Slush Funs

Blended drinks, like this Basil Smash cocktail, are as much about viscosity as about how the flavors meld. THe BLender creates layers from the icy slush to foams to, sometimes, a creamy texture.
Blended drinks, like this Basil Smash cocktail, are as much about viscosity as about how the flavors meld. THe BLender creates layers from the icy slush to foams to, sometimes, a creamy texture. istock

Not your mama’s daiquiri! Today’s frozen cocktails have entered a new era of sophistication.

Like many youth reared in suburbia during the 1980s and ’90s, my fantasies of imbibing revolved around frozen concoctions. The daiquiris and piña coladas that whirred to life in blenders were the emblems of fantastical tropical vacations, handed to television’s prime time stars who were lounging on the azure beaches and boisterous cruise ships I also glamorized. How disappointed I was to discover, as soon as I was old enough to slurp these frosty concoctions, that for the most part these drinks were actually cloying messes. Or maybe when in the sunshine, perched poolside on a chaise longue, everything tasted just a little bit better, I supposed.

As cocktails entered a gratefully sophisticated realm in recent years, savvy bartenders took it upon themselves to update these thoughtlessly churned out sugar bombs. There is no reason, bartenders discovered, why the balance synonymous with well-wrought drinks and the whimsy inherent in easy-to-down frozen libations should be mutually exclusive concepts. It is possible for these breezy, summer-perfect blender favorites to also be of a quality caliber. Consider the frozen margarita, a mainstay of taco-fueled happy hour sessions. Instead of providing just a mere sugar rush, many of today’s versions are thoughtfully nuanced, like the Rosalita served at Chef Roberto Santibañez’s restaurant Fonda, a three-unit concept in New York City. The drink marries Maestro Dobel blanco tequila with hibiscus, Cointreau, and lime juice.

At the bar, a professional who constantly reinforces the notion that frozen drinks indeed have a prominent role amid today’s craft cocktail resurgence is Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who heads the beverage program at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon. His Frozen Negroni, for instance, incorporates simple syrup into the usual Campari-gin-sweet vermouth formula. The drink’s bitter profile is such a beautiful juxtaposition to the heaps of ice it calls for that variations of it are plentiful. At the laid-back Parson’s Chicken & Fish in Chicago, one of the most popular cocktails to sip alongside hush puppies and salt cod fritters is the Original Negroni Slushy, uniting local Letherbee gin with Luxardo Bitter, sweet vermouth, and citrus. Likewise, Parson’s Margarita Classic Slushy is made with Hacienda Vieja Tequila, Mandarine Napoléon, lime, and orange juice. One particularly distinctive margarita riff is the Jägerita. Finessed by Morgenthaler’s old colleague David Cordoba, it sidesteps the usual tequila for Jägermeister, the bitter German spirit that bartenders have also successfully elevated from its days as a go-to shooter. Throughout the country, the frozen cocktail now abounds, whether it’s a Tiki-style Painkiller dispensed from the slushy machine at New York’s the Happiest Hour, or the Skipper (Rhum Barbancourt 8-year-old, Skipper rum, Lazzaroni Amaretto, pineapple, and lemon), a precursor to kabocha-oxtail croquettes at Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco. 

Last summer, I spent one week in New York City bars getting brain freeze from drinks like the Uncle Willie’s Frozen Coffee, a bourbon-java hybrid at Skinny Dennis in Brooklyn; a fiery Loco en el Coco with mezcal, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, and coconut at JIMMY, on the roof of the sleek James New York hotel; and the Spanish-style Kalimotxo at the convivial restaurant Huertas, a simple mix of red wine and cola. On a sultry evening (or a weekend afternoon), these types of drinks are pure salvation. But just like ice cream, I’d even relish one deep in the doldrums of winter. Others agree, and that’s why many of these traditionally warm-weather cocktails are available year-round.


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