From sweet tea to boozy peach coolers, quench your Memorial Day thirst with these drinks

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

You've got your hot dogs and buns and burgers. But do you have your drinks ready to go? Skip the canned soda and supplement your cold beers with these cocktails and nonalcoholic sippers to take your Memorial Day weekend to the next level.

Southern Kitchen’s Sweet Tea with Lemon

Southern Kitchen’s Sweet Tea with Lemon

This iced tea is made with lemon simple syrup to boost the summery lemon flavor. If you don't want to pre-sweeten your tea, just pass the simple syrup around the table. 

Serves: 4 to 6


Lemon Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 large, juicy lemon

Sweet tea

1 family-sized black iced tea bag, such as Luzianne

4 cups water

Lemon Simple Syrup, for serving

Ice cubes, for serving


To make the lemon simple syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and the water. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peel from the lemon. Add the peel to the sugar mixture and reserve the lemon for serving.

Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the mixture comes to a boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, remove the lemon peels.

To make the sweet tea: Place the tea bag in a medium teapot or heatproof pitcher. Bring 2 cups of the water to a boil; pour the boiling water over the tea. Let steep for 5 minutes, then remove the tea bag. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of water and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Once cool, stir in lemon syrup to taste.

Slice the reserved lemon into wedges or rounds. Serve the tea in tall glasses filled with ice cubes and garnished with lemon wedges.

Bourbon Peach Cooler

Bourbon Peach Cooler

The flavors of peach, iced tea and bourbon come together in a drink that begs to be sipped on the front porch. This recipe, adapted from “The Bourbon Country Cookbook” by David Danielson and Tim Laird, is a fixture at Southern Kitchen. 

Makes: 1 cocktail


2 ounces peach nectar

1 ounce unsweetened iced tea

1 1/2 ounce bourbon

1/4 ounce peach schnapps

Dash of peach bitters 

Peach slice, for garnish


In a shaker filled with ice, combine the peach nectar, iced tea, bourbon, schnapps and bitters. Shake the mixture vigorously and strain it into a tall glass filled with ice. Garnish with the peach slice and serve.

Campari Spritz 

Campari lends its well-balanced, classic flavor to this light and bitter-sweet spritz.

Makes: 1 cocktail


Ice cubes

2 ounces Campari

3 ounces Prosecco

1 ounce sparkling water

Orange slice, for garnish


Fill a wine glass with ice and add Campari. Top with prosecco and sparkling water. Garnish with orange slice.

This cocktail sips like a margarita, but is on the lighter side.

Top Chef's sparkling margaritas

This recipe is from Kelsey Barnard Clark's latest book, "Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook," reprinted with permission from Chronicle Books.

If you aren’t a fan of mezcal, replace it with a nice reposado. The best margarita starts with good tequila, so don’t reach for the bottom shelf on this one.

Serves 4


3 tablespoons minced jalapeño pepper, from about 1 pepper

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated horseradish

4 ounces agave syrup

8 ounces mezcal tequila

4 ounces fresh lime juice

32 ounces Topo Chico sparkling mineral water

4 tablespoons Tajín Clásico seasoning


In a small pitcher, muddle the jalapeño, a pinch of the salt, the horseradish, and agave syrup with a muddler or wooden spoon.

Stir in the tequila, lime juice, and mineral water and set aside.

Pour a little water onto a flat plate with a rim. On another plate wider than your glass, mix the Tajín Clásico seasoning with the remaining salt.

To coat the rims of the glasses, dip each in water and then in the Tajín mixture. Fill the glasses with ice and pour in the drink mixture. Enjoy immediately.

Prickly Pear Margarita

Prickly pear margarita

The first sip of this libation has a touch of sweetness, quickly followed by a refreshing burst of tartness. 

Makes: 6 cocktails


1 1/2 cups hot water

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice, plus 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving

1 cup Cuervo Gold tequila

1/2 cup triple sec

1/2 cup prickly pear syrup

Salt, for serving


In a large bowl, whisk the hot water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the lemon and lime juices. Thoroughly mix in the tequila, triple sec and prickly pear syrup. Refrigerate for one hour.

When ready to serve, transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until frothy. Serve in salt-rimmed glasses, garnished with the lime wedges, either up or on the rocks.

Lavender Collins

Lavender Collins

We like to use a floral, botanical gin, such as High Wire’s Hat Trick or St. George’s Botanivore, in this recipe.

Serves: 1


2 ounces gin

1 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 ounce lavender simple syrup

Soda water

Fresh lavender and lemon peel, for serving


Combine the gin, lemon juice and lavender syrup into a Collins glass. Add a small handful of ice and top with soda water. Garnish with the fresh lavender and lemon.


Southern Sangria

This citrus-forward sangria recipe gets an extra orange punch from Gran Torres liqueur, making this a perfect warm-weather sipper. You don't need your best wine for this recipe, since it's going to be mixed with so many ingredients. At the same time, you don't want to use your worst plonk either. Wine is the star here. 

To make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature before using.

Serves: 20


2 bottles shiraz or other red wine

3/4 cup Gran Torres liqueur

3/4 cup simple syrup (see note)

1/2 cup triple sec

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

Lemon, lime and orange slices for garnish


In a large pitcher, combine the wine, Gran Torres, simple syrup, triple sec and orange juice. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 24 hours.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

Sign up for my newsletter here.

Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com