Upgrade your at-home cocktails easily with these basic kitchen ingredients

Just because happy hour is online these days doesn't mean you're stuck with basic drinks

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published April 26, 2020 5:30PM (EDT)

Manhattan cocktails garnished with Juniper on a table with whiskey decanter in the background. (Getty Images/Annabelle Breakey)
Manhattan cocktails garnished with Juniper on a table with whiskey decanter in the background. (Getty Images/Annabelle Breakey)

We've talked about grocery shopping during a pandemic, we've talked about quarantine cooking— but now, as social isolation continues and Zoom cocktail hour invites are on the rise, it's time to talk about how to make a cocktail with some of the ingredients you already have at your fingertips. 

Here are some ways to turn your pantry staples into crave-worthy cocktails. 

Have beer? Make a Michelada 

A Michelada is basically a Mexican version of a Bloody Mary, made from a blend of light beer, Clamato (a packaged blend of tomato juice, spices and dried clam broth) and lime juice. 

In a pitcher, stir ¾ cup of beer (you can go with a Mexican-style craft beer, but honestly, Corona is a solid pick), ¾ cup of Clamato juice, the juice of 2 limes, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, ¾ teaspoon of hot sauce (I like Valentina) and ¾ teaspoon of soy sauce over ice. 

There will be enough for two cocktails, so wet the rims of two glasses and dip them in salt. Pour the cocktail in two glasses, sprinkle with a little black pepper and garnish with a lime slice. 

Have vinegar? Make a Rye and Blackberry Shrub

A shrub is essentially a drinking vinegar that can be used to add a little pucker to cocktails or non-alcoholic mixed drinks. It's also a great way to use up leftover produce. 

For this cocktail, we're going to make a blackberry shrub. Add 2 cups of blackberries, 1½ cups of apple cider vinegar and ¼ cup of white sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Quickly remove from heat and allow the mixture to steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain the mixture into a glass jar or other airtight container and chill until cold. There will be extra shrub syrup. You can keep it in a refrigerated, airtight container for about 6 months. 

Combine 2 tablespoons of the blackberry shrub syrup, 3 ounces of rye, 2 ounces of lime juice and 1 ounce of simple syrup over ice. Finish the cocktail with a 2-ounce pour of ginger beer. 

Have coffee? Make an Iced Coffee and Bourbon Milkshake 

This is the ideal drink to bridge the gap between "coffee time" and "cocktail time," which — if we're being honest — is one very real way to divide our days right now. It requires just a little prep work. 

The morning leading up to making this cocktail, you'll need to make or reserve some coffee, bring it to room temperature, and use it to fill an ice cube tray or two. Allow that to freeze throughout the day. 

Add 2 shaved squares of dark chocolate, ¼ cup of milk — almond or oat work really well for dairy-free alternatives — and 2 ounces of bourbon to a blender. Pull out your coffee cubes from the freezer, and begin adding to the blender until the mixture takes on a milkshake consistency. Using these coffee cubes instead of ice cubes ensures that the drink will be icy without getting watered down. (This is a tip from Ren Doughty of Batdorf & Bronson Roastery; you can read more of his coffee tips here.)

Pour into a glass, top with whipped cream and some extra shaved chocolate. 

Have coconut milk? Make Coco-Rum Punch

This is a super simple and satisfying cocktail made possible by a single can of coconut milk. 

In a small saucepan, combine ½ cup of coconut milk and ½ tablespoon of sugar over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Remove from heat, and allow the mixture to cool completely. 

Add 2 ounces of rum to a glass filled with ice. Top it with the coconut milk mixture. Garnish with nutmeg, if desired.


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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