There is perhaps no produce that screams summer quite like watermelon. And at the height of the season, when the melons are large and heavy and ready to be split open to reveal their neon pink interiors, cocktails abound. A watermelon libation can be as simple and homespun as chunks of melon soaked in gin or tequila, but if you’re looking to go a little further, consider these options from 18 pros across the country.
The Best Watermelon Drinks, According to Bartenders
- Watermelon Sugar
- Fermented Watermelon soda
- Rome With a View with fresh watermelon juice
- Summer Watermelon Sangria
- Watermelon Bidnight Snack
- Heirloom Basil Watermelon Melonade
- Watermelon Hibiscus Cooler
- Watermelon Mojito
- Born Sinner
- Watermelon Raspado
- Sandia Slammer
- Watermelon Kakigori
- Watermelon Margarita
- Spicy Watermelon Margarita
- The Front Porch
- Salted Watermelon Sour
- Watermelon and Basil Smash
- Watermelon Rind Martini
“At Sidebar, we have a popular cocktail called Watermelon Sugar that is an absolute fan favorite in the summertime. The ingredients include dragon fruit vodka, fresh lime juice, watermelon mint syrup, tropical Red Bull, and fresh watermelon chunks, and it’s topped with fresh mint and a gold sugar rim. It can also be made as a mocktail with watermelon purée, lemon-lime soda, soda water, mint and a Tajín rim!” —Julio Martinez, bar manager, Sidebar, San Diego
“I’m not sure what the best watermelon drink is, but we make a fermented watermelon soda with agave, lime, and a bit of salt at the Farm and Fisherman and our entire staff looks forward to it returning every summer. Rather than using a standard red watermelon, we use the yellow New Orchid variety we source from a local New Jersey farm called D&V Organics. It’s on our non-alcoholic menu, but ask any one at the restaurant and they’ll tell you it’s perfect spiked with mezcal or tequila.” —Danny Childs, beverage director, Farm & Fisherman, Cherry Hill, N.J.
“My favorite watermelon cocktail for summer is a modified Rome With a View with fresh watermelon juice. Michael McIlroy’s original cocktail is a perfect balance of sweet, dry, and acidic flavors in a lower ABV setting. The added watermelon creates longevity as well as a summery backbone to an already refreshing cocktail.” —Emraan Jawaid, director of beverage, VEA Newport Beach, Newport Beach, Calif.
“Our Summer Watermelon Sangria is a perennial favorite at busy Commander’s Palace lunches. People just can’t get enough of this refreshing thirst-quencher during the hot summer months. It’s also a great way to use up fruit and berries that you have around the kitchen left over from summer cookouts and any wine you have left over from dinner last night.” —Dan Davis, wine director, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
“Brewery Saint X’s Watermelon Midnight Snack is a riff on a Midnight Stinger, popularized by Sam Ross at Milk & Honey in New York City. Our summerized version adds fresh watermelon, which works really well with the bracing and minty bitterness of the Fernet that’s dialed back a little to let the fruit shine. The second tweak, swapping out the bourbon for rye, builds on that herbaceousness.” —Nick Farrell, spirits director, Brewery Saint X, New Orleans
“One of our most popular summer drinks is our refreshing heirloom basil watermelon melonade. By using fresh watermelon juice, we are able to capture the essence of summer. Infusing the sweet taste of fresh watermelon with fresh basil and melon, we enhance the drink’s flavor profile and create a unique palatial experience unlike any other.” —John Schneekloth, director of food & beverage, Holston House, Nashville
“Watermelon is a surefire way to cool down on a sweltering hot day. At Miller & Lux, we make a seasonal watermelon cocktail called the Watermelon Hibiscus Cooler that is refreshing, citrusy, tart, and perfectly sweet. Using reposado tequila and orange liqueur, we add a homemade watermelon hibiscus shrub and fresh watermelon juice. Garnished with a compressed watermelon slice and a big basil leaf, it’s summer in a glass.” —Shiva Thapa, head bartender, Miller & Lux, San Francisco
“Working with watermelon can be difficult in cocktails; as the name suggests, it’s mainly water. It can get lost in a drink very easily. In my opinion, it is best to have the actual watermelon in the drink in some fashion, as it gives the cocktail more flavor and a little more viscosity. My favorite watermelon cocktail is a watermelon Mojito. Muddled cubes of watermelon with mint pair together well, and the soda water on top brings the cocktail together.” —Alex Cuper, beverage director, El Che Steakhouse & Bar, Chicago
“Born Sinner is a unique cocktail that best represents how we at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons feel summertime should taste. The base of the drink is blanco tequila with watermelon syrup, Don Ciccio ambrosia aperitif, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, and lime juice. The drink is juicy on the palate, which inspired the name Born Sinner from a lyric of Biggie Smalls’ song “Juicy.” Added complexity from Don Ciccio Ambrosia and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao creates an interesting presence on the palate balanced by nice acidity added from lime juice. The final product is a refreshing summer crusher that can be enjoyed most on the hottest of days.” —Adriana Devita, bar manager, Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, Philadelphia
“When I think about summertime, I think about biting into a slice of ice-cold watermelon. I wanted to capture that memory in the form of a cocktail. At Gracias Madre, we make traditional Mexican shaved ices, known as raspados. In our watermelon raspado, we use a beautiful Cenizo mezcal from La Tierra de Acre, along with pink peppercorn, mint, and lemon served with a pineapple popsicle garnish.” —Sean Stewart, beverage director, Gracias Madre West Hollywood, Los Angeles
“As a kid in Spain, I remember loving watermelon — or sandia as it’s called in Spain — during the summer. We’d always get a big slice to eat every day after lunch. When I got older, the texture and sweetness turned me off. It wasn’t until I was told to add some salt to the watermelon that I began to enjoy it again. At Boelo, we have a cocktail called the Sandia Slammer which combines the aromatics of Thai lime leaves with the freshness of watermelon.” —Guillermo Bravo, beverage director, Boleo, Chicago
“For me, watermelon conjures up memories of long summer days basking in the sun, and I used to love grabbing a watermelon snow cone to cool off. We actually have a cocktail that is part watermelon snow cone, [but] an adult version. We use our Japanese Swan Kakigori Shaved Ice Machine to shave frozen watermelon juice down into fluffy watermelon snow, then add Nikka Vodka and matcha. It’s all the joy of a summer treat without having to beg your parents for money just to chase the ice cream man down the block.” —Reed Windle, lead bartender, n/soto, Los Angeles
“Watermelon is so refreshing that it’s perfect to pair with one of the most popular summer drinks of all time, the Margarita. Watermelon juice is so light you would think it would be overpowered by the tequila, but it is actually a perfect [complement]. I like to take it one step further by adding jalapeños or a bitter element like Aperol.” —Scott Wenger, Hula Bay, Tampa, Fla.
“The flavors of a Spicy Watermelon Margarita take me back to summers in my childhood. My mom would cut up a watermelon so we can have something refreshing in the hot summer heat. We also added some spice, like sprinkling tajín, for that extra flavor. I like to have that incorporated into my Spicy Watermelon Margarita at Mainzer as well, so I add spice using jalapeño. As much as I love the sweetness from the fresh watermelon juice, I craft the drink to have a balance with spice, and the jalapeños do just that. I always hope the flavors of this drink take guests back in time, and give them that nostalgia, too.” —Arieana Garza, bartender, Mainzer, Merced, Calif.
“The Front Porch is our tribute to some of our favorite summer flavors. The combination of fresh watermelon juice, peach, lemon, gin, and Singani 63 makes for an aromatic summer crusher. The inspiration for the drink came from the fruity ‘tinis of the mid-’90s, but updated using the highest quality, fresh ingredients — perfect for drinking on a hot day!” —Adam Montgomerie, bar manager, Hawksmoor, New York City
“A salted watermelon sour: Catan Pisco, fresh watermelon juice, mint syrup, lemon juice, salt, and egg whites! Tasted like a delicious Watermelon Jolly Rancher.” —Phil Miley beverage creator and general manager, 1308, Chicago
“For a crisp and refreshing watermelon summer cocktail, you can’t beat a watermelon and basil smash. Back in 2017, I made a Bacardi Legacy cocktail featuring Bacardi Superior, watermelon juice, lime, basil, and a black pepper cordial. I literally was eating a watermelon salad and figured I could rearrange the ingredients into a cocktail. I go back to the build every summer.” —Will Patton, bar director, Hive Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
“Watermelon can play in a cocktail program in any number of ways, from the cooling and abundant juice to toasted seeds to —my personal favorite — pickled watermelon rind. It’s pretty easy to use the entirety of the fruit, nose to tail, so to speak. I’ve made a few different pickle styles with the rind, from sweet to spicy, and my preference is definitely a tangy version with a healthy kick of spice. This particular incarnation works well in a gin Martini or as a garnish for a seasonal Margarita. And best of all, once pickled, the rinds last pretty much forever, so you can enjoy elements of watermelon long past the dog days of summer.” —Megan Coyle, head bartender, Lutéce, Washington, D.C.