The Ultimate Guide to Day Drinking

Low-alcohol cocktails that won't put you to bed before the sun goes down.

Photograph by Victor Prado. Set Design by Kate Landucci for Mary Howard Studio. Food Styling by Roscoe Betsill.

Proper daytime drinking requires the intestinal fortitude needed for marathons, not sprints. But it also requires a strategy (plus water and food, and did we say water?). Those rosé refills can land you in that sad, sad place where you nod off earlier than is socially acceptable. "You want to feel buzzed but also refreshed," says Natasha David, a bartender who worked under Keith McNally and Danny Meyer before opening Nitecap in New York City this year. "You want to go on a friend's roof and watch the sunset, not pass out in a cab." That's easier to avoid now, given the low-alcohol, high-quality liqueurs, vermouths, and sherries coming to market. Below, how to navigate summer parties without getting smashed.

The Pitcher Drink

When Miami-based cocktail guru Gabriel Orta started hosting Sunday-afternoon reggae parties at the Freehand hotel six months ago, he wanted "something between a daiquiri and a margarita." What he came up with was "It's a Good Day in the Hood"—which, like the drinks that inspired it, is often enjoyed in large quantities. Fill a pitcher about three-quarters full of crushed ice, then pour in four ounces of tequila blanco infused with mint (drop a handful of sprigs into the bottle and give it a good shake) and three ounces each of Aperol (which blunts the strength of the tequila while adding bitterness and herbal notes), simple syrup, and lime juice, for brightness. Add a few dashes of fruit bitters, stir, and pour into a collins glass.

The Beer Upgrade

John McCarthy, a bartender at New York City's Bathtub Gin, likes mixing a half ounce each of sweet vermouth and Campari into a pint glass, then filling it with cold Pilsner Urquell. Campari's bitterness blends well with the beer's hoppiness, so the drink is dry and refreshing.

The Liqueur-for-Liquor Alternative

Kate Bolton, who has been making acclaimed low-alcohol drinks at the San Francisco cocktail mecca Maven since it opened two years ago, recommends two ounces of an aperitif like Dolin or Kina L'Avion d'Or over rocks in a tumbler. Add seltzer and a twist of lemon or orange.

The Spritz-Sangria Hybrid

Natasha David's Rivington Punch starts with two ounces of a French-style dry rosé poured over ice into a wineglass. Add one and a half ounces of Aperol, a half ounce of St-Germain, and a quarter ounce of Combier Framboise (a French raspberry liqueur); top with seltzer.

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