In the thick of summer, the frozen cocktail gets its moment in the sun. And deservedly so: Few things provide relief from the intense heat like a slushy, boozy drink cold enough to give an old-fashioned brain freeze. What could be more fun?
Over the last decade, the category seems to have entirely shaken off its stigma of being absurdly sweet and artificial-tasting concoctions, thanks to a renewed interest among today’s mixologists whose versions are produced with the same creativity and precision as their unblended counterparts. Now, they are featured on the menus of some of the country’s most highly regarded cocktail bars.
To help identify the best frozen drinks, we asked 15 bartenders to recommend their favorite libations in blended form. From a minty twist on the traditional Piña Colada to a guava-driven Daiquiri, here are the blended adult treats keeping these experts cool and refreshed in the heat.
The Best Frozen Cocktails Recommended by Bartenders:
- Donna’s Brancolada
- Frozen Avocado Margarita
- The Saturn
- Banana Stand
- Miami Vice
- Kelbo’s Guava Daiquiri
- Koji Piña Colada
- Frozen Irish Coffee
- Frozen Margarita
- Rotating Frozen Drink at Dolores
Keep reading for details about all of the recommended bottles!
“One of my ultimate favorite drinks is the Piña Colada, so when I tried the famous frozen Brancolada created by Jeremy Oertel at Donna’s, I was blown away! Not only did this drink always have the perfect slushy consistency, its name says it all. It has the delicious tropical flavors of coconut and pineapple that make a Piña Colada. Made with Appleton Estate VX Reserve that adds complexity and spice notes, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a minty bitter finish from the Brancamenta, a sweet version of Fernet-Branca with mint. This is a frozen drink that you could enjoy all year around. Sadly, Donna’s is no longer open due to the pandemic, but you can find the recipe online and Donna is doing a summer pop-up in Greenport, Long Island. Long live the Brancolada, long live Donna!” —Natasha Bermúdez, Head Bartender, Llama San, New York
“The Brancolada, at the recently closed Donna in Brooklyn, by Jeremy Oertel, has to be one of my favorite frozen drinks of all time. Even though I haven’t had this drink in a number of years, I still remember it well. One full ounce of Brancamenta can easily overpower any drink but this inventive Piña Colada riff is complex, bitter, and just downright delicious. Donna is one of the best bars. Hopefully it reopens in a new location soon.” —Paul McGee, Owner, Lost Lake, Chicago
“Definitely Donna’s Brancacolada. Brancamenta, Jamaican rum, lime, orange, and coconut, all frozen into that delicious brain-freeze texture. It changed me. You couldn’t stop at one.” —Sam Ross, Co-owner, Attaboy, New York
“My favorite frozen drink, maybe of all time, is the Frozen Avocado Margarita at Curra’s Grill. It’s a classic frozen Margarita but the addition of avocado brings a creamy texture similar to that of a fruit smoothie. (Avocado is a fruit, after all!) The gorgeous bright green hue is akin to a green juice, so it’s sort of healthy, wink wink. The salted rim (ask for a chili salt rim if you like some spice!) along with the star of the show, avocado, brings savory qualities and highlights the vegetal and grassy notes of blanco tequila. Curra’s was one of the first restaurants I ate at when I moved to Austin in 2008, so I have many fond memories of drinking these on the patio. Curra’s will be opening their second location in Hyde Park soon, so you’ll most likely see me there, green drink in hand.” —Erin Ashford, Beverage Director, Olamaie and Little Ola’s Biscuits, Austin, Texas
“The Saturn, from Smuggler’s Cove. This is a modern tiki classic you can order in most tiki bars, but Smuggler’s was the first place I tried it. For me, it’s the perfect balance of flavors. London dry gin is the base spirit, combined with passion fruit, fresh lemon, orgeat, and falernum. Then, blended and served in a coupe with lemon peels cut into Saturn’s rings. This cocktail takes your palate on a journey. Herbaceous gin, with tart and bright citrus from the passion fruit and lemon, then the orgeat and falernum combo give you a nutty and baking-spice finish. Blending the Saturn also gives you an incredible mouthfeel and texture. It’s tart, tropical, nutty, spiced, and frozen. Perfect for a warm day, or after a long shift.” —Sam Miller, Bartender, Pagon Idol, San Francisco
“My favorite frozen cocktail, to make and to drink, is the 1950s tropical classic the Saturn. The gin and citrus work perfectly for a cooling [flavor] in the summer heat, paired with the subtle warmth of orgeat and falernum and the tropical notes of passion fruit. It reminds me of a boozy popsicle. I serve mine with a split of passion fruit and blue Curaçao to give a fun pop of color, and garnish it with edible glitter for the extra space vibe.” —Selma Slabiak, Proprietor and Bartender, Selma’s Bar, Ridgewood, N.Y.
“Selma Slabiak is doing some super-fun stuff at Selma’s Bar, located inside of Queens brewery Evil Twin. My favorite slushy is the Banana Stand, a fun mix of rums, including Plantation Pineapple, combined with banana liqueur, l’orgeat, and pineapple and lime juices. It’s pure delight. Refreshing and cheerful, it’s a real mood lifter. Bonus points for serving this in a flight with her three other slushies!” —Natasha David, Co-owner, You & Me Cocktails, Red Hook, N.Y.
“The Miami Vice. It’s one part Piña Colada, one Strawberry Daiquiri. If fresh ingredients are used, it’s wonderful. Delicious, and perfect for any time.” —Terance Robson, Owner, Here Nor There and Eden Cocktail Room, Austin, Texas
“The Miami Vice. I mean, what’s not to love about it? A combination of two of the best tropical drinks, frozen, and then swirled. No brainer! It’s just so damn deliciously fruity and refreshing. Every time I have one, I’m instantly transported to a beach without a care in the world. I think about pounding a Miami Vice (or two) just about every time I’m weeded on a busy Friday night bar shift.” —Brad Langdon, Bar Director, Albi and Yellow, Washington, D.C.
“During my 16-plus years in Los Angeles, the talk of classic tiki drinks was always quite prominent as we were in the birthplace of tiki. When it came time to talk crushed ice in blended cocktails for a seminar in Las Vegas, I went back to the bartender staple Sippin’ Safari for some inspiration and kept doubling back to Kelbo’s Guava Daiquiri. Kelbo’s was a Hawaiian BBQ restaurant circa 1950s on Fairfax Avenue. Imagine having a blended concoction of lime juice, guava nectar, banana liqueur, and either vodka or gin with your Hawaiian BBQ! I was instantly sold. I usually opt for a pot still London dry gin like Citadelle that can enhance and play with all the tropical flavors and add another dimension of flavor. Whether with vodka or gin, though, it’ll be a tropical party where rum lets their vodka and gin friends be the star for a day.” —Jen Len, Beverage Director, MW Restaurant, Honolulu
“The best I’ve had in recent memory was a Koji Piña Colada by Austin Hennelly of Majordomo. With Appleton Estate Rum, Aperol, coconut cream, makgeolli, acid-adjusted pineapple juice, and koji, it’s got all of the tropical allure of a Piña Colada with big slap in the face of umami from the koji and makgeolli. The first time I tasted it was while working a pop-up where Austin was making the drinks. I spent the majority of my night lurking around the frozen machine, sneaking quality-control pours for myself. It’s one of those combinations of flavors so satisfying, you can’t help but come back for more.” —Mike Capoferri, Bartender, Thunderbolt, Los Angeles
“For me, the perfect, most versatile, frozen drink is the Irish Coffee. The delicious combination of coffee, cream, and Irish whiskey (or whatever booze one decides to throw in there) is the perfect pick-me-up the morning after a hard night out and the best way to stay alive during a hot, melting summer afternoon. Everyone is familiar with the frozen Irish Coffee at the Erin Rose in New Orleans, but anywhere I see one I have to give it a try. The balance of creamy texture, dessert motifs, roaring caffeine, and knock-you-over booze makes the frozen Irish coffee my ultimate frozen cocktail.” —Thomas Eslinger, Bartender, Death & Co., Los Angeles
“The Margarita has to be my favorite, hands down. It was the first frozen alcoholic drink I ever had, so I’ve had a love for it since I can remember. Then, after learning its history and all the different variations that exist, I’ve fallen even more in love with it. It’s a classic that will never go out of style, and will stay at the top of my list of favorites without hesitation.” —Steve Tinnon, Bartender, The Green Lantern, San Antonio, Texas
“The Caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil, and for good reason. Made with cachaça rum (pure sugar cane), muddled limes, and sugar, it’s simple and delicious. The simplicity of the ingredients allows each one to shine in a beautiful tropical blend. The first sip reminds you of the rum, and the next 20 remind you of a vacation.” —Katrïn Hayward Miller, Lead Bartender, Sonder & Dram, Lewiston, Me.
“Right now, my favorite frozen drink is whatever seasonal frozen cocktail is on at Dolores, located here in Providence. Horus Alvarez and the team always focus on showcasing whatever is perfect for the weather and what freshest ingredients are available at the time. The restaurant has done amazing frozen piña coladas, prickly pear Palomas, Daiquiris with Oaxacan rum, and more in the past. But the current offering has blanco tequila, cocchi americano, watermelon, honey, and fresh citrus, always! It’s always an ethereal moment when enjoying a number of these with its tacos and incredible moles to share with a large group of friends.” —Parker Luthman, Head Bartender, The Eddy, Providence, R.I.