Everything Viva’s Unofficial Drinks Editor Drank This Summer

By Johanna Thornton
Ice-cold cocktails have been on the menu this summer, says Johanna Thornton, deputy editor for Lifestyle Premium, pictured at Lilian with a negroni. Photo / Babiche Martens

A celebration of summer cocktails and cold beers, because sometimes you need an outlet for the 50 beverage images on your phone.

Covering Aotearoa’s food and drinks scene for Viva Premium, whether that’s writing Viva’s food news, trying out new restaurants and bars for research purposes,

My colleagues call me Viva’s (unofficial) drinks editor because my desk is usually half-obscured by the latest PR delivery or wine bottles for a photo shoot, and because I’ve banged on at length about my love of a good negroni. I’m considering adding “drinks ed” to my LinkedIn bio.

If you’re short on time or money or both, a great drink can be a gateway into the restaurant scene; a chance to get to know a place before committing to a full dinner. Many Auckland restaurants are happy to let you sit at the bar and order a drink and a snack, while you survey the scene and decide if this is somewhere you’d like to revisit. It’s always interesting to peruse a drinks list: it says a lot about how much thought has gone into the food and wine pairing, and who owns the place. When a big-name restaurant doesn’t have any good local beers on tap or interesting New Zealand wines in its fridge, I won’t be rushing back. But an inventive cocktail? That can set the tone for the whole evening.

I hope this smorgasbord of drinks I’ve sampled this summer inspires you to try something new, or to reach for an old favourite.

Pinky Promise from Darling on Drake. Photo / Johanna Thornton
Pinky Promise from Darling on Drake. Photo / Johanna Thornton

Pinky Promise cocktail from Darling on Drake

The Pinky Promise is a cheeky twist on a classic cosmopolitan, made with vanilla vodka, Cointreau, cranberry and lemon juice — a fruity and refreshing combination ideal for a hot afternoon at sprawling new rooftop bar and restaurant, Darling. It’s not often you see vanilla vodka on Auckland cocktail lists, in fact the last time I saw it in rotation was during lockdown when a mate would send me updates of her “Friday cocktails” consisting of vanilla vodka and coke. The Pinky Promise is made for Instagram, served in a tall glass with plenty of ice and a cute maraschino cherry. It went down way too quickly and was a little on the sweet side but I have no regrets.

Drink it here: 27 Drake Street, Auckland CBD

Yuzu cocktail and Watermelon cocktail at Anise. Photo / Johanna Thornton
Yuzu cocktail and Watermelon cocktail at Anise. Photo / Johanna Thornton

Yuzu cocktail from Anise

This cocktail had me at yuzu plum wine, the star ingredient alongside Champagne, lemon and a fermented basil and strawberry syrup. Yuzu is a citrus halfway between a lime and a mandarin that lent a nice sour note to the sweet and aromatic umeshu (plum wine). Served in a tall glass with ice, fresh basil and a strawb, this was a light and refreshing cocktail that set the tone for Anise’s pan-Asian menu to follow. Pictured next to it is the “Watermelon” cocktail with clarified tomatoes, Japanese gin, mezcal and mirin, another inventive concoction from this new restaurant from Sid and Chand Sahrawat, with head chef Tommy Hope in the kitchen.

Drink it here: 210 Symonds St, Eden Terrace

Outside at Norma Taps. Photo / Johanna Thornton
Outside at Norma Taps. Photo / Johanna Thornton

Chilled red from Norma Taps

All the drinks from this City Works Depot bar are available on tap, from the cocktails to the wine to the spirits, an intentional way to cut down on glass waste. Everything is available to takeaway too, via 1L bottles, or you can bring your own. I love that. I went for a glass of Still Life chilled natural red (which you can also order as a carafe for $44 ), a blend of sav, riesling, gewurtz and pinot noir made in Marlborough. Also pictured is an Aperitivo Spritz (gin, Aperol, soda) and a Ginger Mule (Six Spice Botanical Rum, ginger beer, lime, mint). A good spot for after-work drinks at one of the beer tables outside.

Drink it here: 90 Wellesley St West, Auckland CBD

Quartz Reef Methode Traditional Vintage 2017 Blanc de Blancs

This was my family’s Christmas Day fizz, recommended by Viva’s wine editor Jo Burzynska for its “delicate white fruits, and chalky and oyster shell nuances infused with a subtle, toasty, incense-like character”. It was all those things, but what won me over was its special stubby-shaped bottle and vintage label. Like Jo says, it’s a joy to drink local sparkling wine that rivals (or even exceeds) French Champagne.

Purchase it for $85 from: Quartzreef.co.nz.

Parrotdog Birdseye Hazy IPA from Local Talent Tav

If I see a Parrotdog beer on the menu, I’m ordering it. From Lyall Bay in Wellington (the brewery is well worth a visit next time you’re in the capital, and isn’t far from the airport if you have time to kill before a flight), Parrotdog beers don’t miss. Hazy, citrusy and the right amount of fruity, this 5.8 per cent IPA is a summer go-to and worked beautifully with Local Talent Tav’s Mediterranean-style menu. Nice wine list too (pictured, right).

Drink it here: 99 Cameron St, Whangarei

Behind the scenes of Viva Premium's wine and chip shoot at NZME's studio.
Behind the scenes of Viva Premium's wine and chip shoot at NZME's studio.

Coal Pit Tiwha Central Otago Pinot Noir 2021

Sometimes I get to enjoy the spoils of my job as Viva’s (unofficial) booze editor and for this story on the best wine and chip combinations I had to open the bottles recommended by wine editor Jo Burzynska for photography purposes, which means it would have been a waste not to sample them. This Gibbston Valley Coal Pit Pinot Noir was an absolute standout from the day’s wine shoot, smooth and floral with notes of cherry and thyme. And yes, it worked beautifully with those truffle chips.

Purchase it for $67 from: Coalpitwine.com

UB3 cocktail from Sunset Bar

This was an interesting one: a foamy mix of Plantation 3 Stars Rum, elderflower and lime shaken hard over ice and poured over a base of Briottet Creme de Mure, which is a blackberry liqueur that pools at the bottle of the glass. Not sure I’d order this again but Sunset Bar gets extra points for its cocktails because the views over the Waitematā as the sun goes down are hard to beat, and how sweet is the fresh flower garnish?

Drink it here: 10th Floor, Sudima Hotel, 63-67 Nelson St, Auckland CBD

Asahi from Xie Xie

Sometimes I need a palate cleanser from all the crafty, hazy beers I’ve been drinking and an Asahi is just that. Crisp, refreshing and inoffensive, it works so well with spicy food, like these bar nuts from new Chinese fusion restaurant Xie Xie in Ponsonby.

Drink it here: 130 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

Choya Umeshu from Wakuwaku

Absolutely love a plum wine and this one (served over a giant sphere of ice) was a celebratory end to Wakuwaku’s stellar tasting menu, which includes snacks, a colourful plate of sashimi, a tray of six starters (including wagyu tartare, tempura oyster mushrooms and a prawn croquette) and a main of your choice. Dining out editor Jesse Mulligan has also sung the praises of this restaurant’s set menu recently. This was the only plum wine by the glass, but they have a great sake collection too.

Drink it here: Shop 1D, 415 Remuera Rd, Remuera

Papa Salt Gin

Margot Robbie makes gin now! Her team specifically asked that Viva make it clear in this story that Papa Salt gin is made by Margot and four film-industry friends, but it’s clearly Margot with the celebrity clout. This gin launched in May last year and has since won best gin at the LA Spirit Awards for its creative blend of botanicals like roasted wattleseed, pink peppercorn, wax flower, hibiscus, citrus peel and oyster shell. The bottle alone makes it a great addition to a drinks trolley, but it tastes great too. Warning: It’s a strong one.

Purchase it for $84 from: Specialty liquor stores nationwide.

Sullied Martini from Neighbourhood Wine, Melbourne

This is one of the best martinis I’ve ever had. Made with Australian Four Pillars Gin, dry vermouth, a splash of olive brine and a grind of Kampot pepper, it’s served straight up with green olives in a perfectly frosty Riedel ‘Nick and Nora’ glass. My friends and I ordered another one, and then another one. Next time you’re in Melbourne, put this neighbourhood food and wine spot on your dining out list.

Find it here: 1 Reid St, Fitzroy North, Melbourne

An average photo of a spicy marg. Photo / Johanna Thornton
An average photo of a spicy marg. Photo / Johanna Thornton

Alba’s Chilli Sparkling Margarita

This local sparkling margarita RTD with real tequila packs a punch with the addition of Kaitaia Fire. While I love a bit of spice, this was really spicy and I hate to think how someone would fare drinking more than two of these. The Grapefruit Sparkling Paloma or the Original flavour might be a safer entry point to this RTD, which is made from quality ingredients including Mexican tequila, lime juice, agave and sparkling water. Alba’s founder caught up with Viva Premium’s Rebecca Barry Hill for this great story about the rise of tequila in Aotearoa.

Purchase it at: Drinkalba.com

Paloma cocktail from Gilt Brasserie

A lovely refreshing number from Gilt Brasserie featuring mezcal, grapefruit, citra hops and soda served over ice in a tall glass with a slice of citrus. The Paloma is the perfect blend of sweet and salty and works nicely as an aperitif. I got to say hello to chef/owner Josh Emett on this particular visit, who says his favourite cocktail is a Brandy Alexander, which is a heady combination of cognac, creme de cacao and cream and which stars in Gilt’s dessert cocktail list alongside a classic espresso martini, if you’re up for something sweet.

Drink it here: 2 Chancery Street, Chambers, Auckland CBD

Hans Herzog Blaufrankisch and a double smash cheeseburger from Parade. Photo / Johanna Thornton
Hans Herzog Blaufrankisch and a double smash cheeseburger from Parade. Photo / Johanna Thornton

Hans Herzog Blaufrankisch 2019

Featuring in Viva’s Wine Awards for 2023, Hans Herzog’s Blaufrankisch 2019 is one of only 500 bottles made and is the result of years of work by the winemakers cultivating this Austrian grape variety at Hans Herzog’s Marlborough vineyard, and 18 months spent in French barriques. Sometimes a high-low mix is the best combination when it comes to food and wine and I’ve paired this spectacular bottle with an elite smash burger from Parade on Ponsonby Rd.

Purchase it for $89 from: Herzog.com

Amaretto on the rocks at Ooh-Fa

The barman at Viva Top 50 Auckland Restaurant for 2023 Ooh-Fa is so charming he convinced my friends and me to order a round of amarettos as a digestif after dinner at Omni next door. Who drinks amaretto? The sweet Italian liqueur with hints of cherry and almond might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it went down a treat and it’s now become a tradition to order amarettos whenever this group of friends get together. You’re welcome to join this tradition.

Find it here: 357 Dominion Rd, Mount Eden

Pals vodka, pink guava, lime and soda

Sometimes the simplicity of an ice-cold Pals is just what you need and this newish flavour is light, refreshing and inoffensive. Ideal when you can’t be bothered mixing your own vodka, lime and soda.

Purchase it from: Drinkspals.co.nz

Melange 2022 from Tappo

Tappo in St Kevins Arcade is Pici’s newish wine bar and shop right next door to the restaurant, offering natural wines to drink on-site or take home, as well as a short menu of snacks. On a recent visit, I sat outside in the arcade and ordered a wedge of cheese and olives, plus a glass of natural wine (Tappo specialises in low-intervention wines) and picked up a bottle of unfined and unfiltered Melange 2022 from Marlborough to take home, which is best served chilled and was chosen mostly because the label is cool.

Find it here: Shop 23/183 Karangahape Rd, Auckland CBD

Lychee and grape chu-hi from Sashimi Bar Ajimi

I can’t not order this every time I go to this Japanese spot in Onehunga, which is often. Chuhai is a shochu highball made with fruit-flavour shochu and soda and Sashimi Bar’s are irresistible with a mug straight out of the freezer, a liberal amount of ice and a frozen lychee or grape on top. There are other flavours too. The ultimate summer beverage.

Find it here: Unit 258, Onehunga Mall, Onehunga

Cask Martin

A collaboration between award-winning Thomson Whisky and neighbourhood favourite Bar Martin, Cask Martin is a limited-edition single cask, single malt whisky with notes of malt biscuits, sultanas, orange zest and dark chocolate. I think I could taste those flavours? At 46 per cent ABV, it blew my socks off really. Bar Martin owner Ruben Maurice and Thomson Whisky’s head distiller Mat Thomson came up with the idea for Cask Martin over a glass of whisky (naturally) and bonded over their shared enjoyment of simple things well done. This limited-edition run of 280 bottles captures that sentiment.

Purchase it for $155 from: Thomsonwhisky.co.nz or find it at selected whisky specialists.

Guinness from Florrie McGreals

I found myself at Irish pub Florrie McGreals recently while killing time before a show at the Bruce Mason Theatre. Billed as “an iconic North Shore landmark”, Florries has been around since 1993 and is kind of charming with its Irish memorabilia all over the walls and comforting pub menu. It also pours a decent Guinness. We’ve got a Murphy’s Irish Stout here for comparison and after sampling both, nothing beats Guinness’ creamy head.

Find it here: 138 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna

Hibiscus negroni from Forest

I always love the look and sound of Forest’s cocktails, which infuse real flowers and fruit to create colourful and layered concoctions with names like marigold gin fizz and pea shell vodka martini. Forest is a vegetarian restaurant but you’re not missing out by not eating meat here, and the drinks deliver on depth and flavour too. This hibiscus negroni is made by infusing hibiscus flowers with Hastings Distillery’s sweet vermouth L’Opera (I’ve got a bottle of this in my drinks cabinet) and East Block gin for a dark yet delicate negroni.

Drink it here: 243 Dominion Road, Mount Eden

More on food and drink

From must-visit wineries to brand-new bakeries.

There’s never been a better time to visit Hawke’s Bay’s diverse wineries. They are bouncing back after a tough year, and very much open for business.

World Top 100 chef Vaughan Mabee on the year that made him laugh, cry and shave his head. The Queenstown-based chef continues to put New Zealand restaurants on the map.

Let them eat caviar: Why is Auckland suddenly obsessed with fancy fish eggs? Your guide to the condiment that costs $100 a teaspoon.

These two food and wine destinations mean a visit to the Wairarapa is essential. A world-class lodge, stellar dining, sublime wine — a trip to the Wairarapa is a must.

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