Making a cocktail doesn’t have to involve esoteric mixers and nine different kinds of alcohol, as these easy mixed drinks prove. They’re made from ingredients you probably already have on hand, and are simple to make even if you don’t have a shaker—the perfect solution to when your favorite bars are (still) closed due to COVID-19 and you’re limiting trips to the grocery store. And when every week is one of those weeks…
bartenders, to sudden bar cart mixology enthusiasts, to During the course of the ongoing cornavirus pandemic, everyone from out of work Ina Garten have been stepping up to the social media plate to demonstrate their cocktail skills. If your “home bar” consists of little more than a single half-empty bottle, you may be feeling left out of the fun. But there’s no reason to!
“The hallmark of a good cocktail is the right balance of ingredients that pair well together,” says James Yardley, founder of NYC’s Speakeasy Sessions at The Gin Mill. “A good Old Fashioned is the right mix of bitter, sweet, and spirit, just like a cheeseburger is the right mix of bread, meat, and cheese.” Balance is key, but you need not have an assortment of bartender darling liquors and liqueurs on hand to achieve the perfect triangulation Yardley describes.
Furthermore, you hardly even need the bartender tools. Any vessel or vessels that can be sealed can become a shaker (hello, ever-handy mason jar). Anything that measures can be a jigger (your tablespoons is not just for baking). Any glass that holds liquid can become a cocktail glass (just rinse the morning coffee out of your mug and you’ll have fewer dishes to wash later).
Modern Mixology Cocktail Shaker Set with Stand, $43.97 from Amazon
But just in case you do want the real things...
Even if you only have a single bottle of a light or dark spirit, many simple and classic cocktails can be made using basic ingredients that you probably have hiding in your fridge or pantry. These 11 cocktails show how staples function in ways that can turn a single spirit into an Instagram-worthy cocktail! Not to mention the perfect thing for your next virtual happy hour.
1. Sugar + Water = Simple Syrup
Try It: Daiquiri
“Simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water,” says Yardley. “We use it instead of dry sugar because it dissolves into the drink faster.” Simple syrup can be made by shaking or heating to dissolve the sugar, and provides the sweet note in many cocktails. A classic daiquiri is a bartender favorite for its simple adherence to the bedrock formula. Plus you can imagine yourself somewhere other than your living room couch. Get our Classic Daiquiri recipe.
It takes a little longer to make, but sugar plus lemon peels is another golden ingredient for all your drinks.
Try It: Penicillin
You probably have honey on hand lately for any number of immunity-boosting or symptom-soothing formulas. Honey is another common sweetener used in cocktails, especially where it plays with ginger, such as in this classic Scotch cocktail which almost seems like it could be good for you. Get the Penicillin recipe.
Related Reading: 15 Reasons to Always Have Honey on Hand
3. Maple Syrup
Try It: Maple Old Fashioned
Maple is a common substitute for either of the two above sweeteners, lending a rich and nuanced sweetness to any cocktail. No bitters? No problem. “I’ve always compared adding bitters to cocktails to adding spices to dishes,” says Alan Wither of Gotham Bar and Grill. To substitute for it, he suggests: “muddle some orange and lemon peel with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and infuse that into vodka. Dark chocolate and coffee grinds are great too.” Get the Maple Old Fashioned recipe.
Try It: Tommy’s Margarita
If you’ve been wondering whether you might still be quarantined for Cinco de Mayo, and you regularly keep agave on hand as your go-to sweetener, you don’t have to acquire anything more than tequila to make this classic margarita variation. Get the Tommy’s Margarita recipe.
Try It: Strawberry Shrub Cocktail
“Vinegar often gets overlooked as a way to add acid to a drink,” says Yardley. Most shaken cocktails rely on an acidic component, usually in the form of citrus. But if you’re finding lemons and limes in short supply during the current craze of home mixology, other fruits can easily be acidulated into shrubs using any basic vinegar you have on hand. Get the Strawberry Shrub Cocktail recipe.
Try It: Kalimotxo
If your priority was stocking up on wine over spirits, you can still venture into cocktail territory. Sangria is always a good idea for virtual happy hours, or for low-energy days, a simple mix of red wine and cola is actually a very popular Basque cocktail. It’s not low-brow, it’s positively continental! Get our Kalimotxo recipe.
Try It: Grapefruit Gin Sour
Aquafaba is the name given to the starchy liquid that exists in a can of cooked chickpeas. If you were good about stocking up on these nutrient-dense staples, then you actually have an abundance of a terrific cocktail ingredient available. A common substitute for egg whites, use aquafaba in any frothy, sour-based cocktail. Get the Grapefruit Gin Sour recipe.
Try It: Bramble
A bramble is a classic cocktail that commonly utilizes muddled blackberries and blackberry liqueur, but your basic, everyday jam can take the place of both in building a refreshing and elegant gin-based cocktail. That, as they say, is my jam. Get the Jam Bramble recipe.
Try It: Dr. Mitchill’s Cocktail
Spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon are commonly used as a cocktail garnish as in this early-edition cocktail, offering the drinker a heady whiff before the glass even hits the lip. These can be applied to many cocktails, and you can try any ground spice that appeals to you: clove, star anise, fennel, etc. Get the Dr. Mitchill’s Cocktail recipe. (Or, since it is the season, whip up a pumpkin spice drink.)
Related Reading: What’s in Pumpkin Spice & Why It Works So Well
10. Baking Extracts
Try It: Peppermint Mocha Martini
Common baking extracts are just intense infusions of flavor into a high-proof spirit, kind of like single-note bitters. If you have vodka and vanilla extract, then you have vanilla vodka. If you have bourbon and almond extract, now you have almond bourbon. (If such a thing doesn’t exist, it really should.) If you have vodka and peppermint extract, now you have a (socially-distant) party. Never mind the holiday vibe. Season is meaningless in quarantine. Get the Peppermint Mocha Martini recipe.
Try It: Royal-Tea
Tea leaves are one of the most versatile flavor-bombs that professional and enthusiastic home bartenders can use, especially since there are so many varieties. Infusions and syrups can both be made from teas, and strong tea itself can be used a cocktail ingredient. If you’re going for an infusion, Yardley offers the following instructions: “My best advice is to use glass container with a tightly fitting lid, fill it with your spirit, add the same amount of tea that you would as if you were making it to drink normally, and then watch the color change and taste it every 5 minutes until you like the flavor.” Get the Royal-Tea recipe.
Related Video: How to Use Fresh Herbs in Cocktails Too
Header image courtesy of Rachen Buosa/EyeEm/Getty Images.