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How to Make a Fort Tilden Cooler, the Refreshing Gin & Lemon Cocktail

How to Make a Fort Tilden Cooler, the Refreshing Gin & Lemon Cocktail

How to Make a Fort Tilden Cooler, the Refreshing Gin & Lemon Cocktail

There are two kinds of beachy cocktails

Go there in your mind for a second and think of something you’d typically drink on or near a beach. Does it have rum? Some tropical juices? A little umbrella shading an array of lurid garnishes, with crushed ice already beginning to shush in the heat? That’s one kind of beach drink. The Fort Tilden Cooler is the other kind.

Fort Tilden is the name of a beach, not in Key Largo or Montego but in Queens, NY. It’s an old military site, originally established in 1917 to protect New York Harbor from attacks by sea, decommissioned in the 1970s and abandoned to the forces of erosion and truancy—a quiet, crumbling patch of scrubby beach that the Daily Mail once referred to as “a graffiti-plastered wildlife sanctuary.” It’s where you go in when you want some sand and waves but still want to be back in Manhattan by happy hour. It is a city beach.

The Fort Tilden Cooler is a city beach cocktail. It’s not trying to transport you with coconut cream or an array of exotic juices. It doesn’t have time for that. It’s a serious drink with serious ingredients, one that’s simply trying to be as refreshing as humanly possible. The Fort Tilden Cooler is a creation of Andrew Rice of N.Y.C.’s Attaboy, and is precisely as straightforward and excellent as we’ve come to expect from drinks from that bar.

To start, Rice took the template of a Tom Collinsgin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda, itself foundationally refreshing and the original summer banger—and twisted it in two delicious ways. The first was replacing half the gin with fino sherry, the delicate, slightly nutty fortified wine from Spain, which has the dual benefits of lowering the proof and adding a subtle complexity. To complement this, Rice also spiced the whole thing with a dash of absinthe, whose botanical intensity compensates for the sherry’s relative lack of weight. What all of this means together is that the Fort Tilden Cooler is an ice cold and viscerally refreshing charmer, a low-ABV drink that doesn’t taste low-ABV so much as it just tastes crushable. 

It would be an overstatement to call the Fort Tilden Cooler famous—Andrew Rice’s isn’t a spotlight-chaser, and it’s not even his most famous drink—but Attaboy is a world renowned bar with an influential recipe collection, and the cocktail’s inclusion on that list, in addition to the fact that it’s irrepressibly delicious, have earned it a second life in places like Miami and New Orleans and anywhere else where drinks are called upon to make people feel less warm. It itself is a malleable template (more on that below the recipe) and is up there with the Eastside Rickey and the Watermelon Margarita as the most refreshing cocktails I know, the ones I would most readily give a bar guest who was overheated and grumpy about it. 

That there is no mango puree or edible orchids is immaterial. This is the other type of beachy cocktail, the kind that you can drink while listening to the waves lap at the shore, and in the distance behind you, you can still make out the skyline of Manhattan, beaconing you home.

Fort Tilden Cooler

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. fino or manzanilla Sherry
  • 0.75 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz. simple syrup
  • 2-3 dashes absinthe
  • 2-3 oz. soda water

Add all liquids except for the soda water to a cocktail shaker with ice. Seal and shake hard for eight to 10 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a collins glass, top with soda, and garnish with a grapefruit peel.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS

Sipsmith

Gin: As mentioned above, the absinthe does a serviceable job of making it not feel like a low-ABV drink, but that trick requires the gin to pull its weight. You need a gin that is robust enough to support the rest of the flavors, which means either something around 44 percent alcohol or higher, like Ford’s Gin, Hendrick’s, Sapphire, or else, if lower proof, designed in the big, juniper-forward London Dry Style, like Sipsmith.

Sherry: Rice’s original cocktail calls for fino sherry, which is indeed fantastic. Just as good for me is manzanilla, which is functionally very similar to fino sherry, just with a more pronounced saline character because it’s made closer to the sea. If you’re buying a bottle for this, make sure to keep it in the fridge—this type of sherry has a lot in common with white wine, insofar as its delicacy and tendency to oxidize. Unless you really work though sherry at your house, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look for a half-bottle.

Simple Syrup: Grab a half cup of sugar and add it to a bowl. Use that same half cup measuring cup, fill it with water whose temperature is somewhere between room and boiling, and add it to the sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, which will take 15 seconds to two minutes, depending on how hot the water was. You’ve just made simple syrup. Put it in the fridge and it’ll last a month. Throw it away when the liquid starts to get cloudy.

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Absinthe: Sorry, blanche absinthe fans, for this magic to work you really need the robust kick of a verte, or green, absinthe. As for brands, I don’t imagine your local store has much to choose from. I’m a perennial fan of the Butterfly Classic, as well as the old stalwart Pernod.

Soda Water: I do recommend just plain regular soda or seltzer water. That said, maybe it’s just the circles I travel in, but I find these days most of my friends, if they have soda water, have cans of the flavored kind. You don’t want to add any sweetness to this, but insofar as flavors of La Croix are concerned, this still works great with anything citrus or even the coconut. All I’d add is that any flavor additions, including the ones below, will mask some of the sherry’s delicacy.

Garnish: This is the only way I differ from the august Mr. Rice. The original cocktail calls for an orange peel, which is indeed delicious, but I think it’s better with a lemon peel and best with a grapefruit peel. I understand that I like grapefruit more than most people, so take that for what it’s worth, but I still feel that objectively, the anise of the absinthe is its best self when textured by the semi-bitter grapefruit oil. 

Variations: You can mess with this in all kinds of delicious ways. You can shake with a slice of orange, to get a hint of orange juice and zest. You can add a touch of Benedictine for spice, or Cointreau for a juicy orange proof, or something like St. Germain. Cut the simple in half and add a half ounce of Amaro Meletti for a juicy and floral herbaceousness. Try shaking with a grapefruit peel, it’s phenomenal. You can substitute the fino sherry with amontillado sherry for a fuller, nuttier experience (though the body of amontillado costs you some in the refreshing department).



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