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Easy Cocktail Recipes For The Blossoming Home Bartender

Drinking a good cocktail is easy. We’d argue that making a good cocktail should be easy too. And yet… have you ever stared at a cocktail menu and thought, “what the hell is all this?” Yeah, us too.

It’s okay if you don’t know the difference between Martini and a martini (one’s a vermouth brand while the other is a cocktail made from gin or vodka). It’s also okay if you don’t know that you need to muddle the cherry and orange peel in an old fashioned no. 2 and not an in an old fashioned no. 1. And no one needs to memorize a ten-ingredient tiki drink unless, maybe, you work at a rum bar. (Insider secret: even the best bartenders use recipe books for the rare and harder cocktails while mixing.)

There’s a lot to know, is what we’re saying. And no one can know it all.

To help you on your cocktail journey, we’ve compiled a list of six easy cocktails to try at home. You don’t need any Hamilton Beach countertop mixers. You don’t even need much specialty equipment, besides a cocktail shaker. Even then, you can use an old Bell Jar with a lid in a pinch. You can spend a little cash on a crystal mixing jug, or you can just use an old pint glass.

Ease is the key today. Drinking (and mixing as a hobby) should be fun.

Two quick things before we dive in:

  1. Pre-chill your glasses. If you can, keep some in your freezer (at least) overnight. This gives your cocktail a longer shelf life once it’s poured and adds that little something extra.
  2. Use deeply frozen ice. Set your freezer as low as it can go. Pop ice cubes out of the trays, bag them up, and store the bag close to the back. If you have one, store your bagged ice in a chest freezer. The colder your ice, the better your cocktail is going to be.

Dry Gin Martini

The Botanist

The Drink:

This is the one cocktail everyone should be able to make. A dry gin martini is simple yet overflowing with subtle nuance. This is the sort of drink that you need to stir up a couple of times to get exactly right.

Once you hit a stride, you’ll be whipping these drinks up non-stop.

Supplies:

  • Cocktail glass or Nick And Nora glass
  • Fruit peeler or cocktail stick
  • Barspoon
  • Jigger
  • Mixing jug
  • Strainer

Ingredients:

  • 2.5-oz. dry gin
  • 0.5-oz. dry vermouth
  • Ice
  • Lemon peel or green olives

Method:

  • Add gin and vermouth to a mixing jug.
  • Top with ice.
  • Stir until the outside of the mixing jug is ice-cold to touch.
  • Strain the drink into a pre-chilled glass.
  • Garnish: Either spritz lemon oils over the drink and drop in the peel or spear a couple of olives and drop them in the glass.
  • Serve.

Variations:

There are almost endless variations on this drink. You can shift the amount of vermouth to the point of 1:1 gin:vermouth or to 10:1 gin:vermouth — at that point you’re basically just washing the cocktail glass out with the splash of vermouth and then dumping it out.

You can also use vodka instead of gin. Or add cocktail onions as a garnish to make a Gibson. And if you insist, you can shake it instead of stir it, but only if you’re dealing with a vodka base.

Play around and find the martini that speaks to you.

Manhattan

Jim Beam

The Drink:

If you can make a dry martini, you can make this classic. It’s the exact same concept only with whiskey in place of gin, sweet vermouth in place of dry vermouth, and a dash of bitters to give it a little more color.

Supplies:

  • Cocktail glass or Nick and Nora glass
  • Fruit peeler
  • Cocktail stick
  • Barspoon
  • Jigger
  • Mixing jug
  • Strainer

Ingredients:

  • 2-oz. rye whiskey
  • 1-oz. sweet vermouth
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Ice
  • Orange peel
  • Luxardo cherry

Method:

  • Add the bitters, whiskey, and vermouth to a mixing jug.
  • Top with ice.
  • Stir until the outside of the mixing jug is ice-cold to touch.
  • Strain the drink into a pre-chilled glass.
  • Spritz the drink with the orange oils from the orange peel and discard.
  • Spear one cherry (two if you must but not more than that) and drop it into the glass.
  • Serve.

Variations:

The easiest change up with a Manhattan is to switch out the bourbon or rye for a smoky single malt from Scotland, creating a Rob Roy. You can also change this up by making it a black Manhattan (with Amaro Averna), dry Manhattan (with dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth), or perfect Manhattan (with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth).

Moreover, brandy and dark rum make for excellent bases that marry well to sweet vermouth and bitters. If you’re using a dark rum, add in a measure of Curaçao to make an El Presidente.

Daiquiri

Havana Club

The Drink:

This Cuban masterpiece is one of the most satisfying and thirst-quenching cocktails on the list. The seemingly simple emulsification of light rum, fresh lime, and sugar exemplify Cubano cocktail culture. And while this feels like a very “summery” drink, don’t sleep on shaking one up in the dead of winter to remind you of summer (and get some vitamin C into your system).

Supplies:

  • Cocktail glass or Nick and Nora glass
  • Knife
  • Barspoon
  • Jigger
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Handheld citrus press
  • Strainer

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-oz. white rum
  • 0.75-oz. fresh lime juice (usually one lime depending on size)
  • 0.75-oz. simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Lime Peel

Method:

  • Add the rum and fresh lime juice to a cocktail shaker.
  • Top up with ice.
  • Affix the lid to the shaker very tightly and shake until the outside of the shaker is ice-cold to touch.
  • Strain the drink into a pre-chilled glass.
  • Spritz lime oils onto the top of the drink and drop in the peel.
  • Serve.

Variations:

The Papa Doble — or Hemingway Daiquiri — is probably the most iconic variable. But we all know the “frozen” version of the daiquiri is the most popular. Still, you’ll need that Hamilton Beach mixer if you want to tackle those.

Whiskey Sour

Jameson

The Drink:

This is a classic drink that takes things up a notch. You do need a little more shaking skill, since you’re dealing with raw egg white. But in the end, this is only one more step than the daiquiri. And when you nail this frothy textural treat of a cocktail, you’ll really have taken a step up the mixing ladder.

Supplies:

  • Rocks glass
  • Knife
  • Barspoon
  • Jigger
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Handheld citrus press
  • Strainer

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-oz. bourbon or Irish whiskey
  • 0.75-oz. fresh lemon juice (around a half of a lemon depending on size)
  • 0.75-oz. simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Ice
  • Luxardo cherry

Method:

  • Add the whiskey, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white to a cocktail shaker.
  • Affix the lid tightly (without ice) and shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds to emulsify.
  • Open the shaker and top up with ice.
  • Re-affix the lid tightly and shake until the shaker is ice-cold to touch.
  • Strain the drink into a pre-chilled glass.
  • Spear a cherry and balance on the lip of the glass.
  • Serve.

Variations:

This is another cocktail that has plug-and-play adaptability. I really dig making Islay sours with lime instead of lemon and a nice dose of smoky whisky. Switch up the citrus for orange juice and the base spirit for a dark rum or even Amaretto. It’s sometimes nice with a viscous port wine float on top.

And yes, you can drop out the egg white. But, that’ll completely change the texture of this drink. Once you master the egg white version, you’ll never go back to the non-egg white variation.

Champagne Cocktail

Shutterstock

The Drink:

Okay, this is technically the easiest cocktail on this list. You really aren’t “mixing” anything with this one. There’s no stirring, no shaking, no measuring. Yet, if you have a nice and dry Champagne (think Bollinger or Roederer), this cocktail can really take it to the next level by basically amping it up with a touch of bitters and sugar.

Supplies:

  • Champagne flute
  • Barspoon
  • Fruit Peeler

Ingredients:

  • Champagne
  • 1 white sugar cube
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Lemon peel

Method:

  • Balance the sugar cube in the bowl of a barspoon and hit it with four dashes of bitters.
  • Let the cube soak in the bitters for about 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Drop the sugar cube into the bottom of a pre-chilled Champagne flute.
  • Top with ice-cold Champagne.
  • Spritz the oils from the lemon peel over the drink and drop in the peel.
  • Serve.

Variations:

There’s some debate about whether adding an ounce of brandy or Cognac to this is the real “classic” version. Whatever the history of the drink might be, you can definitely add an ounce of good brandy to the flute before you pour in the Champagne. You can also switch up the sugar cube to a bar spoon of, say, grenadine, which — when paired with a nice brandy — really amps this drink up.

That all leads to the delightful Prince of Wales. This variation has the brandy or whiskey addition to the sugar and bitters with an additional pour of Bénédictine liqueur and pineapple, orange, and/or lemon garnishes.

Negroni

Campari

The Drink:

Anyone can make a Negroni. If you can pour booze into a glass, you can make one (just like the cocktail above). The brilliance of this drink is that, yes, you can spiff it up by stirring it in a mixing jug and spritzing orange and lemon oils everywhere. But … you don’t have to.

You’ll find that at nearly every cafe and bar across Italy this drink will be built in the glass with no fanfare whatsoever. And that’s just fine.

Supplies:

  • Rocks glass
  • Knife
  • Barspoon
  • Jigger

Ingredients:

  • 1-oz. Campari
  • 1-oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1-oz. dry gin
  • Ice
  • Orange wedge

Method:

  • Fill a rocks glass with ice.
  • Add gin, vermouth, and Campari.
  • Stir a few times.
  • Add orange wedge.
  • Serve.

Variations:

The easiest variations to play with are the boulevardier (bourbon instead of gin), sbagliato (prosecco instead of gin), Americano (fizzy water instead of gin), and negroski (vodka instead of gin). Then, of course, there’s the Campari spritz which marries Campari to equal parts fizzy water and prosecco.

Finally, there are variations in what you can do with the Campari. I’ve seen Campari bottles with big rosemary sprigs in the bottle to add a savory, almost earthy, body to the base of the drink. A friend of mine has been infusing her Campari with fresh habanero chilis to make spicy mezcal negronis and they rule.

The point is with this cocktail — and all of the cocktails above — is to practice them, master them, and then make them your own. Experiment, play, and, most importantly, have fun.

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