I’ve made a lot of horrible cocktails in my day, but since I’ve been at home, I figured it’s time to make a change. This, afterall is a great time to pick up some new hobbies that can bring a little joy into life right now. For example, I’ve tried playing the recorder, oil painting, and even picked up the art of jump rope. But that’s probably not what you signed up to read by clicking on this post, so let’s focus on mixology (besides, the recorder is NOT going well anyway). Now while I am grateful for my quarantine set up, we really miss those delicious cocktails we used to consume at bars and restaurants. So we asked ourselves, “how can we make good cocktails while we’re stationed at home?” It’s a highly intimidating and confusing science, therefore, we did a large amount of cocktail research (in the name of the blog, of course) and here’s what we found works for us. It’s so simple, I promise.
Before I begin, I would like to say a quick disclaimer that cocktails to-go are a thing right now and you should support your favorite local restaurant if you’re able…some great So-Cal cocktails to-go are from Playa Mesa (Orange County), Little Doms (Los Feliz), HomeState (Hollywood)…name your favorite restaurants with to-go cocktails in the comments section below in your area!
I’d also like to note that I am not in any way a certified bartender, but rather just a mere 22-year-old girl that misses going to rooftop bars with frilly drinks (proof above). My boyfriend, Chase and I figured out this formula that changed our cocktail making lives (well Chase figured most of it out but I wrote the blog post about it). It has lead us to making better, more interesting at-home cocktails AND has given us way less stress making them. So I thought I’d share what we’ve been doing. So consider this “a basic beginner’s guide to making drinks that seem fancy but are actually easy to make and taste great written by a beginner.” Woof. That’s a long title –– sorry. Let’s start with our go-to formula for most every cocktail:
OUR FOOL-PROOF COCKTAIL FORMULA
FEAST YER EYES. I’m going to break this bad boy down, but the first thing you need to know is that you can swap out anything in each category (I’ll show you examples below). The second is that you need to follow the golden bartender’s ratio: 2-1-1. That’s 2 ounces of liquor, 1 ounce of sweet, and 1 ounce of sour. If you do those things, you can get however fancy you want. Now let me walk you through step-by-step how to use this formula:
STEP ONE: Grab your cocktail shaker and muddle any fruit you want at the bottom. This can be blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, mango, blackberries, cucumber…THE LIST GOES ON FOREVER.
If you're using cucumber: I highly recommend using pure cucumber juice instead of muddling it. After much trial and error we realized there's not much flavor if you just muddle it, so if you have your own juicer, go to town. If you don't have a juicer (like me), go to a grocery store or smoothie bar that can juice straight cucumber juice for you and the flavor will be MUCH better.
STEP TWO: Add Ice. And LOTS of it. If you think you added enough, add more. This makes your drink cold, refreshing, and balanced. It will taste 400% more delicious if you fill your shaker (and your glasses) to the tippy top with ice.
STEP THREE: It’s time for your 2-1-1. This is where the golden rule comes into play: 2 ounces of liquor, 1 ounce of sweet (agave, honey, etc), and 1 ounce of sour (lemon juice, lime juice, etc).
HOT TIP: We get tired of squeezing limes and lemons, so we buy pure lemon and lime juice (we usually get this brand) and it tastes the same as if we had spent hours squeezing each lemon into the jigger. It’s crucial to get pure lemon or lime juice (check the ingredients to make sure there’s no added sugar or it will mess with your ratios).
STEP FOUR: Add an herb, spice OR BOTH. For herbs, we usually use cilantro, thyme, or basil, and for spice, we usually use jalapeño or serrano peppers. It really just comes down to whatever we have in our fridge that day. Also, if you’ve been wanting to grow your own herbs and want to support a wildlife non-profit simultaneously, you can sign up to get The National Garden Life Federation’s guide to growing your own cocktail herb garden.
STEP FIVE: SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE for between 15-30 seconds (it will feel like forever). Shake hard with a firm grip so you don’t lose all your precious ingredients.
If you are wanting to veer from the formula and add some carbonation (aka bubbles like soda water) DO NOT add it into your shaker. You will have an explosive science project on your hands. Instead, add your bubbles as a topper once your mixture is safely in your cocktail glass. No need to have an unnecessary emergency room visit:)
STEP SIX: Time to serve. Again, the #1 most helpful thing we’ve learned is that you should PACK your glasses with ice. We found that our drinks stay colder and our cocktails go much farther so we can serve more people in one batch.
Here are two VASTLY different drinks that both work incredibly well using our made-up formula:
The first one is a Blueberry Thyme Rye Lemonade and the second is a Spicy Kiwi Cilantro Margarita. As you can see here…EVERYTHING IS SUBSTITUTABLE. Use whatever is in your fridge, just be sure to stick with the formula. Here’s what our finished products looked like for each drink:
Not too shabby for two 20-somethings that didn’t go to bartending school or bartend at a real bar (but Chase does read the Death and Co’s book OFTEN, so he does know more than your average cocktail-joe). If you want some more ideas of what we’ve tried and tested and therefore know will work, here’s a list of 10 drink ideas that we’ve made (not all of these were made in the last 2 months, don’t worry):
- Rye, blueberry, honey, lemon, thyme (pictured above)
- Tequila, kiwi, agave, lime, cilantro, jalapeño (pictured above)
- Bourbon, cherry, honey, lemon
- Gin, blackberry, honey, lemon
- Vodka, cucumber, honey, lemon, lavender
- Tequila, strawberry, agave, lime, basil
- Tequila, cucumber, agave, lime, serrano pepper, cilantro
- Tequila, watermelon, agave, lime, chili pepper, cilantro
- Tequila, pineapple, agave, lime, serrano
- Tequila, grapefruit, agave, lime, sage
Wow that’s a lot of tequila…as you can see, we’re big margarita people above all else, but the formula works for vodka, gin, whiskey, YOU NAME IT, we’ve tried it and were very happy with the results. ALSO, please note, this formula is just the basics – let’s call it “a jumping off point” eh? – if you want to get really fancy by adding triple sec AND agave, or you want to add some special bitter, egg whites, or liqueur in your bar cabinet, by all means GO FOR IT. Then let us know how it is in the comments 🙂
Now for more hacks and products.
Having a lot of ice is so important. MAJOR HACK: buy a bag of ice. A big bag. Ice trays or your fridge ice machine can only make so much, and you will run out and you’ll be sad. Plus it’s just so much easier to dump your glasses into a big ol’ bag versus fill them from the fridge. This was a real game-changer for us.
Also, if you’re feeling spunky –– I’m a firm believer that cool ice is the easiest way to make your non-fancy drink feel fancy. I personally think a drink tastes and feels better if it has a flower on top and one big solid ice cube that you can see through. There are some awesome trays for giant sphere ice or cube ice, or you can go for a cool ice machine like that makes this kind of ice that Emily has this ice in the Mountain House. ALSO, I found out recently that YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN CLEAR ICE…I’m planning to try it out this weekend. Stay tuned.
Zhush Up Cocktail Station
Do not underestimate the power of good bar supplies. I’m not just talking about your cute cocktail shaker (although that is arguably the most important and I did round up a bunch below). I’m a huge fan of having a jigger and a muddler (wouldn’t “Jigger and The Muddler’s” be the best band name ever?), they make your life VERY easy and overall will make the process more enjoyable. Even Emily has been wanting to expand her cocktail tool game because she too misses the simple pleasure of a truly delicious and fancy cocktail. BUT if you don’t have these items, don’t fret, you can in the meantime sub in the back of a big utensil/something big ‘n round for a muddler and a shot glass for a jigger (we’ve been doing this because we lost our jigger to the garbage disposal…RIP), just PLEASE NOTE that a shot glass is 1.5 ounces, so you have to eyeball a lot to get your 2-1-1 ratio perfect and it can go very wrong. If you’re in the market for a jigger (it will make your life easier), I’d go for one that has a 1 oz & .5 oz (not 1.5 oz because that’s just a shot glass). This set is perfect because for $14 you can get 1 & 2 oz., 3/4 & 1 1/2 oz., 1/2 & 1 oz. It’s basically every measurement you would ever need. I just convinced myself to order it.
Now that you know all about bar supplies and also ere are the best cocktail sets, glasses, and bar junk that will make you feel special and is ACTUALLY USEFUL. Enjoy…
COCKTAIL SETS & SHAKERS
1. Cocktail Kingdom Set | 2. Gold Cocktail Set | 3. 12 Piece Cocktail Set | 4. Gunmetal Cocktail Set | 5. Rose Gold Cocktail Set | 6. Terrazzo Cocktail Shaker + Jigger | Cb2 Marble Cocktail Tools
Couple things to point out here, Jess told me that #1 is the brand that a ton of cocktails bars in New York used when she was working (and probably still are). Very fancy but good stuff, guys. Also #4 is my favorite (plus the stir spoon can double as a muddler), and #5 is the best deal (originally $86…it’s 43% off!) If you already have a shaker or a cocktail set, next up are your MOST important tools. I’m truly baffled why not all cocktail sets are required to come with these. If yours doesn’t, here they are:
JIGGERS AND MUDDLERS
1. Walnut Wood Muddler | 2. West Elm Thatcher Jigger | 3. Hammered Metal Muddler | 4. Stainless Steel Jiggers (Various Measurements) 5. Winco Netted Head Muddler | 6. Project 62 Gold Jigger with Handle
ICE MAKERS & GLASSES FOR SERVING
1. Nugget Ice Maker | 2. Colossal Cube Ice Tray | 3. Silicone Round Ice Tray | 4. Short Tumbler 4 Pack | 5. Scribble Highball Glass 8 Pack | 6. Single Coupe Glass
Hopefully, that was helpful and enjoyable to read. If you want more info on making AWESOME cocktails, we highly recommend you read Death & Co’s book (it’s really pretty to display on a coffee table or bar cart so that’s a plus), or Jess also highly recommends this beginner cocktail book. The authors, John and Carey are cocktail geniuses. There are mood-based flowcharts, people.
PLEASE drop any knowledge you have in the comments…I’d love any tips you have on how to make cocktails EVEN BETTER. Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone xx
Opening Image Credit: Photo by Ryan Liebe | Our Updated Living Room
Great post but one thing concerned me! PLEASE NEVER EVER EVER “…dump your glasses into a big ol’ bag” of ice! You can easily break your glass that way and then you have broken glass mixed in with your ice! DANGER! You will either have to immediately throw out all of your ice and clean out the freezer or risk actually drinking down tiny hidden shards!
Bartenders know to never introduce glass into ice and if someone does they pour Blue Curacao into the ice as a signal that it can’t be used until it’s all removed, flushed out and replaced with clean ice.
Always use a plastic cup or scoop, a pair of tongs or your hands if you must.
Drink safely and enjoy!!
This is a great point I didn’t think of! Thank you for sharing, Beth. I’m never doing the ice/glass dump again 🙂
Do you display your cocktail making tools? Is the idea to make cocktails at a bar cart or use it for display and actually make drinks in the kitchen? Our items are currently shoved in a drawer but I would like a functional and stylish bar cart.
OMG YES, I also miss a good cocktail, though I’ve missed them since we moved from Manhattan to a low-key residential part of Brooklyn. That being said, Le Paddock in Windsor Terrace is now serving their cocktails to go 🙂
A while back I got the book One Bottle Cocktails, but then realized the premise of the book didn’t fit my household – it’s easier for us to buy 10 different kinds of liqueurs and bitters than to cook down blueberries (as delicious as that sounds) or whatever fresh-from-the-grocery-aisle option they suggested. Other readers might want to check it out, though.
SUPER excited to grow herbs for cocktails (and cooking, obvs) – the recipes from the National Wildlife Federation look great, thanks for the tip!
Thanks for reading and sharing! Xx
I have all the tools to make cocktails and a well stocked bar, but we don’t really drink much anymore. I love a good margarita, so I enjoyed seeing your recipe list was heavy on the tequila. We may just need to have a cocktail night.
Now’s a great time 🙂
Awesome post!!! Seems so doable and I’ve always thought cocktails at home were too tricky for me!
Yay!! Hope you can try it out soon!
An excellent professional’s resource that sells online is https://www.cocktailkingdom.com – the glassware (and everything else) is affordable and extremely stylish. Check out the gold-rimmed coupes and Nick & Nora glasses. Props galore!
Another exceptional reference is The PDT Cocktail Book.
ooh I can’t wait to check it out! Jess LOVES cocktail kingdom (she told me to include their bar set in the roundup above). Thank you for sharing!
Love, love, love how I feel alcohol free when it comes to body, skin, mind, mood, sleep, energy, etc. But this is nice inspo for mocktails!
Fancy mocktails really need to be more of a thing! I had a couple fantastic mocktails in a hotel bar in Philly and they were better than the average bar’s cocktails
I’ve been reading the blog FOREVER and always felt mildly cranky when it tried to be a lifestyle blog…until now. Somehow the quarantine has inspired you guys to do super relevant, down to earth posts that are so helpful! I think the posts feel more spontaneous, less sponsored (which I didn’t realize I had an issue with, but these posts are just better), and more real. Kudos to you guys for “pivoting” (overused word these days) and making the blog even better than it always has been!
Thanks so much for the feedback! And for sticking with us. Wishing you all the best xx
I’ve almost never made mixed drinks but I’m thinking something with pineapple muddled will sound very good as the weather warms up in Seattle. Thanks for the info.
Just found out the organic lemon juice you listed is half the price at my local Fred Meyer. Plus no shipping costs.
oh great! It’s the best 🙂
I’m putting my baby to sleep in about ten minutes then it’s mixing station for me. I love the formula breakdown and the lots of ice tip. Thank you in advance for making my Saturday! (It will have mezcal, pineapple, lemon and….!?!? Maybe rosemary!?)
ooh yum! Enjoy!!
You could also use a tablespoon to measure! It’s .5 oz. 🙂
Thank you so much! This tip helped us with our cocktails today 🙂
The last few posts have been a miss for me. I’m single, don’t drink, and live in an apartment with no outdoor space, ayyyy
My husband moonlighted at his family bar for years, so he makes everything, but we never think to drink when it’s just us (and our little boy). Perhaps I’ll have to ask for a margarita night. As close as we’ll get to a date night these days- thanks for the idea. (I like your graphic!)
Thank you! Hope you guys do that marg night.. sounds so fun. Stay safe and healthy 🙂
This post was so much fun! I love a good cocktail 🙂 The 2 ounce liquor + equal parts citrus and simple syrup ratio is my go to – it’s the backbone of so many classics, like a whiskey sour, daiquiri, etc.
One of my absolute favorite drink recipes is from The Violet Hour in Chicago. It tastes way more complex than it is to make:
2 oz amber-colored rum (such as Matusalem)
1/2 oz Ramazzoti amaro
1/2 oz simple syrup (preferably demerara syrup – made with Turbinado sugar)
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
+ rub rim of glass with orange peel
ooh YUM. I want to try this! Thank you for the recipe!
Sharing my absolute favorite cocktail–we had this in the Cayman Islands (on repeat) and it was so amazing, I had to recreate it (based on memory and a picture I snuck of the menu):
2 oz single malt scotch whiskey (but I sub out tequila sometimes, still divine)
1 oz Domaine De Canton (ginger liquor–it’s expensive but lasts a long time)
1 oz ginger shrub (We use Shrub & Co purchased from Amazon or our local liquor store)
.5 oz lemon juice
Dash of spicy bitters (we like Infuse Tres Amigos but can swap out any spice)
Add all ingredients to shaker with crushed ice, shake and serve.