For a thorough guide to simple, classic, and delicious cocktails, I've enjoyed Three Ingredient Cocktails, by Robert Simonson.
When you want to delve deeper into both classic and modern cocktails, I've loved Death & Co. For the classic recipes, the authors tweak the original ratios to appeal to modern tastes.
Drink like a toff when the cabinet is bare
Here in Pennsylvania, the liquor stores have been closed since the middle of March. Pennsy is one of the last (if not the last) state to still have a monopoly on wine and liquor sales. Up until the last decade, the closest we got to wine sold in the grocery store was going to the state store in the same strip mall as the Acme. Now there are state stores inside some grocery stores, but they sell only beer and wine, and require a separate checkout.
On-line retailers generally don't ship to Pennsy because it requires special permission from the Commonwealth. The PLCB tried their own on-line sales after a week and a half of lockdown, and the site crashed immediately, then was shut down from overwhelming demand. Distillers are picking up the slack by offering their own gin, vodka, and whiskey either delivered or picked up, but that leaves the liquor cabinet empty of the most basic mixers.
Cocktails, like baking and cooking, are built on basic formulas. A cocktail generally totals two fluid ounces (60 ml) of liquor. You don't need an overflowing liquor cabinet to create a variety of cocktails. The following recipes are based on base liquors like gin or whiskey, and long-lasting items from the grocery store like sugar and lemons.
The most basic of cocktail. Stores will try to sell you pre-made sour mix, but all you need is citrus juice and sugar syrup (or honey syrup); it tastes better and you control the sweetness. Combine ingredients with a few ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, shake until ice cold, and strain into whatever glass makes you happy right now. With the basic recipe and proportions, you can make a half dozen cocktails. A plastic or nalgene water bottle makes a fine cocktail shaker.
- 2 ounces (¼ cup, 60 ml) liquor
- ½ ounce (1 Tbs, 15 ml) citrus juice, freshly squeezed and strained
- ½ ounce sugar syrup
|Watcha making?||Liquor||Citrus||Additional directions|
|Whiskey sour||whiskey or scotch||lemon||The classic! For the purists, before shaking add one egg white, or 2 Tbs (30 ml) pasteurized egg white. Be sure to buy the unseasoned whites.|
|Tom collins||gin||lemon||Use 1 ounce (2 Tbs, 30 ml) sugar syrup. Pour into an ice-filled glass and top with club soda.|
|Lime ricky||gin||lime||Use 1 ounce (2 Tbs, 30 ml) sugar syrup. Pour into an ice-filled glass and top with club soda.|
|Bee's knees||gin||lemon||Use ¾ ounce (1 ½ Tbs, 20 ml) honey syrup instead of sugar syrup.|
|Gold rush||bourbon||lemon||Use ¾ ounce (1 ½ Tbs, 20 ml) honey syrup instead of sugar syrup.|
|Daiquiri||white rum||¾ to 1 ounce (1 ½ to 2 Tbs, 20 - 30 ml) lime||For frozen, blend with extra ice|
|Dark and stormy||dark rum||1 ounce (2 Tbs, 30 ml) lime||No sugar syrup, instead make in an ice-filled mug, add the rum and lime juice, and top with ginger beer.|
|Cuba libre||white rum||1 ounce (2 Tbs, 30 ml) lime||No sugar syrup, instead make in an ice-filled glass, add the rum and lime juice, and top with cola.|
Simple syrups are a one-to-one sweetener-to-water mixture (by volume). Using sugar syrup ensures there are no unmixed crystals in cocktail, and a honey syrup keeps the honey from crystalizing.
Sugar syrup: In a small pot, bring ½ cup (100 g) sugar and ½ cup (120 ml) water just to a boil. Remove from heat. Store in a squeeze bottle or jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Honey syrup: In a small pot, bring ½ cup (170 g) honey and ½ cup (120 ml) water just to a boil. Remove from heat. Store in a squeeze bottle or jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Rosemary syrup: In a small pot, bring ½ cup (100 g) sugar and ½ cup (120 ml) water just to a boil. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary or ½ tsp dried rosemary. Cover, and remove from heat. Allow to steep for half to one hour. Strain out rosemary. Store in a squeeze bottle or jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Cointreu: the one true mixer
If you can buy only one liqueur for making the most cocktails, buy the biggest bottle of Cointreu you can find. If that's out of your price range (or not in the liquor cabinet), use triple sec or curaçao, and skip the sugar syrup. Combine ingredients with a few ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, shake until ice cold, and strain into a glass.
- 1 ½ ounces (3 Tbs, 45 ml) liquor
- ½ ounce (1 Tbs, 15 ml) Cointreau
- ½ ounce citrus juice, freshly squeezed and strained
- ½ ounce sugar syrup, adjust to your taste
|Watcha making?||Liquor||Citrus||Additional directions|
|Sidecar||brandy||lemon||Up the Cointreu to ¾ ounce (1 ½ Tbs, 22 ml), and reduce the syrup to ¼ ounce (½ Tbs, 7 ml).|
|Red lion||dark rum||4 ounces (½ cup, 120 ml) blood orange juice||No syrup is needed.|
|Cosmopolitan||vodka||lime||1 ounce (2 Tbs, 30 ml) cranberry juice|
|Sonic screwdriver||vodka||lemon||Use rosemary syrup. Normally, this would also include ¼ ounce (½ Tbs, 7 ml) blue curaçao and a dash of bitters; use a bit of blue food coloring in times of scarcity for that otherworldly look.|
Two of the best-known cocktails — the martini and the Manhattan — are based on vermouth, as are the Gibson and Americano. A bit more complex is the negroni and it's variation the Cyn-cyn. These cocktails are stirred with ice cubes until cold, and poured into a glass. (The rule of thumb I go by is shaking anything with citrus, and stirring anything without. Unless I need to give something a big shake to destress.)
|Watcha making?||Liquor||Vermouth||Additional directions|
|Martini||gin||¼ ounce (½ Tbs, 7 ml) white||Garnish with a cocktail olive.|
|Gibson||gin||¼ (½ Tbs, 7 ml) ounce white||Garnish with a pickled onion. The garnish is the difference.|
|Manhattan||bourbon||1 oz (2 Tbs, 30 ml) red, or white, or half and half||Add a dash of bitters and a spoonful or two of water|
|Americano||1 ½ ounces (3 Tbs, 45 ml) gin||1 ½ ounces red||Top with up to 3 ounces (90 ml) club soda|