It seems like the best winter drinks are almost always dark and stiff. We’re thinking of warming elixirs like the Sazerac and Buffalo Trace bourbon straight from the bottle. But once the snow melts and farmers’ markets start popping up across the city, we’re looking for something a little lighter and more playful. Luckily, many of our city’s best bartenders have embraced the season, and are offering vibrantly-hued cocktails that are as welcoming as the warmer weather.
That said, the search wasn’t quite as easy as we expected. As you may recollect from your college years, neon colored drinks are usually just glorified slushies with food coloring, which contain as much sugar as booze. We tried to locate drinks that got their color from fresh fruits or vegetables, and that were light enough that you could easily order another round. There were issues — naturally blue cocktails were particularly hard to find — but we rounded up 11 that we can totally get behind, and we also have the recipes so you can make them at home.
Check out the technicolored slideshow below, and when you’re done be sure to visit our Grub Street sister cities to see what bartenders are doing in Boston, Philly, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Oh, and let us know if we missed any. We’re not against doing some more research on this front.
505 N State St, nr. W Illinois St; 312-755-9704
In a shaker, combine 1 ½ oz. Nardini Bianca Grappa, ¾ oz. blueberry syrup (recipe follows), ½ oz. Benedictine, ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice, and 1 dash lemon bitters. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.
: Combine 5 cups of blueberries and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to low. Cook over low heat, crushing the blueberries with a potato masher, for 15 minutes. Strain mixture through a sieve into a cup, making sure to press as much liquid out of the solids as possible. Discard solids. Rinse out saucepan, and then add 2 cups sugar, 6 one-inch strips of lemon zest, and three cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and dissolve sugar. Cook until syrup registers 225° on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes. Add blueberry juice and lemon juice. Cook for one minute. Turn off heat. Let syrup cool and discard lemon zest.
2152 N Damen Ave, nr. W Shakespeare Ave; 773-862-5555
In a shaker, combine 1 ½ oz. Tequila Ocho Reposado, ½ oz. Aperol, and 2 oz. rhubarb hibiscus tea syrup (recipe follows). Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with 5 drops The Bitter Truth celery bitters
and cracked black pepper.
Rhubarb hibiscus tea syrup
: Dice 3 stalks of rhubarb. Combine rhubarb and 1 cup of simple syrup in a saucepan and cook, stirring often, until rhubarb is tender. Allow time to cool, and then blend mixture. Pour mixture into a clean saucepan, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and add 2 Rare Tea Cellar hibiscus tea bags
. Let steep for five minutes, and then discard bags. Let cool before using.
619 W Randolph St, btwn N Jefferson and N Desplaines St; 312-715-0708
In a shaker, combine 1 ½ oz. Campo de Encanto Pisco, ½ oz. Aperol, 1 oz. rhubarb puree (recipe follows), ½ oz. fresh lemon juice, and ½ oz. simple syrup. Shake with ice and strain into a coupe glass and float ¾ oz. sparkling wine on top.
Dice 3 stalks of rhubarb. Combine rhubarb and 1 cup of simple syrup in a saucepan and cook, stirring often, until rhubarb is tender. Allow time to cool, and then blend mixture.
1531 N Damen Ave, nr. W Pierce Ave; 773-235-4039
In a shaker, combine 1 oz. Lunazul Blanco tequila, 1 oz. Sombra Mezcal, ¾ oz. fresh lime juice, ¾ oz. simple syrup, 1 dash Angostura bitters, and 1 ½ fresh strawberries. Muddle and shake with ice. Strain into a collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer.
17 E Monroe St, nr. S Wabash Ave; 312-917-4933
In a shaker, combine 2 oz. blanco tequila, ½ oz. Grand Marnier, 1 oz. triple sec, and 3 oz. sweet and sour (recipe follows). Shake with ice and strain into a hurricane glass rimmed with smoked salt and filled with ice. Float ½ oz. Mezcal Vida on top, and garnish with sliced kumquat and key lime on skewers.
Sweet and sour:
In a small saucepan, combine 1 part water to 1 part sugar. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool. Stir in ⅔ part fresh lemon juice and ⅔ part fresh lime juice.
Terrace at Trump
401 N. Wabash Ave. 16th Floor, nr. W Kinzie; 312-588-8600
In a hallowed out pineapple half filled with ice, combine 1 oz. Belvedere vodka, 1 oz. Beefeater 24 gin, 1 oz. 10 Cane light rum, ½ oz. Cruzan dark rum, 1 oz. Amaretto Disaronno, and 1 oz. triple sec. Top with equal parts grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, and orange juice. Top with a drizzle of grenadine.
2537 N Kedzie Blvd, nr. N Linden Pl; 773-489-9554
In a shaker, combine 1 ½ oz. tarragon infused gin (recipe follows), ¾ oz. simple syrup, ½ oz. Courvoisier, ½ oz. lemon juice, and ¾ oz. half-and-half. Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with lemon wheel and 2 tarragon leaves. Grind black pepper on lemon wheel.
Tarragon infused gin:
Rinse a few sprigs of tarragon. Pick off the leaves, and discard the stems. Place in a clean glass jar and pour over 16 oz. Broker’s gin. Cover and stash in a cool, dark place for 24 hours. Strain out the tarragon.
108 W Kinzie St, nr. N Clark St; 312-329-2444
In a shaker, muddle three sage leaves and then add 1 ½ oz. Square One Botanical, ¾ oz. Green Chartreuse, ½ oz. simple syrup, 1 oz. cucumber puree (recipe follows), and 1 oz. lemon juice. Shake with ice and strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with more sage leaves and a cucumber wheel.
Peel 1 seedless English cucumber and roughly chop. Add to a blender and process until very smooth.
123 N Jefferson St, nr. W Washington Blvd; 312-441-1920
In a shaker, combine 2 oz. Northshore Sirene absinthe, 1 egg white, ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice, 1 oz. simple syrup, and 3 drops lavender bitters. Shake without ice for 10 seconds. Shake with ice and then strain into an old-fashioned glass. Float 6 drops of The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters
3819 N Broadway, nr. W Grace St; 773-868-9866
In a shaker, combine 2 oz. ramp infused vodka (recipe follows) and 2 oz. vodka. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a pickled ramp (recipe follows).
Ramp infused vodka:
Rinse 15 to 20 ramp leaves and then roll in a cigar fashion and place in a bottle of Tito’s Organic vodka. Cover and stash in a cool dark place for 4 to 5 days.
Rinse 24 ramp stems. For each one, remove root end and cut off upper leaf, leaving a 3-inch scallion-like stem. Combine 1 cup white vinegar, ½ cup sugar, ¾ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon crush red pepper, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon whole clove, and 1 teaspoon mustard seed in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Pour into a clean glass jar and let cool to room temperature. Add ramps, cover, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
3659 W. Armitage Ave., nr. N Lawndale Ave; 773-384-0707
In a shaker, combine 2 oz. New Holland Knickerbocker gin, ¾ oz. North Shore Aquavit, ¾ oz. blue curaçao, and two drops lemon bitters. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.