Cocktail Companions for Grilling Season

For Independence Day and beyond, here are some cocktails perfect for enjoying while you work the grill or enjoy those summertime foods kissed by fire.

Sailor Guevara Jun 24, 2024 - 8 min read

Cocktail Companions for Grilling Season Primary Image

Photos by Sailor Guevara

To paraphrase the words of a famous prince, “summertime is a time to sit back and unwind”—unless you’re the one who’s perpetually hosting, or grilling, or mixing drinks, or all of the above. Fret not, however, because preparing these cocktails is a breeze, the recipes are proven winners, and the joy of savoring them with favorite grilled foods is unmatched.

The trick of serving drinks for summer soirees is balance—you want cocktails that pair well with all things grilled, but you don’t want either the dish or the beverage to overwhelm the other. You don’t want a heavy drink in the summer heat, but it needs enough flavor to stand up to and complement grilled meats and other party foods.

With that in mind, here are some easy-to-make cocktails that offer expert-level flavors—each of them a candidate to become a new favorite throughout the grilling season.

Tropical and Spicy

Hibiscus is a great summer ingredient, but hibiscus tea can be too delicate to complement bold flavors. My solution to this dilemma is Sorel, a spiced liqueur made with Moroccan hibiscus as well as cassia, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. It fits the bill for full-bodied cocktails, but at 15 percent ABV, it makes a lighter cocktail—ideal for an afternoon grilling session without everyone being face down by 3 p.m.


I created this cocktail to pair with a fantastic ginger-garlic grilled chicken dish I picked up in Belgium. The dish has a bit of spicy heat, so the cocktail needed to cool the palate and avoid excessive sweetness while following the threads of flavors. It turned out to be a winning combination with the backyard audience.

You will find a delightful blend of flavors here: Lime adds a refreshing brightness, while the bitters provide a subtle anchor; the blood-orange sparkling water adds effervescence without overpowering the rest. The result is a balanced, flavorful cocktail that is sure to enhance your grilling experience.

Brooklyn Kid

2 oz Sorel Liqueur
1 oz fresh lime juice
2 dashes orange bitters
blood orange–flavored sparkling water

In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine the first three ingredients. Shake well and strain over fresh cubed ice into a short glass. Top with the sparkling water, and garnish with a lemon peel.

Scandinavian Delights

I’ve had many pescatarians at my table in recent years, so I’m regularly on the hunt for inventive fish dishes—including when it’s time to fire up the grill. And my cocktail garden is abundant with dill, ready for any opportunity to incorporate it into cocktails or food. That dill is what made me reach for one of my favorite aquavits, the Michigan-made Norden Aquavit.


Traditional aquavit includes dill and caraway, which offer an herbaceous undertone and anise, citrus, and pepper as standout flavors. European Commission rules say that the dominant flavor must come from caraway or dill via distillation.

Norden produces a few varieties of aquavit, including one flavored with dill. “When we created the Heirloom Garden Dill recipe, we knew we wanted something that would pair well with seafood,” says cofounder Robyn Cleveland. “The peppery fresh-dill notes really pop when paired with briny shellfish or caviar. Similarly, the use of pickle brine in this cocktail adds a savory layer and coaxes the supporting botanical flavors out of the aquavit, including fennel, lovage, and marigold. It’s a bright and quenching cocktail that’s as good with a meal as it is catching a break from the summer heat.”

Shared by Cleveland, this Tom Collins variation is a great apéritif to serve while firing up the grill. It’s light and bubbly but delivers a savory profile that exceeds expectations. The half-ounce of simple syrup is the chef’s kiss. This cocktail pairs beautifully with white fish and salads.

Tomas Collins

2 oz Heirloom Garden Dill Norden Aquavit
0.75 oz lime juice
0.25 oz pickle brine
0.5 oz simple syrup
club soda

In a Collins glass, combine the first four ingredients with ice and stir. Top with soda and garnish with a dill sprig.


As I sipped that Tomas Collins, I pondered how to incorporate extra oomph—something that could go with heavier dishes while also appealing to drinkers who don’t love caraway or anise. To express the anise in a different light, I took a completely different direction and brought nut flavors to the mix. I make my own nocino—an Italian-style liqueur made from green walnuts—usually at the same time I’m batching limoncello. If you can’t make it, some great nocino liqueurs are easy to find. Combining the green-walnut nuttiness with baking spices makes for a powerhouse of flavors that pairs perfectly with barbecued salmon, as well as other smoked dishes and darker fish. You don’t want the nocino to take over the aquavit, so careful measuring is critical here.

Summer Solstice

1.5 oz Heirloom Garden Dill Norden Aquavit
1 oz nocino
0.5 oz rosé vermouth
0.5 oz fresh lemon juice

Shake all the ingredients well with ice and strain into a stemmed glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

The Whiskey Always Wins

Some friends wrote a song years ago called “The Whiskey Always Wins,” which I heard dancing in my head as I tinkered with recipes using Irish breakfast tea. Irish whiskey was an obvious choice—known for its approachability, it seemed a good fit for an assertive cocktail that would pair well with charred meats and root vegetables.

Incorporating an amaro into the mix was key, so I reached for a unique American-made one out of Seattle, from Fast Penny Spirits. The Amaricano is bold but velvety, with cocoa, funky mushroom, and a hint of vegetal flavor and deep, dark cherry nuances. It complements grilled meats as well as the vanilla-bean and citrus notes in my whiskey of choice—Triple Dog Irish Whiskey, which has a noticeable citrus finish. It has that hallmark approachability of a traditional Irish whiskey, yet the flavors are up-front enough to hold its own. A perfect marriage.


The spirits—with the robust malty flavors of the tea, and bitterness from steeping it for longer than usual, combined with an earthy raw-honey syrup—made my cocktail dreams come true. This cocktail has no chance of being a wallflower—and it’s quick and easy to make.

If you’re grilling meats, I highly recommend adding some root vegetables to really bring all the earthy components into the mix.

Cooley to Rainier

1 oz Triple Dog Irish Whiskey
1 oz Fast Penny Amaricano
1 oz brewed and chilled Irish Breakfast tea
1 oz light raw-honey simple syrup

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with cubed ice. Stir well until the glass is cold to the touch. Strain into a rocks glass over a king cube, and garnish with an orange peel.

Enjoy these cocktails and take cues from the pairing suggestions to create your own fabulous grilling companions.

Sailor Guevara is a spirits specialist, hospitality veteran, published author, podcast host, and award-winning mixologist who’s been involved with the spirits industry for 30-plus years. She won the Icon of Whiskey Award in 2020, bestowed on the individual who most capably advances understanding and appreciation for the craft of whiskey-making.