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How does a cocktail become the ‘Drink of the Summer’? And will 2023 be the year of the ‘pornstar martini’?

Who decides which drink gets the title? Why does the role exist? What happens if you can’t move on from the Dirty Shirley of 2022?

The "pornstar martini" — vanilla vodka, fresh passion fruit, passion fruit liqueur, vanilla syrup, and lime juice, plus a shot of Champagne on the side — could be a contender for the "Drink of the Summer," some say.adobe images; greg klee/globe staff photo illustration/tonktiti - stock.adobe.com

As a reporter you never know where your digging will lead, and so it was with my investigation into this whole “Drink of the Summer” thing.

In the interest of transparency, my Drink of the Summer is the same as my Drink of the Winter, Spring, and Fall, and has remained unchanged over decades. So my curiosity has less to do with getting in early on the 2023 Drink of the Summer (mine will be white wine, no matter what) than with the concept itself.

Who makes the call — is there a governing body? Or does it bubble up from the people, like “most likely to be a reality TV star” or “best teeth” awards of the high school yearbook?


Why is there a need for the position in the first place? And what happens to people who get stuck on a past Drink of the Summer — 2021′s title holder, say, the throwback espresso martini — and can’t move on?

Do they have to whisper their order to the bartender? Or is it like everything else — if you do it with confidence, if you own it, you can get away with anything?

My research started with Tiff Baira, 26, an influencer in the cocktail space, who counts among her credentials that her social media posts have a collective 8.2 million likes — and that last summer she was publicly credited with helping elevate the vodka-spiked “Dirty Shirley” to the Drink of the Summer.

(On Baira’s website I noticed that for $100 you can book her for an hour-long “confidence consultation,” and I’m saving up for a session devoted to overcoming the shame of ordering chardonnay.)

“It’s a numbers game,” she told me at the start of a tutorial that would go on to explain that even a global drink phenomenon can start with a single person.


When it happens organically, here’s the scenario: Someone orders a drink, they post about it on social media, someone else thinks “hey, that’s cool,” and they incorporate it into their own social media post (this is called “stitching,” but don’t worry about it now), and so on.

More people see it, maybe the drink already has a fun name or it’s given one. It hits the wedding circuit; Instagram photos coming out of Nantucket show people with expensive hair drinking it as they gaze upon expensive views; it’s ordered by people who are eager to be expensive-people adjacent; Nowheresville bars start pushing it.

Eventually a writer, perhaps desperate to feed the beast, or eager for a scoop, writes it up; and voila, a star is born.

Or maybe I should say a “pornstar martini” is born.

Because as Baira told me, that drink — vanilla vodka, fresh passion fruit, passion fruit liqueur, vanilla syrup and lime juice, plus a shot of Champagne on the side — is a 2023 contender.

“The pornstar martini is having a huge moment,” she said.

I figured the cocktail was an ingénue, but drinks, like people, can take years to become an overnight sensation. And in fact, in London, the drink was so famous that when its Ghanaian-born inventor passed away, in 2021, it made headlines.

“Pornstar Martini creator Douglas Ankrah dies,” The Spirits Business, among others, reported.


The Drink of the Summer can also “trickle down” from high-end mixologists, according to food and drink writer J.M. Hirsch, the editorial director of Milk Street the Boston-based food media company. “I hate to reduce cocktails to Reaganomics,” he said. But it’s true.

It can come from TV, said Victor Alsobrook, director of operations and beverages at La Bonne Maison a Newton-based wedding and event caterer. The Real Housewives, Selena Gomez, or Stanley Tucci drink something on their shows, and ordering the same cocktail themselves makes viewers feel like insiders, part of something glamorous.

In 2018, the Aperol spritz famously ascended to the throne after a Campari campaign so intense that in some places you could barely see the sky for the branded, orange patio umbrellas.

“There’s a Reason You’re Drinking So Much Aperol Spritz,” read a headline in July of that year in The New York Times. The marketing push started in New York “with a flurry of Aperol spritz booths that were installed at popular summertime events ,” the paper reported. “In the Hamptons last summer, Campari turned a little scooter car into a bar.”

A year later, Vox did its own deep dive. “Inside the calculated race to create the next drink of summer,” the headline read. “It’s shrewd, aspirational marketing — not just hot weather — that gave rise to rosé, Aperol spritzes and hard seltzer.”

It’s easy to understand why a liquor company wants to grab the mantle, but what’s in it for the people?


When I asked Naomi Levy, a local bar and restaurant consultant, she told me that customers are sometimes nervous about ordering cocktails — the drinks can be a “little mysterious,” she said — but going with a proven winner removes the anxiety.

Then she posed a query of her own. “Why did we all start making sourdough bread during quarantine?” she asked. “It’s a bigger philosophical question.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.