The Boca Linda. Credit: Kevin Carlow

I first learned to make drinks in a sports bar/nightclub in cowboy country near the Mogollon Rim of Arizona. This was the kind of place where you swept up lost teeth, broken glass and little plastic bags at the end of the night.

I was informed back then that men drank bottled beer, tequila and Jack-and-Cokes. For the ladies, we made “fruity drinks”—some combination of whatever cheap neon liquor was closest to the well; an infused vodka or rum; and grenadine or Chambord. There was no actual fruit anywhere near the process.

My next bartending venture was in Boston, a place similarly known for stereotypical macho drinking traditions—so is it any wonder I never really embraced adding fresh fruits and vegetables to my cocktails?

Perhaps I should clarify … I do insist on fresh juices in my libations. I love making syrups from herbs, berries and stone fruits. What I’ve been avoiding over the years are drinks that use pureés, smashed-up fruit and muddled herbs; it’s just not my bag. However, in order for this column to be as comprehensive as possible, it’s high time I addressed some of the better fruits and vegetables to use in cocktails, and the right ways to use them—as the mercury rises here in the desert, and we chase those precious electrolytes!

I’ll start this list off with a vegetable: the humble cucumber. Is there anything more refreshing in a cocktail? The cucumber has been a fixture of my bar programs for years, and I almost always have a couple in the cooler. I have said for years that the best original cocktail in the desert was probably the “Game Changer” at Truss and Twine in Palm Springs—a mix of gin, lime, cucumber, onion brine and salt, invented by my buddy and former bar manager Dave Castillo. Sure, it’s a gimlet at heart, but the cucumber, onion brine and salt make it a summertime delight for desert dipsomaniacs like yours truly. It’s on my local Mount Rushmore, for sure.

You can make something similar at home with a simple cucumber gimlet—which is as close as I can get to giving you the recipe!

  • 2 ounces of gin (London Dry or something botanical like Hendricks)
  • 1 ounce of lime juice
  • 1/2 to 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, to your taste
  • Several thin slices of cucumber, added to tin
  • Shake with ice; double strain into a coupe; garnish with a cucumber slice

The nice thing with this drink is it’s so flexible. Feel free to add some basil, even just as a garnish. If you have some mint handy, add that, and you have an “Eastside,” which is great tall with soda water and copious amounts of mint for a garnish. Just try and find something more refreshing than that!

You can also use cucumber to make a negroni variation called the “Chin Up.” Dave actually turned me on to this one, too. Try as I might, I cannot find the creator or history of this drink; the almighty Google has failed me. Anyway, this drink calls for Cynar, an artichoke-based bitter from Sicily, and it’s a great way to switch up your Negroni habit.

  • 2 ounces of gin (same as for the cucumber gimlet)
  • 1/2 ounce of Cynar (I like the 80 proof … duh)
  • 1/2 ounce of sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica or Punt é Mes)
  • Pinch of kosher or sea salt
  • Two slices of cucumber
  • Muddle the cucumber; add the rest of the ingredients, and stir. Strain into a coupe, and garnish with a cucumber slice.

Let’s stick with the cucumber, but add a strawberry or two! This is a drink called the “Princess Cup” that I learned from my friend and former co-worker Kevin Zieber. Here is the recipe straight from him.

  • 1 strawberry
  • 2 slices of cucumber
  • Muddle into a tin, and add:
  • 2 ounces of white rum
  • 1 ounce of lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce of simple syrup
  • Shake; serve over ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with half a strawberry and a slice of cucumber.

Sticking with berries, my favorite ones for cocktails would have to be raspberries. You have options; you can certainly just muddle them straight into the tin, or do what I do—muddle a pint of them into a liter of simple syrup, and strain for a beautiful cordial. Something like this was used in many nearly-forgotten cocktails. A classic summer drink that’s overdue for attention is the “Floradora.” Supposedly named after the “Florodora Girls” (sic), it’s more than 100 years old and easy to make. The original calls for framboise liqueur; I like to freshen it with raspberry cordial.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of gin (London Dry or Old Tom)
  • 3/4 ounce of lime juice
  • 1 ounce of raspberry cordial
  • Build over ice in a tall glass. Top with ginger ale; garnish with raspberries and a lime wheel.

I’ve covered it before, but it bears repeating: The Clover Club is a classic, and my favorite sour variation.

  • 2 ounces of gin (Plymouth or London Dry)
  • 3/4 ounce of lemon juice
  • 1 ounce of raspberry cordial
  • 1 egg white
  • Dry shake (no ice) for 10 seconds; add ice, and shake for 30 seconds. Double strain into a coupe; spear a raspberry for garnish.

One of the easiest fruits you can use for refreshing summer cocktails is the delicious and hydrating watermelon. This is actually one of the easiest juices to make, and I wonder why more bar programs don’t incorporate it. Buy the fattest watermelon you can carry; cut it into segments; remove the rind. Put it into the blender; strain it; and you have juice!

If you just want to get your party tipsy quickly, vodka and a squeeze of lime will do. I like to add a nice, peppery mezcal instead of vodka or gin to counter the sweetness of the watermelon. If you make this ahead of time, the juice will separate. A little trick is to pour off the clear juice and discard the pulp to make clear drinks that are more refreshing and interesting. Rather than adding citrus and sugar to watermelon, I prefer to add fresh herbs—specifically, basil and mint. Try it for your next punch when entertaining, with some sparkling wine.

I am even getting into the muddling game with an original for a new project, Bar Chingona, which I have been helping get running over the last few weeks. I call it the “Boca Linda.” (Don’t ask.)

  • 2 ounces of mezcal
  • 1 ounce of lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce apricot liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce of simple syrup
  • Muddle a slice of serrano chile and four blackberries in your tin; add the ingredients. Shake with ice; strain into a coupe; garnish with a blackberry.

Of course, there are so many drinks with fruits and vegetables as ingredients or garnishes, from the Bloody Mary to the Pimm’s Cup, the Sherry Cobbler to the Whiskey Smash. The world is your oyster—but for now, I’d better get back behind the bar and under the air conditioning. Stay cool, everyone.

Kevin Carlow can be reached at

Kevin Carlow has been a bartender and writer for most of his adult life. Having worked in nearly every position in the service industry at some point, he is currently a cocktail consultant and the co-owner...