Summer sippers: Mixologists get creative with cocktails


By Jenna Jay


Trend alert: Bartenders across the county are shedding artificial ingredients for stripped-down yet refreshing flavors, and the result is a bevy of new exotic cocktails whipped up to quench thirsts this summer.

Martini sippers and cocktail toters along the coast will find these novel tastes at some of the county’s top-tier watering holes, and connoisseurs can expect to savor exciting bursts of flavor stemming from a most “natural” place: the ground.

Herbs — ranging from traditional mint and basil to more eclectic flavors such as thyme and rosemary — are all the rage behind the bar at many North County establishments, including the Lobby Lounge at The Grand Del Mar.

Boasting an on-site garden where chefs harvest herbs and vegetables, The Grand Del Mar has plenty of fresh ingredients to get creative with. According to Humberto Ramirez, Lobby Lounge manager and mixology specialist, creating that perfect summer drink is all about exploring local ingredients and natural flavors.

“We talk about the freshest fruits like berries and citrus, and when we blend those two, we try to use local produce,” Ramirez said. “We live between the coast and the desert, so we like to use sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil.”

These fresh fruits and herbs combine to satiate palates at the Lobby Lounge and accompany infused spirits in drinks such as the Tangerine-Rosemary Martini, served with a rosemary sprig, as well as the Citrus Lavender Martini, which puts a twist on traditional summertime martinis with lavender-infused vodka.

For many bartenders across the county, infusing vodkas, tequilas and even gins has become regular practice, and simple syrup infusions are also on the rise. At Nine-Ten in La Jolla, bartender Sarah Lemke uses basic elements such as vodka or tequila and adds a kick with spicy pepper infusions.

Using “spice, bite and kick” for inspiration, Lemke crafted her signature taste with pepper infusions that signify the summer heat. Tasters brave enough to sample a dull green martini yet unnamed and not on the menu find a combination of a serrano chili pepper simple syrup, tequila, crème de violette, and orange and lemon juices, pulling together fresh, seasonal ingredients into an original cocktail with a bite.

Of course, Nine-Ten patrons can also cool off with the So Fresh and So Clean, a crisp cocktail featuring Hendrick’s gin and a fresh cucumber-basil puree. When it comes to summertime trends in mixology, Lemke reiterated a key point in local findings: “I go for pure. I don’t like any of the pre-made or flavoring (in drinks).”

While infusions are the hot new trend for summertime in San Diego, bar hoppers can’t get enough when it comes to vodka. Flavored or infused, shaken or stirred, vodkas still reign supreme at establishments across the county.

“People are really on vodka,” said Chris Simmons, chief mixologist at L’Auberge in Del Mar. “I don’t see anybody dethroning vodka for a while.” Simmons has adapted to this trend in several of the signature cocktails at the Bleu Bar, including the Opalescent — a L’Auberge specialty featuring Ketel One vodka and a name stemming from the purple hue released by the original key ingredient, opal basil.

Vodkas served with muddled fresh fruits and basic garnishes are top sellers on drink lists these days, but bartenders are also getting creative with spins on couture cocktails. Classic drinks with modern interpretations are increasingly popular, as evident with the Lemon Grass Collins at the Lobby Lounge at The Grand Del Mar, as well as the Gin Rickey at Brigantine, and even the Mojitotini at Mille Fleurs.

For partner and chef Chris Idso at Pacifica in Del Mar, this is partly due to the resurrection of gin in bars and restaurants around the county.

Calling gin “the new breakout baby,” Idso said, “Gin is making a resurgence because I think that it’s watching the vodka market go crazy and I think the original vodka stemmed from gin, so I think gin’s a little jealous.”

Whether it’s the inventive Biciclete at La Valencia’s Whaling Bar (a combination of Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka with St. Germain and whipped lemon egg white) or the classic crowd-pleasing Cucumber Cooler at Brigantine, these summer sippers are all about the pure taste of fresh flavor and are, like summertime itself, good to the last drop.


L’AUBERGE (Bleu Bar) – Opalescent

  • Ketel One vodka
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Fresh squeezed lime
  • Simple syrup
  • Served in a martini glass

*Special (not on the menu)
Rising Sun:

Bombay Sapphire gin, California Quivers passion fruit puree, sake; mixed with lime, simple syrup, shaken and served straight up. Extra zest — add liquid nitrogen to make slushy, add peach champagne sorbet in liquid nitrogen (freezes like ice cubes). Garnished with orange half-wheel to represent the ‘rising sun.’

NINE-TEN – So Fresh and So Clean

  • Hendrick’s gin
  • Fresh cucumber and basil puree
  • Fresh squeezed lemon
  • Served in a martini glass, garnished with a slice of cucumber.

LA VALENCIA (Whaling Bar) – Biciclete

  • Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
  • St. Germain
  • Whipped lemon egg white
  • Served in a bucket, garnished with lemon wheel.

GRAND DEL MAR (Lobby Lounge) – Lemon Grass Collins

  • 1.5 ounces mint lemongrass infused gin
  • 0.5 ounces ginger liquor
  • 0.5 ounces fresh lime juice
  • 0.25 ounces simple syrup
  • 2 ounces club soda
  • Garnished with a slice of lime.

PACIFICA (Vodka Bar) - Oregon Black Raspberry Lemonade

  • Vodka
  • Fresh squeezed lemonade
  • Black raspberry puree
  • Splash of club soda
  • Served in a bucket, garnished with lemon twist and black raspberry.

BRIGANTINE - Cucumber Cooler

  • 1.25 ounces Hendrick’s gin
  • Splash fresh lime juice
  • Splash simple syrup
  • Muddled cucumber
  • 3 ounces club soda
  • Served in a pint glass, garnished with cucumber slice and lime wedge.

Beach Blanket Bingo

  • Grapefruit juice
  • Cranberry juice
  • Splash of club soda

RED TRACTON’S - Raspberry Lemon Drop

  • Stoli Raspberry Vodka
  • Splash of 7-Up
  • Splash of simple syrup
  • Splash of sweet and sour
  • Muddled lemons
  • Served in a martini glass with sugar rim.

MILLE FLEURS - Mojitotini

  • Mint-infused lemon rum
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Float of champagne
  • Served in a martini glass, rimmed with sugar and garnished with mint sprig.

DELICIAS - The Pink Pomatini

  • Ketel One Vodka
  • Pom juice
  • Splash of triple sec
  • Fresh squeezed lime
  • Rimmed with pink sugar, garnished with lime wedge.