Wine coolers have a bad reputation—and with good reason. During the 1980s, the slightly fizzy, low-proof malt beverages were marketed to people who hated the taste of alcohol but still wanted to join in on the fun of drinking, resulting in sweet, neon-colored drinks that tasted more like soda than wine. But wine coolers don’t have to be packed with artificial flavors. In fact, they can be made with actual wine and real fruit at home. And when you do that, it turns out, they can taste really good. Even bartenders are making their own wine coolers now, and you know you can trust them.
“When we opened Horsefeather, I wanted to do a cocktail program that focused on wine-based syrups,” says Ian Scalzo of San Francisco’s Horsefeather and the just-opened Last Rites. “This kind of led my train of thought when I started naming the cocktails to start researching wine coolers. So on our opening menu, we had all the drinks [named after things like] California Cooler, Cisco, Thunderbird, Sun Country, etc. We have since moved away from these names (exhausted most of the options) but the Sun Country and California Cooler have become staples that will be on our menu forever.”