There's no shame in a mocktail before race day—and it doesn't have to be a sugar bomb.
There's no shame in a mocktail before race day—and it doesn't have to be a sugar bomb. (Photo: Jen Brister)

The Ultimate Guide to the Summer Drinking Spectrum

Strategies to ensure that no matter where you are and how sober (or not) you want to remain, you'll like what's in your cup


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Here at Outside, we take the Whitman approach to summer partying: “We contain multitudes.” Our days often include getting up at 4 a.m. for an early summit or trail race—things that are best enjoyed sans hangover. But summer is also the best time to drink outdoors: Grill-outs! The beach! A hammock in the middle of the woods! What we pull from the cooler or order at the bar is an ever-changing strategy—but whatever’s in our cup, we want it to be good.

Here’s how to navigate the entire spectrum of summer drinking, from abstaining completely from alcohol to letting loose and considering the resulting hangover as “mental toughness training.”


The Situation: Your goal race is in the morning.

The Plan: Stick to non-alcoholic drinks all night. 

You could probably get away with having a single beer, but “I like to keep in mind that if you put alcohol in a petri dish it kills just about everything,” says cycling coach and exercise physiologist Jesse Moore. “Keeping things simple, alcohol is essentially a poison that your body and liver will prioritize clearing from your system over many other pre and post-race essential tasks like protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment.” In short, if you really care about your race tomorrow, make it an alcohol-free evening.

What to DIY: When your friends break out the shots, knock back pickle juice. Not only will it burn just a touch on the way down, but pickles have been shown to have anti-cramping qualities. 

Not a brine kind of person? Tonic and bitters are probably on hand. Your tastiest, non-sugar-bomb move: Mix four to six dashes of bitters into a glass of tonic water with ice, and add a quartered lime. 

If your pick is a generally-disappointing “near beer,” plop a Hop Theory packet into your brew. Stuffed with hops, orange peel and coriander, the tea-bag-like sachets deliver a hit of beer-like taste without any added alcohol. 

What to Tell the Bartender: Be truthful and say you’re not drinking. Bartenders are used to this and will try and help you enjoy whatever it is you’re sipping. If your friends think it’s lame to order a mocktail, says Arch Bernard, a New York City bartender and cyclist: “find better friends.”

Unfortunately, finding better friends may be easier than finding better mocktails. “By and large, the mocktail game is still pretty weak,” says Bernard, with many mocktails simply being glorified juice and soda mixes. It’s helpful if you can give the bartender some suggestions of things you like that aren’t tooth-meltingly sweet, whether that’s herbaceous cocktails, sours, or something with bitter notes. 

The non-alcoholic beer game makes the mocktail game look strong. Bernard says he hasn’t found one good enough yet to justify all the calories—but, hey, you’re carbo-loading, right? If you don’t see a non-alcoholic beer on the menu, feel free to ask. Bernard says that most bars have exactly one non-alcoholic beer stashed someone in the fridge.  

Just Cruising

The Situation: You’re racing, but it's a short and easy one, so…

The Strategy: Drink in moderation—meaning one drink for women and two for men.

“I could easily see one drink falling into the statistical noise category in terms of causing any real harm for most people of average weight and metabolism,” says Moore. See? He’s practically begging you to have a drink. Racers who suffer from pre-race anxiety may even benefit from a drink if it helps them relax, Moore says. Just don’t overdo it. “Don’t let a couple of drinks then become a lot of bad food choices, a poor night’s sleep, or other self-destructive behavior.”

If tomorrow’s race is going to be especially long, hot or humid, be really careful. “Alcohol can act as a diuretic. In hot race conditions, it will be easier to become dehydrated after alcohol consumption,” says Gale Bernhardt, an Olympic-level cycling coach and co-author of Become a Fat-Burning Machine. If you do drink, alternate between drinks and glasses of ice water. 

What to DIY: Turn your beer into a shandy by adding a splash of fruit juice. This doesn’t work with all beers—Bernard says a hefeweizen or a Belgian wit is going to work best. Don’t even think about doing it with a porter or stout. Float a small glug of orange juice, grapefruit juice, or lemonade on top of your pint and stir gently. 

For a low-alcohol cocktail, Bernard recommends an Aperol spritz, which is prosecco, Aperol (Campari’s much less boozy cousin), and soda.

Aperol Spritz 
  • 3 ounces prosecco
  • 1 ounce Aperol 
  • Seltzer

Combine chilled prosecco with Aperol, top with chilled seltzer water. 

What to Tell the Bartender: “Pacing customers is a part of their job,” says Bernard. “Tell your bartender you don't want to get too drunk and they'll help you out.”

Thanks to the session beer trend, you can now find tons of great craft brews in the 3-5 percent alcohol range. Many are designed specifically for warm-weather drinking, with flavor profiles that are light but not yawn-inducing. Or hitch yourself to the sour beer bandwagon. “Usually similarly low in alcohol by volume—about 4 percent—sours are refreshing and complex, but not too boozy to have all afternoon. The one that changed the game for me was Westbrook Gose; Super crisp and tart, lightly salty, guzzleable,” says Bernard. 

Party Time

The Situation: You raced today and you’re going to treat yourself.

The Strategy: Have fun without doing anything too regrettable and being too sick the next morning. (We’ll take no responsibility for your hangovers.)

To be clear, “If you want zero impact on your recovery, skip the booze,” says Bernhardt. Ready to totally ignore our expert’s advice? Cool. Here’s the plan. First, make sure you’ve refueled and rehydrated properly from the day’s efforts. Then, pick your booze of choice. Craft gin cocktails are still going strong, as are mezcal and mezcal/whiskey mixes. “Any cocktail that’s good with vodka is better with gin,” says Bernard. Mezcal is much the same way: If it’s good with tequila, it’s better with mezcal. 

For those of you wanting to celebrate your accomplishment like an Olympian in Rio, reach for cachaça. The national spirit of Brazil, cachaça is like rum but made with sugar cane instead of molasses. You’ll get hints of banana and sea salt, and notes of the tropics without actually being fruity. Swap it out for rum in your favorite daiquiri recipe, or do shots of it while watching Team USA. 

What to DIY:

Hammocks Calling
  • 1.5 oz Novo Fogo Silver cachaça
  • 0.75 Amontillado Sherry
  • 0.75 oz lemon juice
  • 0.75 simple syrup (1:1)

Shake and double strain into a highball glass. Top with a splash of soda and garnish with a lemon twist.

Rock Salt Cocktail
  • 1 3/4 ounces Hochstadter's Slow & Low
  • 1/4 ounce Ilegal Joven mezcal
  • 1/4 ounce Crazy Water #4
  • 3 drops mineral saline

Combine ingredients in a chilled mixing glass and stir with ice for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an orange diamond twist.

The Last Word
  • 3/4 oz. Four Pillars Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse 
  • 3/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur 
  • 3/4 oz. Lime juice 

Shake all together with ice. Strain into martini glass and garnish with a lime twist.

What to Tell the Bartender: When you order Vodka straight up, or your third martini, he or she will know all they need to know.