You don’t have to know what goes into a Sex on the Beach to know it’s not a complex drink for refined palates. It’s an unabashed party in a glass. Sweet, fruity and, as promised, beach appropriate, the drink seems pretty simple—until you compare a properly made one to a half-hearted sugar bomb. It’s one of those drinks that you could be making wrong without even knowing it, so we got advice on how to make it right from Dave Cagle, owner of The Automatic in Boston (one of our favorite new bars of 2017) where they make a surprisingly nuanced version of the classic ‘80s cocktail. Avoid yet another mediocre Sex on the Beach by following these surefire tips.
Pick the Right Vodka
Between the cranberry and orange juices and the peach liqueur, the boozy fruit basket in a Sex on the Beach can easily cover up poor quality vodka, but that still doesn’t mean you should use some cheapo, acetone-flavored swill. Cagle suggests paying at least $20 for your vodka (and we have plenty of options for affordable bottles in that price range). And don’t even think about reaching for flavored vodka.
Use a Proper Peach Liqueur
According to Cagle, the quickest path to ruining a Sex on the Beach is by using a syrupy sweet peach schnapps. “That’s probably the way it was made in the ‘80s because there weren’t as many products available, but it just makes a gigantic difference when you’re using stuff that’s made with real fruit instead of artificially flavored,” he says. He has just one word when it comes to the question of the best peach product for the drink: “Giffard.” He hails the brand’s liqueur as superior to every other bottle in the orchard. “It’s as legit as a liqueur could be,” he says.
Fresh Squeeze Your Fruits (Even the Cranberries)
Cagle cautions against using cranberry cocktail because the Sex on the Beach is already fairly sweet and doesn’t need the extra sugar. He urges drinkers to instead fresh squeeze their cranberries just like any other juice. If you do end up using cranberry cocktail or another prepackaged juice, at least hand squeeze your oranges to give the drink a dose of fresh flavor.
Always Float the Cranberry Juice
Orange juice and cranberry juice make a disconcerting orange-pink color when mixed together, not at all the beautiful ombre coloring that distinguishes a fine Sex on the Beach. To get the color shift, mix up the rest of the ingredients, pour the mixture into a highball glass with ice, and then float the cranberry juice on top.
Keep to the Right Proportions
It doesn’t take much to destabilize a sweet fruity cocktail, so stick to the right proportions. “The orange-cranberry ratio should be three parts orange to one part cranberry. That would be the most cranberry you’d want to use,” Cagle says. While peach is the defining character in the drink, you don’t want to increase the measure of liqueur above half an ounce. Cagle emphasizes that a little goes a long way.
Roll, Don’t Shake
Fruity vodka drinks are usually shaken, but with the Sex on the Beach you want to be careful about over-dilution. At The Automatic, they usually roll the drink in order to incorporate the ingredients without melting the ice too much.
Skip the Orange, Garnish with a Lime or Lemon Wedge
“Most people garnish it with orange,” Cagle says, “but I think that lemon or lime is much better because the drink needs more acid, especially if you’re using cranberry cocktail.” If you have to pick between the two, he says go with lime. “Lime makes everything taste better.”