When I turned 21 a friend gave me a copy of The Bartender’s Black Book. Inside its pages were hundreds of recipes for cocktails, the vast majority of which I had never even heard of before.
I immediately set out to try and make some of the most interesting one—a daunting task since I had never mixed a cocktail before, and most of them required a ton of ingredients. I remember being good pals with the guy at the local liquor store by the end of the semester and taking up way more of our pantry than probably appropriate with liquor.
Truth be told, most cocktail books are made for bartenders. Sure, your average person can make the drinks stored within their pages, but do they have all the ingredients immediately on hand? Probably not, nor do you really want to buy a giant bottle of banana liqueur just to experiment with a single recipe. Perhaps more importantly, when you need a drink, sometimes the last thing you want to do is spend 20 minutes meticulously mix together a bunch of different things.
While I got my start in complex cocktails, my go-tos tend to be ones that are much, much easier. There are quite a few tasty drinks out there you can whip up with just a few ingredients, and they’ll likely dazzle your dinner guests (or yourself) just as much as some of the fancy schmancy options, maybe even more.
Here are a few of my personal faves that can be whipped up quickly. Bonus: they all are (mostly) made with things that are in any home bar, so you can make these your go-to for weddings, office holiday parties, and other such events as well.
Also, these recipes are more “how I make it” than “the traditional technique.” In most cases I’m pretty close, but we’re going for simplicity here folks.
Image credit: Will Shenton
This is by far my favorite easy cocktail to make. In fact, my first purchase when I moved into my current apartment was a handle of Sailor Jerry’s and a case of Fever Tree Ginger Beer so I could make them whenever I want. They’re mega delicious, slightly spicy, and the ultimate beverage whenever you notice a bar has a good ginger beer available.
1 part dark rum
2 parts ginger beer
Directions: I typically eyeball this, pouring the rum in first, then the ginger beer. Give it a little stir and top it with ice. If you’re feeling fancy (or just have some on hand) the traditional version of this includes a splash of lime. I tend to skip it, and think everything turns out tasty.
Image credit: Will Shenton
When you don’t have dark rum, but do have vodka and ginger beer, it’s time for a Moscow Mule. You’re doing roughly the same thing here as you are with the Dark and Stormy, but with vodka. If you’re feeling fancy, these are traditionally served in a copper mug, which I recommend everyone buying a few of not because it makes the drink better, but because drinking out of copper mugs is fun.
1 part vodka
2 parts ginger beer
Directions: Mix together the vodka and ginger beer, squeeze in a little lemon, stir, and top with ice. Unlike the Dark & Stormy, I think this one kind of needs the lime. You can certainly get by without it, but it definitely enhances the drink.
Martinis were one of the first cocktails I learned how to make. They’re super easy, and make you look like the most sophisticated drinker on the block. Spice things up by using flavored vodka instead of the straight stuff. I’m particularly a fan of lemon and orange-flavored Absolut, but most varieties will do the trick.
2 parts vodka
½ part vermouth
Directions: Despite what James Bond says, martinis should be stirred, not shaken. Stir together all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and then strain into a martini glass.
In college, I had some friends that would always make Manhattans at parties. While the rest of us were sipping on 40s of High Life, I always considered them the most sophisticated of our group. Manhattans are easy to make, and the perfect thing to make quickly at home for a nightcap, or whip up when you have a few friends over.
2.5 parts bourbon
1 part vermouth
2 dashes of bitters
Directions: Mix everything together in a rocks glass except the cherry. Fill the glass with ice, and then crush the cherry (preferably maraschino) on the side.
Don’t get suckered into buying margarita mix! Making your own margaritas is super simple, and tastes so much better than the sugary mix you buy at the store.
3 parts tequila
1 part lime juice
1 part simple syrup
1 teaspoon of orange liqueur (like Cointreau)
Directions: Mix everything together in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake. Pour over ice in a glass. If you like salt, put some salt on a plate. Use a lime to wet the rim of a glass, and then dip the glass in the plate before filling it to cover the rim with salt.