Got a lemon? Here are the best lemon cocktails to make when you’re craving citrus, from the lemon drop martini to the whiskey sour.
What’s better than a refreshing lemon cocktail? Fresh lemon juice brings a tangy zing to so many classic drinks! In fact, it’s one of the most used ingredients in mixed drinks (outside of the liquor, of course). Lemon works in all seasons: it brings warm punch to winter and fall drinks, and a lightness to breezy summer cocktails. Outside of lime, it’s one of Alex and my favorite ingredients to use in our cocktail recipes.
Here are the very best lemon cocktails that you should add to your “to try” list. They range from classic drinks like the Lemon Drop Martini and Whiskey Sour, to more inventive spins like a Lemon Margarita (it’s a thing!). Because they use lemon, liquor and sweetener, all of these drinks are part of the family of sour cocktails. Here’s all the best that this sunny citrus has to offer!
To start off the list of great lemon cocktails: the Lemon Drop Martini! This mixed drink is intensely sweet tart! Use citron vodka for the most lemony flavor: otherwise, regular vodka works. It’s festive and refreshing, with a lemon twist and sugar rim. (Scroll down for the recipe!)
Ingredients: Vodka or citron vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, simple syrup
Here's a classic lemon cocktail: the whiskey sour! This one is an iconic drink that goes back centuries. Its flavor is perfectly balanced between sweet from maple syrup, tart from lemon, and boozy from the whiskey (we like to use bourbon).
This ultra-strong lemon liqueur is often drunk as shots at the end of a meal. But ever tried it as a limoncello cocktail? This Limoncello Mojitois a way to make a uniquely refreshing drink with this famous citrus liqueur! Make it into this classic Cuban cocktail: its bright lemon flavor pairs perfectly with fresh mint and white rum. The limoncello adds a pure lemon flavor that’s impossible to get from lemon juice alone. Add ice and bubbles, and you’ve got a drink you won’t be able to stop sipping.
The Sidecar is another classic lemon cocktail! It's one of the best classic sour cocktails of all time. Why? Taste it and you'll see. This drink is perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, and layered and complex: warm, crisp, dry, rich, and full at the same time.
The French 75 is a popular champagne drink that's also a lemon cocktail! It’s tangy, bubbly, and a bit botanical, and it makes every occasion more festive. The French 75 has a balanced, sweet tart flavor with lots of bubbles.
Here’s a tasty refreshing lemon cocktail that’s perfect for summer, but works any time of year: Vodka Lemonade! Make up a pitcher of homemade fresh lemonade, then spike it with a little vodka. It comes out fresh and sweet tart, and very easy to drink. It’s so easy to drink, in fact, that you might have to be careful with this one! The vodka adds just the right boozy finish without too much spice. It’s great for entertaining, or for an afternoon refresher.
Here's a spin on a margarita that's made into a lemon cocktail! This margarita swaps lemon juice for the classic lime. It makes a unique variation on that classic cocktail: and don't forget the salt rim!
The Tom Collins is an iconic lemon cocktail that's a variation on the gin fizz! It's got more soda water, lots of ice, and skips the egg white foam. It's light, bubbly and perfectly sweet tart, typically served in a highball glass.
Ingredients: Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, soda water
This lemon cocktail has an intense lemon flavor and a zingy finish. Meet the limoncello martini! This sweet tart number is like a classic lemon drop martini, except it takes the lemon flavor up a notch by using the popular Italian liqueur. Take one sip and you’ll feel like you’re biting into a lemon…with none of that sour puckering flavor. It’s sweet tart and delicious, with a bit of a vibe of lemonhead candy.
Some cocktails have a strong image, and the Long Island Iced Tea is one of them, right? It’s boozy, low-brow, and sickly sweet, with strong chain restaurant vibes. But have you tried a classic Long Island Iced Tea? Mixed up as intended, this drink will blow you away. Ditch the sour mix and Triple Sec in favor of fresh lemon and top shelf liquor. One sip and it’s zingy, sweet tart, nuanced and sophisticated.
This whiskey smash is tangy and refreshing, featuring muddled lemon wedges, fresh mint, and soda water. It's like a citrusy spin on the mint julep! Or, a minty spin on the whiskey sour. Serve it with lots of crushed ice; it's perfect for summer.
The amaretto sour is also a lemon cocktail! This one is nothing like those syrupy versions with sour mix. This one is tangy and sweet tart, with a hint of almond from the amaretto that’s toned down by the secret ingredient: bourbon.
Here’s a lemon cocktail that’s ideal for when temperatures rise: bourbon lemonade! Make up a big pitcher of fresh squeezed lemonade, refreshing and sweet tart. Then swirl it with some bourbon in a glass so you get all that boozy, spicy finish to each sip. This one’s quick and easy, and we assure you: it goes down easy.
Here’s a classic cocktail that’s as unique as its name…the Corpse Reviver No 2! To be honest, we were a little wary of this cocktail at first because of its moniker. But it turns out that the Corpse Reviver has nothing scary or ghoulish about it. In fact, it’s damn good. It’s a classic gin sour cocktail that’s tart and zingy from lemon juice and orange liqueur, with a hint of licorice on the finish. It’s truly a stunner…and the name will impress all your friends.
Here’s a smooth, citrus forward lemon cocktail with a sophisticated vibe: the White Lady! This 1920’s style sour is clear and crisp, featuring lemon, gin, and a frothy egg white foam topping. It’s super classy, perfect for a cocktail night or just sipping on the porch.
Ingredients: Gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, egg white
This variation on the Whiskey Sour may be our favorite lemon cocktail: the New York Sour! There's a whiskey sour layer: sweet tart and perfectly balanced with lemon juice and syrup. Then float a layer of red wine over the top and it adds intrigue, complexity and a fruity acidity. Not to mention it looks simply stunning with the bright two-toned layer!
Ingredients: Bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, maple syrup or simple syrup, red wine
Here’s a lemon cocktail that’s made for celebration or sipping on the porch: a St Germain champagne cocktail! It features sunny citrus with elderflower notes from the St Germain. It’s sophisticated and refreshing: floral, botanical, tangy, and bubbly all at once.
Ingredients: St Germain, Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, champagne
The tequila sour is a delightfully refreshing lemon cocktail with a frothy foam topping! It’s a mashup of a 1920’s sour cocktail with a margarita, starring tequila and lemon juice (with a little lime thrown in).
When you’re making lemon cocktails, a good juicer is a must! It makes sure you get all the juice out of the lemon, and none of the seeds. Here’s a lemon juicer we recommend: it’s slick and juices lemons in an instant!
How to make a lemon twist
Lemon cocktails are often garnished with a lemon twist. What’s the easiest way to make one? We’ve got an easy method that doesn’t require any special tools: just a knife! Go to How to Make a Lemon Twist.
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.