‘Sex on the Beach’ Cocktail


The summer of 2022 has been a flashback to the heydays of the 1980s. Tom Cruise has  topped the box office as Maverick, the titular character in the “Top Gun” sequel fueling Reagan-era levels of patriotism. Speaking of the Gipper, once again the U.S. and Russia are back at odds while the former Soviet Union invades a neighboring country.  

The “Greed Decade” also seems to be a fitting moniker now as pharmaceutical and tech corporations have been raking in dramatic pandemic profits, enriching wealthy, mostly White Americans. 

Running  through the charts is Kate Bush’s iconic tune, “Running Up That Hill.” While this song’s recent reemergence stems from its featuring in the series “Stranger Things,” its title could be a metaphor for today’s uphill battle for common sense gun laws and women’s rights.  

So, what’s next? A music video featuring puppets of Biden and Putin fighting in a boxing ring? Kamala Harris bringing shoulder-padded blazers and big hair back into fashion? Poseurs re-opening in Georgetown? 

The biggest question on my mind is whether we are due for an ’80s cocktail revival. Perhaps pina coladas, fuzzy navels or Long Island iced teas? 

If I were to choose just one cocktail to define the decade of neon clothes and MTV… I would chose the seductively named “Sex on the Beach.”

Forged from vodka, orange juice, cranberry juice and peach schnapps, this cloying cocktail is easier to make than sending a FedEx package. Remember this was still the era of convenience drinking… craft cocktails would not reemerge until after the turn of the century. 

The ’80s was a period of instant gratification. No bartender (either at home or in the club) wanted to be bothered with freshly squeezing juice, making homemade bitters or preparing infused spirits. Bar-goers were more impressed by the flair bartending of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail,” than what was in their glass. Here was a cocktail with four ready-made ingredients that just needed to be poured. 

The popularity of schnapps also skyrocketed in the 1980s, with peach being the most popular. At that time, the addition of an unfamiliar jolt of exotic flavor added a layer of faux-yuppie sophistication to a simple highball. While this cocktail did have a sweet taste that appealed to many, I believe its irresistible following was the result of its name. 

In today’s era, the thought of ordering a “Sex on the Beach” out loud at a bar seems like the epitome of douchiness. Back in the shameless 80’s, however, it was more like a party battle cry. In one quick sentence, young females were able to assert their sexual liberation, adventurous nature and a desire to have fun. Its fame spawned a countless number of drinks with the word “sex” in the title along with some even more horrible pickup lines.  

So where did this racy tipple originate? Florida, of course. Rumor has it that it was conceived by a bartender who was motivated by a contest for selling the most bottles of peach schnapps. It was in Fort Lauderdale, in the sunshine state of Florida, during the height of college spring break season. The name includes the most popular reasons revelers flocked to Florida for a week-long boozefest – “sex” and “beach.”  

How were the rest of the ingredients determined? A common theory is that it was a combination of two other ’80s favorites – fuzzy navel (orange juice and peach schnapps) with a Cape Codder (vodka and cranberry juice). Or it could have been just what was conveniently located at the bar. 

While I’m always a fan of sentimental drinks and have fond memories of the ’80s, I hope the next ’80s trends that embrace America will be a little more sobering: lower inflation, a ban on automatic weapons, and a return to the time when women still had a right to choose.  

Sex on the Beach 

Recipe courtesy of the International Bartenders Association 

1  1/3 oz.  vodka 

2/3 oz. Peach schnapps 

1  1/3 oz. Orange juice 

1  1/3 oz. Cranberry juice 

Pour ingredients in a glass and serve. 

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