At the beginning of March 2020, right before New York City and the rest of the country shut down due to COVID, I took a cocktail-making class with my family at one of my favorite bars, a speakeasy called Dear Irving.
Looking back now, it almost seems serendipitous. And little did I know at the time, but I picked up some tips and tricks about cocktail-making that would help get me through quarantine once bars shuttered throughout the country.
Also by sheer coincidence, I finally built my home bar cart early in 2020.
With the help of some professional advice, I carefully stocked my first bar cart, which quickly became one of my favorite possessions.
Before quarantine, I rarely made cocktails at home. I usually stuck to wine and left cocktails to the professionals at restaurants or bars. But this year, when days bled into one another, all that changed.
Homemade cocktails became not only an end-of-the-day treat, but also a fun hobby me and my whole family would look forward to.
So, if you’re reading this and you’re interested in turning your home into a cocktail bar, here’s some advice and easy recipes from one rookie cocktail enthusiast to another.
First thing first: I promise I’m not just trying to sell you stuff, but if you’re going to make cocktails at home, you’ll likely need some basic tools.
Specfically: a jigger, a shaker, a strainer, and a bar spoon. A muddler can also be useful. You can grab all these tools in a single set like this one from Wayfair for $21.99.
You also don’t *need* any fancy ice cube molds, but I personally think these square and circular jumbo cubes are the easiest way to elevate your at-home cocktails because they look ~fancy~ and don’t water down your drink.
Get a set of two Ticent silicon ice cube trays from Amazon for $11.97.
OK now onto the fun stuff!! Here are some easy, beginner, and absolutely delicious cocktails I’ve been making on repeat.
Margaritas are my go-to cocktail order, but I never realized how easy it is to make them at home. For a basic marg, you need just three ingredients: tequila (or mezcal, for those who prefer a smoky flavor), Cointreau (or another orange liqueur like Triple Sec), and fresh lime juice. Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, give it a good shake, and strain over ice. And for anyone who likes spice, add an ounce of Ancho Reyes Verde Chile Liqueur to your cocktail shaker.
Recipe: Classic Margarita
To illustrate my family’s appreciate for margaritas during quarantine, here’s a recent text from my dad. I won’t show you the time stamp!
One fun thing that I realized during quarantine is that making fresh fruit margaritas is actually really doable at home. Take the basic margarita recipe above and add an ounce or two of your favorite puréed fruit. Obviously not all fruits work equally well here, but if you take a fruit like mango, peach, raspberry, or pear that purées nicely in a blender, it works for a marg! For a sweet and smoky mango mezcal margarita, just combine tequila, fresh mango purée, Cointreau, and lime juice and shake it up!
Recipe: Mango Margarita
Does the idea of adding egg whites to your cocktail gross you out? Well, this drink will change your mind. Once shaken in a cocktail shaker, egg whites give your cocktail a delicious silky and foamy top layer that adds richness and flavor. My favorite egg white cocktail is the Clover Club. All you need are muddled raspberries, gin, egg white, and lemon juice. The raspberries provide a good amount of sweetness, but you can also add simple syrup or agave. Shake all of the ingredients (yes, even the egg white), and strain into a coupe.
Recipe: Clover Club
There are two types of people in the world: one loves Negronis and one despises them and thinks they taste like cough medicine. I adore the bitter-sweet Negroni, and I hope you do too. To make it, all you need is sweet vermouth, gin, and Campari. Stir the ingredients, serve over ice, and garnish with an orange peel. That’s all there is to it. Oh, and for any whiskey lovers, you can simply swap Bourbon for the gin and then you’ve got another cocktail called a Boulevardier. Ready to try it at home? Here’s an easy Negroni tutorial.
Recipe: Classic Negroni
I’ve always loved sake, but until recently I didn’t realize that using sake in cocktails is freaking amazing. My favorite sake cocktail is from a recipe I found on Tasting Table, which they call The Far East Side. It calls for sake, tequila, elderflower liqueur like St. Germain, lemon juice, and shiso leaves. I’ve tried this cocktail with all different spirits, and you can substitute either gin and vodka for the tequila — all three versions are winners. If you can’t find shiso, don’t stress. Just use mint instead. Also, for a slightly less alcoholic version, you can swap in elderflower syrup for St. Germain.
Recipe: The Far East Side Sake Cocktail
If you’re looking for a drink to transport you somewhere sunny and warm, look no further than the Jungle Bird. This rum-based cocktail is fun and tropical, but you can whip it up with just a few ingredients. You’ll need dark rum, Campari, pineapple juice, and lime. Some recipes will tell you to add simple syrup, but you can also just go heavy on the pineapple juice, which adds plenty of sweetness. Combine all the ingredients in a shaker and strain over ice.
Recipe: Jungle Bird Cocktail
IMHO, there is no bad time for sangria. It’s a perfectly appropriate brunch or dinner drink, and you can swap in different fruits depending on the time of year to make it taste ~seasonal.~ In the summer, I load up my sangria with peaches and strawberries whereas in the fall or winter I go with apple, pear, or cranberries. The one constant is basil. I always add a bit of basil to my sangria because fresh herbs balance the sweetness and make sangria totally next-level. To make sangria, I mix wine (red, white, or even sparkling), some fruit-flavored liqueur like Cointreau or St. Germain, and club soda. If you like your sangria on the sweeter side, add some simple syrup.
Recipe: Thai Basil Sangria
While much of 2020 was garbage, I’ve loved learning how to make cocktails at home. And I’ll definitely keep shaking and stirring long after the world returns to normal.