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Turn watermelon into refreshing cocktails and sip your way to summer’s end

A Watermelon Pimm’s Cup Cocktail (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

As a kid, I was never scared by that jovial-dad-spread myth that if you swallow a watermelon seed, it would germinate in your stomach and grow out of your ear. It’s not that I was prematurely skeptical: In sixth grade, after all, a schoolmate informed me that “gullible” wasn’t in the dictionary, compelling me to march down to the library and seek out said book, discovering, of course, that the word was illustrated with my own dorktastic school photo.

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But even when I was pretty young, the watermelon seed story seemed improbable. As yet unfamiliar with the facts of birth, the idea that something so substantial could pop out of a clearly diminutive orifice seemed preposterous. Just to be sure, though, while the family would sit on the bleached wooden deck of the beach cottage we’d rent in Alabama, slurping on slabs of cold melon from the stand down the road, I would often swallow a few seeds, just to see what might happen.

Those holding out the faint hope that this story ends with the emergence of a miraculous ear-melon will of course be disappointed. I got bupkis.

In the years since, I’ve wondered whether dads even tell this whopper anymore, given the prevalence of seedless watermelons. I cannot remember the last time I saw a watermelon studded with the little black chips that were ubiquitous in the fruit back then.

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I never developed a melon-vine curling out of my ear, but I do have a passionate belief that watermelon should be used far more often in drinks. Maybe all those seeds I swallowed decades ago want me to think that, and if I’m the victim of their sinister melon cabal, so be it. As you may have noticed, there are worse types of misinformation out there.

But this passionate belief returns to me every summer, when I bite into a slab of that red, crisp flesh, its structure giving away pleasantly beneath my teeth and releasing an explosion of delicate juice.

Part of what makes watermelon a great cocktail ingredient is that it is so very affable. It has a distinct flavor but not a dominating one; it can either lead or follow in a drink. Its affinity with lime makes it a natural for sliding into agave-based and tiki-style cocktails; its receptiveness to herbs like mint and basil bring it into harmony with multiple gin concoctions; it’s delicious when you swerve it savory with lime, chili and salt. And it goes beautifully with my two favorite liqueurs, Campari and green Chartreuse (the latter of which it’s paired with in the Melonious Monk).

I haven’t even touched on the texture, that strange firm-yet-spongey flesh, and how it can be maximized and played with in drinks. The flesh is just loaded with liquid — that name is no accident — and since the seedless versions are so widely available now, you usually don’t even need to worry about straining out blended seed husks.

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You can leave the pulverized flesh in a drink for something with a thicker smoothie texture, or strain it out if you want the juice alone. You can cut the flesh into cubes and freeze them overnight; they are so loaded with liquid they can be used as ice cubes in a drink, where they will not only chill it but gradually infuse their flavor into the surrounding liquid (as they do the Watermelon Pimm’s Cup). You can throw the same frozen cubes in a blender to whip up a frozen margarita style drink where the “ice” will add some dilution but will also add pure watermelon flavor.

I pulled together a spicy watermelon margarita last summer, and it’s still a favorite. But I wanted to try the fruit in a syrup this time, so if you feel like getting in the kitchen, try out the Watermelon Hibiscus Sour. Dried hibiscus flowers add a deep tartness and rich burgundy color to food (they’re used in the delicious nonalcoholic agua de Jamaica tea served in many Mexican restaurants). Cooking them briefly with watermelon juice, sugar and a hint of salt gets you a rich, dark syrup that can stand up to a strong, smoky mezcal in a drink you can either serve up or poured over a large ice cube.

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The drinks here showcase how flexible watermelon can be in a variety of flavor profiles to help you polish off the last of your summer. Honestly, the fruit is so good that it’s particularly irritating when it shows up in mediocre preparations — like those vodka-injected watermelons that hang out at college parties, the beverage equivalent of the hippie-bro-dude who’s always playing hacky sack near the edge of the crowd. Those purported booze-concealment devices do not really work, and watermelon deserves to be treated so much better.

I can promise that all those watermelon seeds I swallowed as a kid didn’t make me say that. But of course, that’s what they’d want me to say.

Watermelon-Hibiscus Sour

Turning watermelon juice into a rich syrup made darker and tarter with dried hibiscus flowers, then mixing it with a smoky mezcal makes for a deep, rich sour.

You can halve the syrup recipe if you want less, but since you can also use the syrup to brighten nonalcoholic drinks — just combine an ounce or two with club soda, ginger ale or tonic water — you may want to have more of it on hand.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Serves 1

Active time: 20 mins; Total time: 20 mins, plus 1 hour for chilling the syrup

Make Ahead: The watermelon-hibiscus syrup needs to be made and refrigerated at least 1 hour in advance.

Storage Notes: Fresh watermelon juice can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Shake before using. Leftover watermelon-hibiscus syrup can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Where to Buy: Dried hibiscus flowers can be found in Latin American markets or online.

NOTE: To make watermelon juice, blend or crush the fruit’s flesh and then strain out the solids.

For the Watermelon-Hibiscus Syrup

  • 2 cups (480 milliliters) fresh watermelon juice (see NOTE)
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (20 grams) dried hibiscus flowers
  • 1/2 teaspoon table or fine sea salt

For the drink

  • Ice
  • 1 ounce watermelon-hibiscus syrup
  • 3/4 to 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces mezcal
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 lime wheel, for garnish (optional)

Make the watermelon-hibiscus syrup: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the watermelon juice, sugar, hibiscus flowers and salt. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 30 seconds, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, then transfer to a container with a lid and refrigerate until completely cold.

Make the drink: Chill a cocktail glass. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add the syrup, lime juice (to taste), mezcal and bitters. Shake hard, then strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with the lime wheel, if using, and serve.

Melonious Monk

A harmony of lime, sweet watermelon and green Chartreuse, a high-proof liqueur made in France by the Carthusian monastic order, this bright cocktail will make you miss summer even before it’s over.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Serves 1

Total time: 10 mins

Storage Notes: Fresh watermelon juice can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Shake before using.

NOTE: To make watermelon juice, blend or crush the fruit’s flesh and then strain out the solids.

  • Ice
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, divided
  • 1 1/2 ounces watermelon juice (see NOTE)
  • 1 1/4 ounces green Chartreuse
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice

Chill a cocktail glass. In a cocktail shaker, gently muddle 3 basil leaves, then fill the shaker with ice. Add the watermelon juice, Chartreuse and lime juice, and shake hard until chilled. Double-strain into the chilled glass, garnish with the remaining basil leaf and serve.

Watermelon Pimm’s Cup

Watermelon adds a delicate note to the classic herbal overtones of an English Pimm’s cup, a refreshing backyard sipper.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Serves 1.

Total time: 10 mins

Make Ahead: If making watermelon ice (see NOTE), you will need to freeze them for at least 6 hours before using.

Storage Notes: Fresh watermelon juice can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Shake before using.

NOTE: Cut a slice of watermelon into 1-inch cubes, transfer to a tray and freeze overnight. When ready to make the drink, intersperse the watermelon ice cubes with regular ice and cucumber wheels. In addition to keeping the drink cool, the watermelon cubes will add flavor.

To make watermelon juice, blend or crush the fruit’s flesh and then strain out the solids.

  • Ice
  • 2 to 3 cucumber wheels
  • Watermelon ice (optional, see NOTES)
  • 2 ounces fresh watermelon juice (see NOTES)
  • 1 1/2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur
  • 1 ounce dry gin, such as Hendrick’s or London Dry Gin
  • 2 to 3 ounces ginger ale
  • 1 cucumber slice and/or lemon wheel, for garnish
  • 1 large sprig fresh mint or basil, for garnish

Fill a highball glass three-quarters of the way with ice cubes, interspersing with cucumber wheels and watermelon ice, if using.

In a mixing glass, stir together the watermelon juice, Pimm’s and gin, then pour into the highball glass. Top with the ginger ale and your garnishes of choice, and serve.

Correction: An earlier version of this story did not include instructions for making watermelon juice. Those instructions have been added.

From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.

Tested by M. Carrie Allan; email questions to

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More watermelon recipes from Voraciously:

Watermelon-Basil Agua Fresca

Watermelon-Lime Sorbet

Watermelon-Basil Water