Nightlife & Music

Ask A Charlotte Expert: Best Summertime Vodka Cocktails

July 31, 2014 7:00 AM

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(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Summer is a great time to experiment with light, fruity cocktail recipes at outdoor parties or on your favorite patio. Take a break from the brown spirits that warm up winter with a cool cocktail based on vodka. It’s considered the most adaptable liquor, adding a buzz without a lot of extra flavors, making it the perfect foil for ingredients from sweet to fiery, including seasonal fruits and herbs, hot peppers, pickles or whatever your pantry may have in stock. If you have a green thumb, grow your own herbs to muddle or use in syrups to create your own personal specialty cocktail. Here are some recipes and suggestions from one of the city’s top mixologists.
Kyle Crabtree
Block & Grinder
2935 Providence Road
Charlotte, NC 28211
(704) 364-2100

The day he turned 21, Kyle Crabtree moved behind the bar as bar manager at a private Charlotte club. Since then, he’s led the mixology team at some of Charlotte’s classic nightspots, places where the city’s craft cocktail movement got its start. At iconic cocktail lounges, including Tonic, Tutto Mondo and the short but sweet run of HOM, as well as at some of Charlotte’s top private clubs and fine dining spots, Crabtree honed his vision of hand-crafted cocktails infused with natural, local flavors.

Kyle served as bar manager for the first two years at Plaza-Midwood’s trend-setting Soul, and is part-owner of hipster hangout Crown Station Coffeehouse and Pub, adjacent to CPCC’s central campus. In 2013, Crabtree transferred to the new Block & Grinder, a restaurant plus bar plus butcher shop concept making waves on Providence Road. There he developed a list of specialty cocktails based on scratch-made ingredients, including herbal syrups, muddled fruit purees and brandied cherries and pickles made in-house. His cocktail creations, which change seasonally, pair perfectly with Block & Grinder’s unique menu of small plates, charcuterie and cheese items, much of it sourced locally or made in house. The combination of great bar food with Crabtree’s exclusive cocktails makes the restaurant’s spacious 20-seat bar popular for after-work libations.

Kyle shares three of his favorite summer cocktail recipes, including several of his creations from Block & Grinder’s summer spirits menu.

Related: Ask A Charlotte Expert: Fourth Of July Cocktail Recipes

Limonada De’Lux

Crabtree says this is his take on a European-style flavored lemonade. “Wonderfully balanced between sweet, tart and a pleasant astringent bitterness from the Maraschino liqueur make this cocktail incredibly easy to drink,” he says.


  • 4 brandied cherries
  • 1.5 oz. vodka
  • .75 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • 1.5 oz. Myer lemon juice
  • .75 oz. rich simple syrup (2 to 1 sugar/water)
  • Cherry bitters


  1. Muddle cherries in a mixing glass.
  2. Add remaining ingredients except bitters.
  3. Shake and strain over ice into a Collins glass.
  4. Finish with 4-5 shakes of cherry bitters.
  5. Garnish with a lemon wedge and a cherry.
The Chupacabra

A favorite on the Block & Grinder cocktail menu, this drink made with hot pepper syrup packs a punch. “This is one of those recipes that just falls into your lap,” Crabtree says. “A coworker and I were playing around with pepper syrups one day and had just made a fresh batch with Anaheim peppers. It just so happened that we had some samples of fruit purees we were playing around with, and it just happened.” Sweet, fresh and spicy from the peppers, juicy and tart from the passion fruit, with just a bit of lemon, this balanced cocktail works incredibly well with all types of grilled foods, a perfect choice for summer meals.


  • 2 oz. One 80 Vodka
  • 1 oz. pepper syrup
  • 1 oz. passion fruit puree/juice
  • .5 oz. lemon juice


  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.
  2. Shake and strain over ice in a tall glass.
  3. Garnish with a pepper wheel.

Parkside Fizz

Crabtree says this is one of his favorite vodka cocktails for summer, created as a riff on a mojito recipe from legendary barman Jim Meehan. Using orgeat in place of sugar gives this cocktail added depth and a faint whisper of almonds. It’s great on a hot day!


  • 2 oz. vodka
  • .75 oz. lemon juice
  • .5 oz. orgeat
  • 8 mint leaves


  1. Muddle mint leaves with orgeat in a mixing glass.
  2. Add remaining ingredients over ice and shake.
  3. Strain over ice and top with 1 oz. club soda.
  4. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Related: Fruity Cocktails To Beat The Summer Heat

With 15 years of experience covering restaurants in Charlotte and the Carolinas, and two regional guidebooks under her belt, Renee Wright examines the dining scene with enthusiasm plus a deep knowledge of food trends and outstanding local eating ops. Her work can be found at

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