When it comes to creating a delicious cocktail, the possibilities are endless. A few factors always come into play when you’re mixing up an adult beverage: the type of liquor you prefer to drink, the time of the year and sweetness level. If you’re the kind of person who is open to trying anything new and tasty, you’ll love some of these cocktail recipes that remind us of historic Charleston, SC. The South mixes up some of the most delicious and sippable concoctions for the summer months because the bartenders of this region mastered the art of staying cool through the grueling heat. If you’re craving a taste of Charleston, or you’re just looking to kick back on the porch and indulge in something to cool you off, you’ll love these quintessential Holy City cocktail recipes.
History of Alcohol in Charleston
The city of Charleston is known to be a bit of a party town with hundreds of bars and restaurants throughout the area. But the people of the Holy City just like to have a good time–and why not? It’s one of the most beautiful areas along the South Carolina coast. Let’s celebrate with a drink! Alcohol and Charleston have gone hand-in-hand for a long time. Nationwide Prohibition was instated in 1920, but for Charlestonians, the city dried up in 1915—and the locals were not pleased. For years, all the classic trappings of Prohibition endured from “blind tigers,” a term used to describe illegal bars, to rum-running, until mid-way through the 1930s. Although the 21st Amendment was added to the constitution to end Prohibition in 1933, this law merely gave the state’s the power to determine alcohol laws once again. And South Carolina turned its head. Alcohol continued to be outlawed until 1935 when the public pressure to overturn Prohibition became too widespread.
Even in the early decades of the 20th century, Charleston was a town that enjoyed a good drink. As time passed and more people began relocating to the South–Charleston, in particular–restaurants, bars and dozens of new breweries began popping up, earning Charleston its reputation for a versatile and distinguished nightlife scene. If you’re craving a cocktail that reminds you of historic Charleston, SC, we’ve compiled a list of quintessential Southern drinks as well as signature cocktails from local bars.
The Ideal Charleston Cocktail
A Charleston cocktail does not necessarily have to be a drink that originated right here in the Holy City. After all, many of the best cocktail recipes are a combination of ingredients and techniques used by other bartenders and welders of spirits. When we think of the perfect Charleston cocktail, we’re looking for something locals like to call a “porch pounder.” Visit some local bars and you’ll even find drinks touting this name, but “porch pounder” is used to describe a particular style of adult beverages and isn’t limited to just one specific drink. The porch pounder is a cocktail that is light, refreshing and easy to drink quickly—something you would sit on the porch and chug (or pound back). So, when we sorted through this list of Charleston cocktails, we made sure to incorporate only the best porch pounders to knock back on a warm summer day.
Before you can start whipping up your favorite cocktails at home, there are a few required items and rules that you should be aware of. When it comes to bartending tools, the at-home bartender doesn’t need a whole lot. If you’re trying to get fancy with your cocktails and use all the proper materials, here’s a quick list of bar tools you’ll want to invest in:
- Shaker Tin
- Julep Strainer
- Hawthorn Strainer
- Mesh Strainer
- Bar Spoon
- Pint Glass
Of course, not all of this is necessary if you’re just trying to whip up a quick cocktail, but accessories like the strainers, muddler and peeler are all important for fancy little touches like straining out citrus pulp for a smoother consistency or adding orange peel garnishes. If you’re interested in ramping up your mixology skills, simply using an inexpensive shaker and a pint glass will work just fine. Most shaker tin sets will include a few of these other tools, but if you don’t purchase one with the jiggers, you can use a shot glass instead to measure the amount of liquor in each pour.
Charleston Cocktail Recipes to Make at Home
Although the Gimlet didn’t originate in the southern region of the U.S., it is highly touted as an excellent porch pounder cocktail because it’s refreshing and easy to drink on a hot day. A true, traditional gimlet is simply two parts gin (or sometimes vodka) and one part Rose’s lime juice, but over the years, people have found new and creative ways to kick up this cocktail. The gimlet was born after Rose’s Lime Juice was invented in 1867 as a way to keep a supply of lime juice on hand without having to juice the limes yourself or mixing the juice with alcohol prematurely. It became a popular drink with both the British and those in the Navy before making its way into mainstream cocktail culture.
- 2-½ oz. Gin
- ½ oz. Rose’s Lime Juice (can substitute for alternative lime juice)
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- Lime wheel (garnish)
Pour gin, lime juice and simple syrup into a shaker with ice. Stir with a bar spoon until the liquid is cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, martini glass or into a rocks glass with ice. Add lime wheel garnish.
Spice Up This Cocktail: There are a lot of ways to get creative with this simple cocktail. If you’re looking to add another refreshing element, try muddling cucumbers or adding herbs like thyme and make this cocktail your own creation.
The ever-popular daiquiri is a perfect drink to sip on during a day in the sun, though a properly prepared traditional daiquiri is nothing like its frozen sibling that bears the same name. A frozen daiquiri is a quick combo of the same three ingredients with the addition of slushie-like ice and a variety of flavor additions like strawberry. Although we tend to imagine drinking frozen daiquiris in beautiful tropical climates as we sunbathe on the beach, the traditional daiquiri is often more appropriate as a porch pounder for a hot day. If you’ve only ever sucked down the sugary, frozen edition of this cocktail, test out a traditional version.
- 1-½ oz. white rum
- ¾ oz. fresh lime juice
- ¼ oz. simple syrup
Pour all three ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass of your choice.
A beloved cocktail amongst Charlestonians, the Double Standard is a concoction that can be found at the Cocktail Club on King Street. This signature cocktail has everything you want in a porch pounder: refreshing elements from the gin and lemon with a little spicy kick thanks to the jalapeno. If you’ve never tried this cocktail before, you definitely need to let one of the expert bartenders mix it up and serve it in the bar’s cool vintage glasses. But in the meantime, give this delicious drink a go at home.
- 2 oz. gin
- 1 oz. simple syrup
- ½ oz. lemon juice
- Muddled jalapeno (seeds and stems removed)
Cut open the jalapeno and remove stem and seeds to prevent from adding too much heat. You can add seeds back in if you want more of a bite. Dice and muddle a quarter of the jalapeno (can add more to taste). Then, mix gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and jalapeno in shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into cocktail glass of your choice. Garnish with a lemon twist or jalapeno slice (or both!).
Spiked Arnold Palmer
The original, nonalcoholic Arnold Palmer was popularized by none other than Arnold Palmer himself, a famous PGA golfer who frequently requested a mixture of half lemonade and half iced tea while he was on the course. It didn’t take very long for people to start concocting ways to toss in some alcohol and make this delicious summertime beverage an interesting new cocktail. The spiked Arnold Palmer is the ultimate porch pounder. It’s a little sweet, very refreshing and has a little extra bite from the addition of Bourbon or vodka. You can opt for either depending on your preference.
- 1-½ oz. Bourbon or vodka
- 2 oz. lemonade (preferably fresh-squeezed)
- 2 oz. iced tea
- Lemon twist garnish
Add Bourbon/vodka, lemonade and iced tea to a shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Add lemon garnish.
Spice Up This Cocktail: There are a dozen different ways to add a little something extra to this simple cocktail. Cut up some fresh fruit like strawberries for a fun garnish that you can eat, or try using different flavors of tea like raspberry or peach.
The official drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep is closely tied to this state, but the South is the South, baby, and Charlestonians love their Mint Juleps just as much as their Bourbon-sipping brethren. A true porch pounder, the Mint Julep gets its most refreshing qualities from the addition of muddled mint leaves, but definitely has a Bourbon bite to it. Whether you’re hosting a big Kentucky Derby party at your home or just craving a taste of the South one warm summer day, whip up this delicious cocktail that is surprisingly easy to make—as long as you have plenty of mint on hand. If you have a green thumb and a flourishing herb garden, why not throw in some of your homegrown mint?
- 2-½ oz. Kentucky Bourbon
- 1-½ tsp. fine sugar
- 1 can or bottle of seltzer water
- 10 mint leaves (1 or 2 sprigs for garnish)
- Crushed ice
First, you must muddle the mint leaves by adding them to the bottom of an old-fashioned glass and sprinkling with sugar. Use your muddling tool to grind up the sugar and leaves. Pour a splash of seltzer into glass. Add crushed ice and then Bourbon. Fill glass with more seltzer and stir. Garnish with mint leaf sprig.
Though not traditionally a Charleston cocktail, the French 75 is a classic and simple drink perfect for a celebration. Anyone who loves champagne has a tough time turning down the idea of adding a little liquor to their favorite type of bubbles. The French 75 is a widely known and popular drink that you may not even think to indulge at home, but it’s super easy and goes down smooth. Give this recipe a try the next time you’re craving a taste of the high life.
- 2 oz. dry gin
- 2 oz. champagne or Prosecco
- ½ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- Lemon twist garnish
Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne and add a lemon twist as a garnish.
A beloved drink across the country, the Moscow Mule is a classic porch pounder. Bars throughout Charleston serve up this tasty concoction, but the Rarebit is one of the most popular spots to grab a mule, especially during Happy Hour. If you’re craving a Moscow Mule, you probably have many of the ingredients already in your home. The mint has a refreshing element while the ginger beer adds some much-needed bubbles. Try this recipe at home, and if you’re feeling creative, test out a variety of other mules by simply switching out the type of alcohol.
- 2 oz. vodka
- 3 to 4 oz. ginger beer
- 2 lime wedges
- Crushed ice
- Mint sprig (for garnish)
Add crushed ice, vodka and ginger beer to a Moscow Mule mug preferably or a highball glass. Stir well. Squeeze in lime wedges and garnish with mint.
Spice Up This Cocktail: Mules can be made with nearly any kind of spirit. For a Mexican Mule, substitute vodka for tequila; a Kentucky Mule needs Bourbon; Gin Mule, naturally, requires gin; and a Tennessee Mule uses whiskey.
Be Your Own Bartender
The taste of your favorite cocktail can instantly bring you back to pleasant memories of a place you love, which is why we’ve perfected some of our favorite cocktails that remind us of staying in Charleston, SC. These drinks are easy to make at home, as long as you have the right tools and ingredients, and are perfect for sipping during hot summer months while sitting out on the porch or entertaining guests in the backyard. Test out your skills and try whipping up a few of these excellent Charleston cocktails.