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One of my favorite things about summer is that most drinking takes place outdoors, often at home (or someone else’s place, or a weekend rental house, or—you get it). Instead of cramming into a dark bar for overpriced drinks and mediocre music, summer happy hours are spent watching the sun set on a deck, floating in a pool or gathered around a grill. This means I end up making a lot of easy summer cocktails in the warmer seasons—often in big batches for big groups of people. What I’ve learned with simple cocktail recipes is that there’s one secret to delicious and easy summer cocktails: freshly squeezed lime juice.
When I head to the grocery store to stock up for a backyard barbecue, I always load up on dozens of fresh limes. At first, my friends raise their eyebrows, but in no time, we’re all on the same page. Because—and trust me on this one—freshly squeezed lime juice makes any drink taste amazing. I usually juice all my limes at once, using a handheld lemon juicer. (I opt for the lemon juicer over the lime juicer, because it’s slightly bigger—meaning I never come across a lime that doesn’t fit.) I halve and juice the limes, then store the juice in a sealed bottle that I keep in the fridge. Then, when it comes time to break out the cocktails, I mix them with my hand-squeezed lime juice, and voila—undeniably delicious drinks. (For what it’s worth, the lime juice only lasts two or three days in the fridge, but I’ve never failed to use it all up in that amount of time.)
Below are 14 of the best easy summer cocktails you can make with fresh lime juice—from classic margaritas to next-level mojitos. Give these a shot at your next backyard party (with homemade lime juice) and I pretty much guarantee everyone will be in awe of your killer cocktail-mixing skills.
1. Classic Margarita
Fresh lime juice is the most important part of a tangy, refreshing margarita. But there’s something else you should know: Using one part tequila, one part triple sec (sweet orange liqueur), and one part lime juice means you really don’t need to add any simple syrup or agave nectar. The triple sec will sweeten your drink enough without being cloying, and the sourness of the lime will cut into the alcohol and keep it from tasting too strong.
2. Blueberry Mojito
A classic mojito is a great way to put fresh lime juice to use. But adding fresh blueberries makes things slightly sweeter—and gives your drink a cute purple tint.
The caipirinha is a classic Brazilian drink, which means you’ll need to go out and buy and bottle of cachaca, a Brazilian sugar cane rum. It’ll be totally worth it, though, because you’ll want to drink these on the porch all summer.
4. Raspberry Lime Basil Gin Cocktail
Raspberries are in season, so why not add them to your cocktails? This muddled cocktail makes a great pre-dinner drink and is guaranteed to impress your guests. You could also sub fresh mint for the basil, if you’re into that.
5. Cucumber-Mint Sparkler
Sparkling wine, vodka, lime, sugar, and cucumber make for a not-too-sweet drink that’s great for a summer crowd.
6. Hemingway Daiquiri
The word daiquiri likely brings a sweet, fruity, rum-soaked slushie to mind, but this classic cocktail is anything but that. Named for Ernest Hemingway and known to be his drink of choice during long stints in Cuba, it’s citrusy but strong. You’ll need fresh lime and grapefruit juice, plus light rum and maraschino liqueur, which is sweet and adds a hint of cherry flavor.
7. Gin Rickey
Want something just a little more flavorful than vodka soda? Sub gin instead, and you’ll get earthy, sometimes floral (depending on the brand) notes that instantly make the drink more interesting. Add a couple tablespoons of lime juice for even more flavor.
Sure, the cosmopolitan made a name for itself as Carrie Bradshaw’s drink of choice. Really, though, it’s just as well suited to evening drinks on the beach as it is to NYC happy hours.
9. Cuba Libre
A rum and Coke by another name (plus lime juice and some fresh lime wedges) is a Cuba libre. It’s sweet, simple, and worth adding to your summer day-drinking rotation.
10. Mai Tai
Did you know that the key ingredient in a mai tai is something called orgeat syrup, made with almonds and rose? I didn’t until last summer, when I watched a friend make the stuff from scratch. If you want a pitcher of mai tais but don’t feel like making your own orgeat syrup or grenadine, you can buy both at the grocery store with all the other mixers.
11. Bloody Mary
There are many things to love about a Bloody Mary: They’re one of the rare savory cocktails out there, they often come with edible garnishes, and they’re OK to drink before noon. This recipe has all the elements of the perfect Bloody Mary, from horseradish to celery salt. Pro tip: Double the lime juice and omit the lemon juice to cut down on ingredient prep without noticeably altering the drink.
12. Kentucky Mule
Ginger is one of my favorite flavors, so I love good-quality ginger ale or ginger beer, especially mixed with booze. I’ve never been a huge fan of vodka, though, so this bourbon mule is my ginger drink of choice.
13. Watermelon Agua Fresca
Did someone say mocktail? There’s no booze in this fresh watermelon drink, but it’s perfect to serve at an all-ages barbecue, since kids will love it straight-up—and adults can spike it with vodka, rum or gin.
14. Bloody Maria
An easy way to riff on the classic Bloody Mary is by switching up the booze, and tequila is (obviously) the most summer-appropriate choice.
Originally published in July 2018. Updated May 2019.