more emotionally evocative. For instance, Sean Umstead, owner and bartender at Kingfisher in Durham, North Carolina, says his julep riff reminds him of sipping a cocktail while ocean waves lap against the shore. It incorporates Bourbon infused with mineral-tinged oyster shells to add “a flavor reminiscent of that feeling,” he says.
We’ve compiled some of our favorite maritime-influenced tipples to transport you to a sea-spired retreat from the comfort of home, with streamlined suggestions for most.
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Courtesy Sean Umstead, owner and bartender, Kingfisher, Durham, NC
Cocktail Inspiration: Oyster Shells
Oyster shells are “full of minerals and brine, just like the seashore,” says Sean Umstead, owner and bartender of Kingfisher, a cocktail bar scheduled to open soon in Durham, North Carolina. The new venture plans to highlight local bounty in both food and drink, and that includes oysters. Umstead uses the top shell to infuse Bourbon for this frosty drink.
Make the Julep with non-infused Bourbon and finish with a pinch of sea salt on top. Alternatively, oyster shell extract or tincture, also known as Mu Li, is sold as an herbal supplement; add just a drop or two.
“One of my most commonly used techniques for coming up with cocktails is envisioning the scene [that] the drink would be ideal to drink in,” says Umstead. In this case, he says it’s a mint julep on the porch of a beach house, “listening to the waves and smelling that sea air.”
The Pearl Julep Cocktail
- 2 ounces oyster shell-infused Bourbon (ingredients and directions below)
- ¼ ounce mint syrup (ingredients and directions below)
- Mint sprig, for garnish
- Oyster shell, for garnish
Add Bourbon and mint syrup to julep cup or rocks glass. Top with crushed ice. Stir 2–3 times to combine flavors and dilute. Top with more crushed ice, and garnish with mint sprig and shell from infusion.
In large pot of water over high heat, bring 6–8 oyster shell halves to rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes, drain, then transfer shells to clean container. Pour 1 cup Four Roses Bourbon over shells, and infuse for at least 6 hours. Makes enough for 4 cocktails.
Mint syrup can be purchased, but you can also make it yourself: Blanch leaves from 10 mint sprigs for 30 seconds, then plunge into ice bath. In small saucepan, combine ¾ cup sugar and ¾ cup water.
Bring to boil, and stir until sugar dissolved. Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. When cooled, blend syrup and leaves until syrup turns green. Strain through fine mesh sieve. Yields 1 1/2 cups.
Courtesy Camille Cavan, bar and front-of-house manager, Quaintrelle, Portland, OR
Cocktail Inspiration: Sea Beans
These bright-green sprigs, also known as samphire, resemble tiny green beans soaked in sea-salty brine. In drinks, they’re most often used as a bright-hued garnish or accent. But in this cocktail, they offer a clean, green take on a dirty martini, usually presented in a vintage coupe.
Make the Martini with plain, non-infused gin and garnish with a sea bean or a caperberry for a similar briny accent.
“Dirty martinis cover up the delicate flavors of gin,” says Camille Cavan, manager of Quaintrelle, in Portland, Oregon. She says infusing the sea beans into gin “creates a natural, of-the-earth dirty martini.” Cavan uses sea beans from TwoXSea, a sustainable seafood purveyor in San Francisco.
The Keepsake Martini
- 2 ounces sea bean-infused Citadelle Gin de France (ingredients and directions below)
- ¾ ounce Cocchi Americano
- Lemon peel, for garnish
- Sea bean, for garnish
In mixing glass filled with ice, combine gin and Cocchi Americano. Stir well, and strain into coupe glass. Twist lemon peel over drink to express oils. Garnish with lemon peel and sea bean.
In Mason jar or other wide-mouthed container with lid, lightly crush ⅓ cup fresh sea beans with muddler or wooden spoon. Add 1 cup Citadelle Gin and cover. Shake gently to mix. Set aside in cool, dark place for 1–2 days. Strain through cheesecloth twice, then funnel back into gin bottle. Makes enough for 4 cocktails.
Courtesy Matt Sieve, general manager and partner, Madison on Park, San Diego
Cocktail Inspiration: Algae
The blue-green hue is an eye-catcher, but algae is also touted by many as an immune-boosting superfood. The flavor has been described as a bit funky, with a seaweed-like note, though fruit juices can help tone it down.
Use sparkling water instead of bubbly for a nonalcoholic sipper.
At San Diego’s Madison on Park, Partner and General Manager Matt Sieve makes his “Blue Dream” mix, centered around Blue Majik powder, in bulk for Sunday brunch, where it’s served with sparkling wine. Alkaline water isn’t a necessity, he says, but it balances out the acidity in the lemonade.
Blue Dream Mimosa
- 4 cups cold-pressed lemonade
- ½ tablespoon Blue Majik
- 1 2-inch piece ginger, unpeeled
- 2 cups alkaline water
- 2 750-ml bottles sparkling wine
Combine first four ingredients in blender and blend on low for 1 minute. Strain through fine-mesh strainer. Fill Champagne flute or small wine glass ¾ full with sparkling wine. Top with Blue Majik mixture. Makes 10 drinks.
Smoke on the Water Adapted from Naren Young, creative director, Dante, New York City
Cocktail Inspiration: Seaweed
From nori (the dried sheets used to wrap sushi rolls) to kombu (an edible kelp that’s often used to make dashi cooking stock or other broths), bartenders experiment with several types of seaweed to add umami flavor.
Talisker’s maritime note plus the pinch of sea salt means the nori infusion can be omitted if desired. Instead, garnish with a strip of nori laid across the top of the glass.
Naren Young, creative director at Dante in New York City, uses kombu to add a subtle savory note to a martini variation. We’ve adapted his drink here to feature more readily-available nori. The cocktail also includes a dose of Talisker, a peaty Scotch made on the rugged Isle of Skye and known for its smoke-and-saline profile.
Smoke on the Water
- 2 ounces nori-infused Sipsmith London Dry Gin (ingredients and directions below)
- 1 ounce white Port
- ½ ounce honey syrup
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 teaspoon Talisker Distillers Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky
In mixing glass filled with ice, stir together first four ingredients. Strain into rocks glass over large piece of ice. Spoon or spritz Scotch over drink.
Infuse 1 cup gin with 2 pieces dried nori for 2 hours. Remove nori. Strain gin, if needed. Makes enough for 4 cocktails.
Courtesy José Andrés, proprietor and chef, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Washington, D.C.
Cocktail Inspiration: Sea Salt
Adding a bit of flaky sea salt—or iodized table salt, in a pinch—is an easy trick that bartenders often employ to amp up the flavors in a cocktail, much like the impact of sprinkling salt on a slice of watermelon.
Skip the “salt air” and add a sea-salt rim and a strip of nori laid across the top of the glass.
The frothy “salt air” topping to this otherwise classic Margarita is a luxe way to work with the ingredient, and the resulting drink has become a staple at several José Andrés properties.
Salt Air Margarita
- 1½ ounces Milagro Silver Tequila
- ¾ ounce Combier L’Original Liqueur d’Orange
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- Salt air, for garnish (ingredients and directions below)
In cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine all ingredients except garnish. Shake well, and strain into chilled coupe glass. Spoon dollop of “salt air” atop drink. Serve immediately.
In large bowl, combine ½ cup water, ¼ cup lime juice, 1½ teaspoons Sucro powdered emulsifier and 1½ teaspoons salt. Use immersion blender to whip until mixture becomes foamy.
- 1A Mint Julep with a Saline Twist
- 2An Alternative Dirty Martini
- 3Big Batch Mimosa with a Beachy Kick
- 4The Seaweed Scotch Cocktail
- 5Sea Salt Margarita Recipe