Cocktails to make, beers to buy: John Wilson’s summer drinks guide

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Cocktails, ciders, beers, wines and no-alcohol drinks for seasonal drinking

Having a party? Outdoor entertaining may be the best or only option this summer, so now is the time to enjoy a relaxed, laid-back al fresco get-together with family and friends.

Some decent lowish-alcohol wine is essential; I would certainly have a white and red wine available, but rosé and sparkling wines really go down well in the summer months, so maybe consider adding in one or both of these. In this pre-party drinks plan, I have included two easy-to-manage bag-in-box wines and a few alternatives to wine as well.

Make sure you have a large stash of ice, both to add to drinks and for the ice bucket. Have plenty of water to hand too; large jugs with ice and a variety of fruits, herbs and cucumber make it look so much more enticing as well as tasting better too.

If you have a large number of guests, put someone you can trust in charge of serving drinks, leaving you free to mingle and chat

A steady supply of snacks will provide soakage and keep your guests from starving while they wait for the barbecue to cook the food. If you have a large number of guests, put someone you can trust in charge of serving drinks, leaving you free to mingle and chat. Try to get hold of a collection of decent glasses to serve your various drinks; it will make everything look and taste so much better.


You cannot have a gathering of any sort without offering one or more interesting alcohol-free options. There is no shortage of alcohol-free beers. Heineken 00 seems to be the market leader, but many of the Irish craft brewers produce really good, flavoursome beers that won’t have you keeling over. Wicklow Wolf Moonlight is my current favourite.

As well as the alcohol-free beers, Hopped Culture from King of Kefir is a delicious unfiltered hoppy alternative for any hopheads present. If you enjoy kombucha, Lidl has the two very tasty unfiltered, organic options from Holo, while Aldi has the equally good organic Prokulture.

Another alcohol-free option is to make your own cordial, using rhubarb, raspberry or any other fruits you enjoy. Simply boil quickly with sugar and water. The internet is a good source of recipes, but you could try out the rhubarb and sorrel cordial featured here and use it as a base for your own personal mocktails.

Hard seltzers have taken the US by storm. These fermented, flavoured, carbonated water drinks are typically 4-5 per cent alcohol, with fewer calories than beer and less sugar and alcohol than cocktails. They have proved hugely popular with male and female millennials and Gen Zeds who see them as a healthy option. White Claw and Truly dominate the market but there is no shortage of alternatives.

Most beer drinkers will usually head for a lager when the sun comes out, but a good IPA (or pilsner) is often more thirst-quenching and has so much more flavour

Most beer drinkers will usually head for a lager when the sun comes out, but a good IPA (or pilsner) is often more thirst-quenching and has so much more flavour. If your guests are going to be there for a while, a good session IPA is ideal. Whiplash Rollover, Hope Hop-On and either White Rabbit or Bucket & Spade from Kinnegar are all good options. If you fancy something a little different, the Lineman Saga Tart Kveik is a crisp, refreshing, fruit-filled beer.

Sun equals cider for many people. I drink it all year round, and always drink Irish too. When the weather gets hot, a bottle of lower alcohol Ciderkin from Irish Cider Mill, Dan Kelly’s Original, Highbank, Con’s or Stonewell Dry would be on my list, but there are plenty of good Irish ciders. Highbank and Stonewell both have a good alcohol-free cider.

Lastly, a few cocktails will certainly liven up your summer party. Cask in Cork share the recipe for their rhubarb and sorrel margarita, made with Irish ingredients. You could also try making their delicious raspberry and nettle gimlet (Dingle gin, Móinéir raspberry wine, nettle cordial), but if you prefer to rely on the experts, both of these are available online from alongside a range of other pre-mixed cocktails.

Craft Cocktail in Dublin has also increased its offering of ready-mixed cocktails to include an old-fashioned whiskey sour and a raspberry negroni.

King of Kefir Hopped Culture
€2.95- €3.25
Floral, enticing aromas with crisp citrus hops and light peach fruits. Refreshing and moreish, this makes a great alternative to beer.
Stockists Avoca,; Donnybrook Fair,; SuperValu,; Fresh Outlets,; The Butler's Pantry,; and many independent wholefood stores.

Holo Organic Mango and Pineapple Kombucha
€2.50-€3 for a 330ml bottle
Lightly fizzy with clean, fresh pineapple fruits and a dryish finish. Mouth-watering and moreish.
Stockists Lidl,; SuperValu,

Ciderkin Harvest Session Cider, The Cider Mill
4%, €4.50 -€5.50
A really refreshing, tangy cider with pure red apple fruits. This style was once used to slake the thirst of hard-working farm labourers, so it is made for those sunny days ahead.
Stockists Independent off-licences and select branches of SuperValu.

Lineblocker New World Pale Ale, Ballykilcavan 
4.9%, €3.30-€4 for a 440ml can
A hazy pale ale packed with juicy pineapple fruits, with just enough refreshing citrus to give it balance. 
Stockists Widely available in off-licences nationwide and online, including and

Weights & Measures Session IPA, Galway Bay
3%, €2.50 for a 330ml can
This is brimming with fresh, lively orange and grapefruit citrus notes on both nose and palate. A lovely, summery session beer, with or without food.
Stockists Widely available in off-licences nationwide and online.

Raspberry & Nettle Gimlet
16%, €22/€44 for 350ml and 750ml bottles
Made from a blend of Dingle gin, Móinéir raspberry wine and nettle cordial, this is a grown-up cocktail with plenty of crisp, zesty raspberry fruits and herby nettles. Serve well-chilled with plenty of ice. 
Stockists Cask bar, Cork City,

Monsigny Champagne Brut NV 
12.5%, €19.99
An amazingly low price for a pretty good champagne; for less than €20, you could even use it in a cocktail, but that would mean missing out on the light, refreshing red apple fruits and subtle notes of brioche.
Stockists Aldi,

Le Petit Pellehaut Blanc 2019, IGP Côtes de Gascogne
11%, €62.95 for 5-litre box (€9.45 per bottle equivalent) until the end of June
I featured this earlier in the year, but this is the perfect party white. Light, aromatic and refreshing, with a rounded finish, it is dangerously easy to drink. Perfect on its own, with barbecued food or with all kinds of chicken, fish and lighter roasted vegetables.
Stockists Mitchell & Son, D1, Sandycove and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,

Sonrojo Garnacha Rosado 2019, Navarra
13.5%, €17
Instead of Provence rosé, surprise your guests with this delicious, fresh wine, brimming with raspberry and strawberry fruits. This would go nicely with all sorts of nibbles too. 
Stockists Baggot Street Wines, D4,; Green Man Wines, D6,; First Draft Coffee & Wine, D8,; Lilliput Stores, D7,; Sweeneys D3,

Porta 6 2019, Lisboa
13.5%, €36 for a three-litre box (€9 per bottle equivalent)
The ever-popular easy drinking red with smooth, rounded dark fruits and a tannin-free finish. This would make a good summer party red. Serve cool in carafes.

Two summer cocktails to make at home

Rhubarb and sorrel margarita from Andy Ferreira of Cask in Cork
45ml rhubarb-infused tequila
15ml triple sec
20ml rhubarb and sorrel cordial (see below)
25ml lime juice
Pinch of salt

To make the rhubarb and sorrel cordial, in a ziplock bag, infuse 500ml of hot water with 500g of chopped rhubarb, 250g of sorrel and 150g of caster sugar. Leave for 24 hours, then strain, bottle and refrigerate.

2 Add 20ml of this cordial to the other ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake, double strain and drink.

Strawberry alcohol-free 'Pimm's'
This is from Fiona Beckett's excellent book How to Drink without Drinking, published by Kyle Books. It is one of her favourite recipes, she says. If you miss your Pimm's in the summer months, I promise you this is at least as good if not better. Note that you will need to brew the tea and macerate the strawberries in advance.

Serves 4–6

2 breakfast tea bags
300ml cold water
250g strawberries
1 tbsp caster sugar
15ml (1 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
700ml clear lemonade (use one of the good-quality brands made with real lemon)
Generous handful of ice cubes
2 sprigs of mint, to garnish

Put the tea bags in a jug, pour over the measured water and leave to infuse for 2 hours.

2 Meanwhile, hull the strawberries, removing any unripe white fruit around the stalk, and slice thickly. Put in a shallow dish and sprinkle with the sugar and vinegar. Turn the fruit over with a tablespoon and leave to macerate while the tea infuses.

3 Fish the tea bags out of the jug, add the strawberries with their juice and the lemonade and stir to mix. Add the ice cubes, garnish with the sprigs of mint and serve.

John Wilson

John Wilson

John Wilson, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a wine critic