Memorial Day Cocktails To Get The Party Started

These cocktails are sure to be a big hit at any barbecue.

Summer is like one big open-air cocktail party that’s shifted into gear during my annual Memorial Day barbecue. 

Nobody loves martinis more than we do, but at a barbecue there’s no room for angular flutes with delicate stems. Martinis are just not meant for backyard barbecues where you may be called upon to “punt” the volleyball that’s aiming straight for the red, white and blue streamers hanging from the tree above your head.

Barbecues call for drinks served in sturdy glasses that can stand up to the pressure of a stars and stripes Frisbee as it comes hurling towards you at warp speed, or the neighbor’s un-neutered Labrador who decides that he wants to date your leg, or your cousin’s four-year-old, who decides to use your arm as an impromptu monkey bar and swing upside down from it.

Here are some of our all-time favorite cocktails to serve on Memorial Day, and throughout the entire summer barbecue season:

Gin and Tonic

Nothing screams summer louder than gin and tonic. Beefeater Gin is the gin of choice. Maybe it's the guy in the tights; maybe it's the Tower of London; or maybe it's because the joint association of England and gin is so reminiscent of Winston Churchill. We have, amid our extensive collection of cocktail recipes a quote attributed to Winston Churchill:

"The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen's lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the empire."

We can’t speak for the English, but a good gin and tonic has saved our lives on more than one occasion.

  • Fill one-third of the glass with Beefeater Gin
  • Add  ice (lots and lots of ice)
  • Add enough tonic to bring the liquid to the rim of the glass and stir
  • Squeeze the juice of half a lime into the glass and let it sit for two minutes. Add a big lime wedge to the drink. Stir, sip, enjoy. Repeat.

Whiskey Sour

When it comes to whiskey sours, we insist that you use good bourbon. Believe it or not, a friend who does not drink alcohol is a sales rep for an alcohol bottling company (isn’t that like a priest working in a brothel?). He introduced us to the best bourbon we’ve ever tasted—Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey--available at Hudson Wine Market. However, bottom shelf will do in a pinch. Treat yourself and make your own sour mix. There is a difference! 

  • In a shaker, pour an ounce of bourbon
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce sugar
  • 2 ounces of water
  • Add lots of ice and shake until shaker is ice cold
  • Pour into glass and add ice from shaker
  • Add slices of orange and a cherry

 Vodka Punch

This festive red, white and blue American holiday drink was concocted during a kitchen experiment when my kids decided to make Hawaiian Punch ice cubes. After seeing the beautiful red and blue cubes bobbing on the surface of their sippy cups, we couldn’t resist tossing a few into our vodka, ergo Vodka Punch. Admittedly, this drink starts out powerful, but when the ice begins to melt and meld with the vodka, the drink becomes colorful and sublime—like a Slurpee with a Bruce Lee kick.

  • Freeze red and blue flavored Hawaiian Punch in ice cube trays
  • Fill glass with vodka and add either red or blue ice cubes, but for aesthetic purposes don’t add both. It’ll look like your drinking ink.
  • Wait for the “punch” – it will come

Tropical Margarita

Warning: so refreshingly smooth it can be lethal. This is the accidental drink. Discovering we did not have enough of any one type of juice while having friends over for brunch, we mixed them all together; after all, necessity breads creativity. Turns out that when mixed together, pineapple juice, mango juice and orange juice is an absolutely delicious combination. So delicious, in fact, that we added tequila. The rest is cocktail history.   

  • Pour one ounce of tequila into cocktail shaker and add,
  • One ounce of pineapple juice
  • One ounce of mango juice
  • One ounce of orange juice
  • Splash of lime juice
  • Add ice, shake and pour


Did somebody say mojito? No holiday barbecue would be complete without a rum drink. After all, rum plays such a twisted part in our nation’s history it would almost be sacrilege not to serve it. And mojito is just such a fun word to say; especially after you’ve had a few. 

  • Put a handful of fresh mint leaves in the bottom of a glass and with a pestle or a spoon crush the leaves into the glass to release the juice of the mint
  • Pour one ounce of rum into the glass
  • Add one tablespoon of sugar
  • Add ice
  • Add club soda
  • Squeeze fresh lime juice into the glass and add the wedges of lime to the glass
  • Stir

So there you have it: a brief, but thorough compilation of our favorite cocktails to serve to your friends. 

But the most wonderful thing about this annual bash is not the festive decorations or the illegal fireworks our neighbor with the brother in law enforcement manages to confiscate and entertain us with. It’s the fact that if you serve your guests enough of these cocktails, no one will ever notice that you were too pie-eyed drunk to remember to put barbecue sauce on the spareribs or boil the corn.

Nose Wayne May 28, 2013 at 06:55 PM
A.S.,I mention "holiday" because ALL the stores use it as another excuse for sales..Memorial Day is just that, to remember those that give and have given service to this country, not how much I can save on buying a car.
A.S.Otero May 28, 2013 at 07:11 PM
Nose, my comment was in no way meant towards you. I agree with you 100% it's all commercialized and businesses trying to make a buck, and not one thought given to the true meaning. Maybe if service to this Nation was a requirement instead of a choice so many of us have freely made, then more people would understand why this article is so callous.
Concerned May 28, 2013 at 08:27 PM
How about her comments about the neighbor's brother in law being in law enforcement 'ENTERTAINING' her with the confiscated fireworks --I said it before and I will say it again ---THIS ARTICLE IS A DISGRACE...
Nose Wayne May 29, 2013 at 01:07 AM
NOSE problem A.S, maybe we should go back to making it a requirement and not a choice ? Concerned, can't agree with you more. Think a law enforcement officer is going to arrest one of there own ? NOSE that will never happen.And a "disgrace" is putting it nicely without getting deleted on here.
A.S.Otero May 29, 2013 at 02:08 PM
On a final note, maybe instead of looking at this as a day to get liquored up and party in your backyard or go on a shopping spree, you could think of all those directly affected by their selfless sacrifices: https://support.woundedwarriorproject.org/Default.aspx?tsid=167&campaignSource=CDRO&source=B100106&gclid=CPLtjZ--u7cCFcad4Aodu1IAow https://support.fallenpatriots.org/Default.aspx?tsid=907


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