Hot summer days call for cool cocktails. Sure, you could always reach for a cold beer, tantalizing white wine or scintillating Rosé. But on a warm summer afternoon nothing satisfies the thirst like a cool refreshing cocktail whether you’re poolside, in a hammock or on your deck engrossed in a Hemingway classic.

The Alchemists’ Garden summer cocktails: Zombie, Nature’s Philosophy, Zodiac Cancer. Photos by Mira Honeycutt

The romance begins with the tinkling of ice cubes. This carries through the seduction of sweet infusions and botanicals, lingers on with citrusy garnishes and fresh herbs and everything is, of course, heightened by a kick of alcohol.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

But then let’s not forget the theatrics. The mixologist/bartender is the star and the bar counter the stage. You are the audience ready to be mesmerized by their performance: the flick of a flame, the groove of the cocktail shaker, the tapping of a rosemary sprig on the wrist and the lyrical stream of the beverage poured into a glass.

“At the end of the day, people want to see the show,” said Andrew Brune mixologist at The Alchemists’ Garden. “To see the ‘wow’ factor,” agreed Lillian Silveira, bartender at Cello Ristorante. “Something people would come back for to take a photo.”

To check out such theatrics and see what summer is inspiring, I reached out to some Paso’s expert mixologists/bartenders. Turns out, summer’s seasonal fruits, flowers and vegetables are the focus, with stone fruits and citrus, cucumbers and hot chilies guiding the creations.

Indeed restaurant bar counters are beginning to look like an extension of the kitchen, laden with bowls of fresh produce. Such healthy (and guilt-free) cocktails could well provide half of your daily requirement of fruits and vegetables! 

Austin Sanderson of Fish Gaucho

Fish Gaucho, Austin Sanderson

With more than 230 styles of Tequila and 40-plus types of Mezcal, this craft cocktail and Tequila bar caters to the South of the Border fan. On a busy weekend Sanderson and his team of three can whip up over 300 drinks. The goal, he said, is to take no more than 30 seconds to make the popular Casa Azul Margarita and no more than three minutes for the drink to arrive at the diner’s table.

Sanderson’s inspirations come from cookbooks as guidance and then he adds a creative twist. “For me it’s flavor first,” he declared, adding that all infusions, syrups and purees are made in house. 

Sanderson’s creations are as engaging as the names themselves. He whipped up a couple of Mezcal cocktails: Flight of the Concords, blended with a puree of Kiwi and served in an Absynthe-sprayed glass, topped with smoky rosemary twig and the colorful Playa del Amore, a tantalizing puree of pineapple, mango and passion fruit laced with Hibiscus syrup. The drink was like a get-away to a tropical beach.

There were a couple of drinks that might be considered an acquired taste. The spicy hot Mach One blends Tequila and Mezcal spiked with serrano chilies, balanced with cool cucumbers and the glass rimmed with chorizo salt. Can’t Tell Me Nothing blends Rye whiskey with macerated cherries, milk punch and the cocktail is served in a glass rinsed with fish sauce! “This is a recent experimental run,” Sanderson confided.

Tony Bennett, Quin Cody, Andrew Brune, Alexandra Pellot
Photo courtesy of The Alchemists’ Garden

The Alchemists’ Garden, Tony Bennett & Andrew Brune 

When The Alchemists’ Garden opened early 2020, it raised the bar on the local cocktail scene. Although it was a difficult time to open a restaurant/bar at the onset of lockdown, it gave the owners time to iron out the kinks, noted partners Brune and Bennett. The cocktail-focused restaurant exudes a vibe that stretches from innovative botanical infusions to globally inspired food crafted by chef Danelle Jarzynski.

“Our program is pretty intense,” commented Brune. All employees go through a mandatory bar training. “It’s a team effort — every single employee can jump behind the counter and make a drink.”

All the cordials and infusions are made in-house including the Hibiscus-infused vodka that makes up The Garden Spear libation, fragrant with elderflower cordial and fresh rosemary. ” The bar works like a kitchen,” said Brune, explaining that mornings begin with the “prep bartender” who prepares all the concoctions daily for the evening’s team of bartenders.

The Zodiac theme features creative drinks for each sign and this month the Cancer cocktail of vodka with spiced blueberry and nitrogen muddled mint comes in a hermit crab shell. Among the summer lineup there’s Nature’s Philosophy, a twist on Mojito with Gustoso Aguardiente freshened with basil, cucumber cordial and gin syrup; and the tall Zombie, a Tiki style cocktail made with 16 year old Zaya rum, citrus juices, turbo and gran gala.  

*Featured image of Tony Bennett and Andrew Brune 

Lillian Silveira of Cello Ristorante

Cello Ristorante at Allegretto Resort, Lillian Silveira 

You can’t get a healthier drink than Lillian Silveira’s signature cocktail, the Green Goddess, which is blended with half an avocado. “It’s like a green smoothie,” she said of her creation that took two weeks to perfect. Well, she nailed it. The delicious creamy and earthy blend of Bacardi Rum and aloe liqueur came garnished with a spiral of cucumber slice floating in the tall glass. It was a meal. 

Silveira’s summer spectrum ranges from the juicy Mello Cello, a Hangar Buddha Hand vodka blended with limoncello and passion fruit, garnished with edible flowers; the fruity vodka-based Cherry Bomb, a twist on Moscow Mule with pureed black cherries; the tropical Trip to Island, a Midori/Bacardi rum pineapple punch; Summer Lovin’  a Sangria-inspired refresher; and a fiery hot Everything Spicy Margarita.  

Silveira had a few tips on crafting at-home summer cocktails. Her go-to spirits would be rum and vodka plus spritzers, plenty of herbs, citrus fruits, strawberries and watermelon. “Think of a fruit and you can turn it into a drink,” she advised.

Mike Blash

Wine Shine & Tin City Distillery, Mike Blash

Known for its artisan spirits, Wine Shine’s tasting has evolved into cocktail service. “We can serve [our spirit] tasting in the form of a cocktail,” said Mike Blash, co-owner of the popular Tin City distillery, known for its wide selection of flavored brandies, gin and vodka.

The focus here is on simple ingredients, noted Blash. “We try to keep it to four ingredients.” Flowers and cool cucumbers accented some of summer’s gin-based cocktails such as Hibiscus Gin Sour; the savory East Side with muddled basil; and the colorful ‘Tukish’ Delight, a delicious blend of fig brandy, cranberry juice and mint. 

As for the super hot Margarita, it doesn’t need any help from Tequila. Instead the Lolita Milagro ghost pepper brandy adds the fiery touch while the peppery Tejin salt kicks up the extra punch.

La Cosecha

La Cosecha, Nicky Clarke

There’s good use of European bitters and liqueurs by Nicky Clarke and her team. Plus house-made healthy juices such as carrot juice in the What’s Up Doc cocktail blended with vodka, curaçao and vanilla syrup; and the cucumber-based Kermit’s Autopsy, a twist on the gin martini fragrant with apricot and lavender.   

The Tequila-based Berry Sneaky is blended with an unusual artichoke liqueur and, as the name suggests, the brandy-based Burning Bush kicks up the heat with chile de ârbol.

Summertime Sling, What a Peach
Photo courtesy The Hatch

The Hatch Rotisserie & Bar, Jillian Richardson

The whiskey-focused bar takes its inspiration from summer’s bounty such as fresh berries and herbs and stone fruits. The summer spirits also include gin in the Summertime Sling blended with strawberries, Benedictine, pineapple juice and Wine Shine mango brandy. Mezcal makes up the What a Peach concoction mixed with Agave and Aperol, grapefruit zest and stone fruits topped with a local IPA.

Inspired by summer’s local bounty, Paso mixologists are certainly unleashing their artistry and whipping up some unique craft cocktails with names to match. A perfect cocktail should hit all the sensory marks, from sight and sound to smell and taste. As Sanderson put it, “We want to hit all the senses.”