Late Summer Watermelon Cocktails

Warren Bobrow

Most everyone—except myself and those who work in the service industry—are on vacation for the coming weeks. It’s the end of summer- metaphorically- although the warm weather will be around for a while yet.  And while the school buses are beginning to tie up traffic on the roads, your taste buds are still stuck in the three h’s: Hazy, Hot and Humid.  So what are you to do with the few late summer ingredients that are still on the fresh list? May I suggest the humble watermelon? 

Yes!  The watermelon.  The juice is marvelous in cocktails, the flesh adds mystery and to your pocket, well- there is very little cost, so your food cost will stay in the realm of sane.  Fresh watermelon juice is so adaptable and colorful to the eye. The flavor is bright and fresh with so many possibilities on flavor from savory to sweet.  I’m convinced that nearly all spirits taste better with a hit of freshly crushed watermelon juice- save for the red wines of course, but even in a punch based on red wine- like a Sangria- can be elevated with, you guessed it, watermelon juice.  Even the crunchy rind can be pickled and added to your craft cocktail garnish toolkit.  There is such flexibility with watermelon and who else is using this oft forgotten ingredient?  Well I’m not sure- because the watermelon is not usually a Northern ingredient.  I tend to see them more in the Southern climes, where the weather is hotter for longer and cooling off is more a necessity than just a flavor augmentation. 

'Smoke Stack Lightning' cocktail by Warren Bobrow
‘Smoke Stack Lightning’ cocktail by Warren Bobrow

Coconuts are also a hot ingredient against the late summer and early fall heat.  You can take a whole coconut, cleaned of the husk and (carefully) cut a couple holes in the top, drain out the water- freeze the coconut in the freezer overnight and have the basis for the following refresher. 

Smoke Stack Lightning is just the cocktail for the late summer.  Sure you can serve it in a frozen coconut, this wouldn’t hurt- but without one handy, this cocktail fits beautifully into a Double Old Fashioned glass.  You know the size. Massive in scope, able to fit a double with ease so no one knows that your thirst is larger than usual. 

Prep #1: The ice for this cocktail is made from a combination of frozen coconut water and watermelon water.  Just juice the watermelon and for the coconut water your local supermarket will do for the packaged variety. It is pre-strained and works really well. 

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Add the juices to individual ice trays. One for the coconut water, the other for the watermelon water.  Freeze overnight and set aside to keep well chilled until ready for use. 

The base spirit for this drink can be most anything tropical.  I would say rum without much hesitation.  Cachaça from Brazil is my choice of spirit.  This is a specialty sugar cane beverage-that is quite delicious in its own unique way.  Made solely from freshly cut and crushed sugar cane and aged in special wooden casks, many of them indigenous to Brazil, Cachaça is authentic in every way.  This little drink, made from very simple ingredients speaks clearly to my desire for speed behind the bar stick with real flash. 

Prep #2: Watermelon Pickle – for garnish. Cut the rind into 3-inch matchsticks, toss with Demerara Sugar and white vinegar or the gourmet vinegar of your choice.  Let pickle for a week or two in the fridge.  Keep cool and covered at all times.

Smoke Stack Lightning


  • 2 oz. Cachaça of your choice
  • ¼ oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. Cane Sugar Simple Syrup
  • 2 cubes of watermelon ice
  • 2 cubes coconut water ice
  • 2-3 shakes Angostura Bitters 

Prep #3:

  1. Fill a Boston shaker with bar ice
  2. Add the Cachaça and the lime juice
  3. Add the Simple Syrup
  4. Cap and shake hard for 20 seconds
  5. Pre-chill a Double Old Fashioned glass- toss out ice
  6. Add the watermelon ice and the coconut water ice
  7. Strain the Cachaça mixture over the flavored ice cubes
  8. Dot with the Angostura
  9. Garnish with a watermelon pickle 
  10. Serve