There’s a certain nostalgia to dusting off the blender and whipping up a frozen, boozy sipper on a sultry summer day. But no, we’re not talking about those mass-produced, super-sweet and watered-down margaritas of yesteryear. Today’s frozen cocktails are still kitchy and fun, but also chock full of fresh ingredients, sophisticated spirits and modern techniques that make them 100 percent contemporary and worthy of slots on drink menus throughout the South.
Abigail Gullo, beverage director of Compère Lapin in New Orleans, keeps a rotating list of daiquiris throughout the summer and said it’s a great opportunity to make classics “more high-end with great technique and ingredients.”
Looking for pro tips on elevating your frozen cocktail game? Mercedes O’Brien, cocktail director at Atlanta’s Gunshow, says “you get can get as close to home as you want” with ingredients by taking advantage of your own garden or the local farmers market.
And speaking of fresh produce, both O’Brien and Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans recommend freezing fruit to use as ice cubes, which “keeps things for getting too watered down,” explained O’Brien.
Gullo agrees that “ice and dilution radically change the flavor of a drink. What tasted good on the rocks or up will not taste good frozen.” Her advice? “When in doubt, double the sugar content. It helps amplify the flavors of the drink. [You can use] not just simple syrup, but honey, agave, cinnamon or basil syrup. And that sugar can also come in the form of juice or purée like mango, cantaloupe or watermelon. Use that juicer and that blender!”
Speaking of blenders, Phoebe Esmon, beverage director at Asheville’s Nightbell, recommends “blending your drink from crushed ice [to give the] frozen drink a silkier texture and cut down on your blend time. Start blending on low, and then move up to higher speeds. This will help the texture and your blender engine.”
Here are recipes from the Southern bartenders quoted above and others, guaranteed to quench your thirst, beat the heat and impress your guests.
The Tree Frog
Phoebe Esmon of Nightbell in Asheville
1/2 cup crushed ice cubes
1 1/2 ounces Don Q Gold rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce ginger syrup
Star anise, for garnish
Combine the ice cubes, rum, banana, lime juice and ginger syrup in a blender and blend for 45 seconds. Pour into a tulip glass and garnish with the star anise. Serve immediately.
Mercedes O’Brien of Gunshow in Atlanta
Passion Fruit and Habanero Syrup
2 cups passion fruit purée
1 cup sugar
1/2 habanero chili, deseeded
1/2 cup ice cubes
3/4 ounce London dry gin
3/4 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce passion fruit and habanero syrup (above)
3/4 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
Crushed ice, for serving
Grilled or fresh orange slice, for serving
To make the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the passion fruit purée and sugar. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat and stir until well combined. Let cool, then add to a blender with the habanero chili. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
To make the cocktail: Combine the ice cubes, gin, Carpano Antica, passion fruit and habanero syrup, 1/2 ounce of the Campari, orange juice and lime juice. Blend until smooth but not watery. Pour the drink into a rocks glass and fill the empty space with crushed ice. Top with the remaining 1/4 ounce Campari and garnish with the grilled orange slice. Serve immediately.
Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans
4 cups ice
3/4 cup chilled rosé
1/4 cup simple syrup
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a stemless wine glass and serve with a straw.
Abigail Gullo of Compère Lapin in New Orleans
Mint Jasmine Syrup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brewed jasmine tea
1/2 cup brewed mint tea
1 cup ice cubes
2 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces mint jasmine syrup (above)
1 ounce blue Curacao
1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce ginger syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon coconut milk, for rinsing glass
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
To make the syrup: In a small saucepan combine the sugar with both of the teas. Bring to a rapid simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
To make the cocktail: Combine the ice, pineapple juice, mint jasmine syrup, Curacao, gin, ginger syrup, lemon juice and lime juice. Blend until smooth.
Pour the coconut milk into a hurricane glass and twist the glass to coat the inside with the coconut milk. Pour out any remaining milk.
Add the blended drink to the glass and garnish with the mint. Serve immediately.
Want more slushies?
Try these recipes from bartenders from across the South:
Frozen Rosé Sangria from Pinewood Social in Nashville
Blended Cuba Libre from Cane & Table in New Orleans
Tequiling Me Softly from Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga
Photo Credit (Tree Frog): Heirloom Hospitality
Photo Credit (Frose Y'all): Randy Schmidt