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July 21, 2015 11:41 AM   Subscribe

What (good, tested) cocktails are made from shelf-stable components only?

Help me find the right pre-dinner cocktail!

What quality cocktails or mixed drinks are out there that use shelf-stable ingredients I can just keep in the pantry? I've done some mucking about with soda or juices and hard liquors with varying results, but don't usually have soda or juice on hand these days.

For the right drink, I will consider pickled garnishes (since they'll last forever in a fridge) or lemons (since I often have them anyway). Ice is fine.

I like most hard liquors I've tried, including whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, and tequila.

I no longer like screwdrivers or rum and cokes because they're too sweet. I recently had a gin and tonic and enjoyed it. I favor dry hard ciders and Mrs. CC likes most ales (especially stouts, porters and brown ales).
posted by carrioncomfort to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
An old fashioned is the easiest. I usually make them with simple syrup (not really shelf stable), but some people use sugar (I find it hard to dissolve).

Though honestly when I'm lazy, I usually just do really high quality scotch or tequila by itself...
posted by primethyme at 11:45 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are bottles of lime juice that can be stored at room temperature for use in cocktails.

So you can make a Kamikaze.
But you have to drink it fast. As long as it's ice cold it's great. But if it warms up, then drinking it burns like battery acid.

(Also, use Cointreau instead of TripleSec.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:47 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love a good manhattan, which is 2 oz Rye (optionally Bourbon, which is a common replacement), 1 oz. sweet vermouth (sometimes partly replaced with dry Vermouth-- I do them 50:50 after some experimentation), and 2 drops of Angostura bitters. It goes good with orange or lemon twists, but those are entirely optional. Tinker with the vermouth to set your sweetness level, and then you can pre-mix the whole lot. I pre-mix the whiskey and vermouth and keep that in the fridge (in a 375 mL/"tenth" bottle) and add bitters to each drink. 3-4 shelf-stable bottles.

There are a million variations with Manhattans to add different flavors, replace the whiskey with other major liquors, but it's not common to see it requiring fresh ingredients. It's a perfect drink for a storm shelter.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:47 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

A classic margarita might be right up your alley. Three parts tequila, two parts triple sec liqueur, and one part lime juice. And salt, of course. The lime juice keeps forever in the fridge, and it's not really sweet.
posted by Gneisskate at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

If vermouth is OK (and open bottles of vermouth, sweet and dry, should be kept in the refrigerator), then a Negroni is awesome and easy: 1:1:1 Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:49 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Vermouth is not shelf-stable but is fine in the refrigerator for the most part)

The Old Fashioned would definitely be my choice. It's just sugar, bitters and whiskey. Another option is a Sazerac, one of my favorite cocktails of all time (I prefer it with rye instead of cognac).
posted by General Malaise at 11:53 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm of the opinion that anyone who suggests that the bottled lime juice is equivalent to the juice of a lime should not be trusted.

That said, seconding recommendations for a manhattan or an old fashioned (I find powdered sugar dissolves well and obviates the need for simple syrup).

Also: a negroni. You're fine using sweet vermouth, but I like Antica.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:57 AM on July 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

I really like a whiskey (or bourbon, actually) ginger with lime. Or a Moscow Mule, which I make with ginger ale because I prefer the sweetness but for a more ginger-y, classic version use ginger beer. You can get 6 packs of 10 ounce bottles of ginger ale, one of which is just about perfect for making 2 drinks. Limes keep pretty well in the fridge, or you can use bottled lime juice.
posted by MadamM at 12:03 PM on July 21, 2015

I'm of the opinion that anyone who suggests that the bottled lime juice is equivalent to the juice of a lime should not be trusted.

In a gimlet, hm.

The Vieux Carré fits, with the disclaimer about open bottles of vermouth. All 'Improved' cocktails work if you muddle the sugar, or make simple syrup in tiny batches.
posted by holgate at 12:07 PM on July 21, 2015

If you're willing to keep lemons around for fresh lemon juice, the Sidecar (brandy, lemon juice, and triple sec -- it's worth using the Cointreau for this) is fantastic. Smooth, sharp and flavorful, not to mention simple. Adjust the lemon/Cointreau ration for your preferred sweetness level.
posted by ostro at 12:08 PM on July 21, 2015

Fresh lime juice is unquestionably better than juice from a bottle, but the OP specified "shelf stable" and fresh limes are not shelf stable.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:09 PM on July 21, 2015

You can buy small cans of both tonic water and seltzer, which will be indefinitely shelf stable. They cost quite a bit more than one or two liter bottles, but they won't go flat as soon as you open them.

A highball would be a) easy and b) historically appropriate as a pre-dinner drink. In its purest form, this would simply be any spirit mixed in a tall glass with seltzer water. You can go a little nuts with this if you want - gin and tonics certainly count, and since you like those why not try an Americano? Gin and sweet vermouth, equal parts, topped with seltzer.

I find powdered sugar dissolves well and obviates the need for simple syrup

Powdered sugar contains corn starch, so I wouldn't recommend using it in a cocktail. Instead, you can make superfine sugar at home by whirring an amount of regular sugar in a spice grinder or small food processor. This will sufficiently dissolve that you can substitute it for simple syrup in a lot of recipes (if you're like me and don't use simple all that frequently, it tends to grow things in the fridge after awhile).
posted by backseatpilot at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bottled lime juice in a cocktail is unmitigated evil, unless there's some magic lime juice product I'm not aware of (someone please point me in its direction). I don't even like to leave fresh lime juice in the fridge for more than a day or so. I can definitely tell the difference. I guess YMMV, especially depending on how much of it is in the drink. But for a lime-heavy drink like a margarita (which I make A LOT of), I don't think it's worth it unless you have fresh lime juice squeezed the same day. The limes themselves (before cutting and juicing) do sometimes last a surprisingly long time.
posted by primethyme at 12:11 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

A gimlet with lime juice cordial and freshly squeezed lemon juice instead of lime juice (lime juice is better, but fresh lemon is better than bottled lime).
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:22 PM on July 21, 2015

I make my Old Fashioned with a sugar cube. Never had any real difficulty dissolving the sugar, but perhaps I'm just not picky. Wetting the sugar cube with bitters and crushing it with a spoon is a delightful ritual that brings tremendous tactile and olfactory satisfaction.
posted by BrashTech at 12:25 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a big fan of rusty nails. The classic recipe is 50/50 scotch and Drambuie but I make it more like 65/35 so it's a bit less sweet. Pour over ice and you have an instant cocktail!
posted by DrGail at 12:34 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I make redneck whiskey sours with equal parts whiskey, water, and frozen lemonade concentrate. My friends like them but they may not be of the quality you're looking for.
posted by metasarah at 12:48 PM on July 21, 2015

Rum old fashioned: if you're not going to keep simple around, I find it doesn't really need it, so just dark rum+bitters (chocolate is my favorite).

Horse's neck? Brandy and ginger ale ( spicy ginger beer would be less sweet), angostura bitters, and a long lemon peel (drape it over the glass for the horse's neck).

Another vote for good liquor neat: you can get sampler scotch packs sometimes that let you try a few things out: Glenmorangie has a nice one that even some "scotch haters" enjoyed.

If you're drinking often enough, I like cocchi americano on ice. You can then also use it to make Vespers: gin, cocchi, vodka. (This is not a drink for everyone.) So at least two different drinks to get you through a bottle.

For club soda, I get the 6 pack of small schwepps bottles to keep on hand, and then tonic syrup to mix your own tonic water for G&T.

Are you willing to juice the lemons? If not, disregard the following:

Tom Collins: gin, simple, lemon, club soda. (If you like absinthe, sub absinthe for the gin)

Gin buck is gin, lemon juice, ginger beer (I think this is a variation, as traditionally it is made lime, but I like lemon, also sub whatever alcohol you want so rye buck, etc)

I think I've heard of people freezing fresh juice in cube trays, so may be worth a shot if you want to try some of the cocktails with lime, etc. (Cannot personally recommend, maybe someone else can weigh in).
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:12 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, god, seconding a sidecar -- the best cocktail to come out of the Depression, according to Esquire.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:24 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Absinthe! It's pricey and not for everyone (you will hate it if you hate black jelly beans, generally speaking) but it's delicious for those of us into that sort of thing, and it tends to age very nicely. Simplest cocktail is just ~1 oz absinthe to 3-5 parts cold water. Sugar optional (and NEVER light it on fire, seriously, just don't.).
posted by aecorwin at 1:25 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

A vermouth like Noilly Prat neat or, if you are feeling hot, on ice, is a good before dinner drink. Fino Sherry is also nice.

Try 1 oz pastis over ice in a hi-ball glass, fill reaming space with water. Great for hot days.

For after dinner, how about a white Russian if you already have cream or milk?
posted by bdc34 at 2:01 PM on July 21, 2015

22 answers and nobody's said martini yet?

Fill your shaker half full with ice, add 1/2oz dry vermouth. Shake, discard contents. Refill with ice, add 3oz of nice gin (Hendricks is my absolute favourite) and optionally a tiny dash of citrus-based bitters. Shake gently or stir as is your preference, strain into a martini or rocks glass. You can really change it up with your garnish; a twist of lemon peel, olives (particularly if they're stuffed! and if you want a dirty martini add some of the olive brine to the drink), pickled onions (which makes it a Gibson), a pickled hot pepper... the choices are basically endless.

A proper martini feels to me like it's a very grownup drink somehow.

A Dark and Stormy can be delicious too--dark rum, ginger beer, muddled lime. You manage the sweetness based on which ginger beer you choose.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:03 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by oceanjesse at 2:13 PM on July 21, 2015

I like a hybrid (the unkind might call it a bastardization) of the Gin Rickey and the Gimlet. Rose's, Gin, Seltzer, Ice. Mix in whatever proportions you like.
posted by Hactar at 2:21 PM on July 21, 2015

Magic lime juice:

Canada Dry Mott's ReaLime.
posted by porpoise at 2:55 PM on July 21, 2015

Funny thing porpoise, that was exactly what I was thinking of when people go "eww lime juice that lasts forever." Because RealLime/Lemon are gross and have no place in a cocktail.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:00 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, agreed that Realime/lemon are not okay here. However, True Lemon and True Lime are surprisingly free of the processed taste of the squeeze bottle stuff, and I would totally employ them as a minor note in a cocktail.

I make homemade lime cordial based off a recipe I can't Google up now but which I think might have been in the NYTimes? The zest is macerated in sugar, then the juice is added, then you strain and bottle it. It lasts ages in the fridge.

OP, what's your objection to just having shelf-stable bottles of juices and sodas on hand? Fever Tree makes terrific fizzy mixers, a can of V8 lasts forever next to the vodka and goes great with all the pickled things in the fridge... I have a wine rack in my basement that is nothing but fancy non-alcoholic bottled liquid to go with alcohols, because I live in the sticks and the nearest fresh juice is at least a half hour's drive away. Schweppes makes a respectable bitter lemon. Not all juices are sweet; bottled unsweetened cranberry cuts the sugariness of ginger ale and makes a great mixer. Your local "Whole Paycheque"-type "health food" store will have loads of little frou-frou glass bottles of things that all go great with liquor.
posted by kmennie at 3:29 PM on July 21, 2015

Dark and Stormy - it can be very sweet, depending on the ginger beer. I like Ginger People brand, which is dumb expensive but certainly not sweeter than regular tonic water (since you like G&Ts). I like to make it with Goslings 151 but regular Goslings is both more traditional and less dangerous.
posted by mskyle at 3:58 PM on July 21, 2015

I'm sticking with my "real lime is the devil" line. And I get that OP wanted shelf stable; I'm just saying I think lime-based drinks are straight out.

Anyway, one other piece of magic I found for shelf-stable home cocktail mixing: my local supermarket now sells store-brand tonic, club soda, and ginger ale in cheap ($2.50/doz) 12 oz cans. It's waaaay better for mixing single cocktails, because a big bottle of fizzy water goes flat in a hurry, but cans, cans are great!

The Jack-and-ginger is a summer favorite at our place -- whiskey and ginger ale, maybe with a dash of bitters.

My father and uncles are fans of the brandy manhattan (it's what it sounds like, brandy + sweet vermouth instead of whiskey + sweet vermouth; cherry juice from the jar of cheap maraschino cherries recommended). I'm not a big fan.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:05 PM on July 21, 2015

To add to the chorus on Old Fashioneds, I occasionally use agave syrup as the sweetener (it is also very nice for Tequila Old Fashioneds). For my personal take on the drink that I call New Fashioneds, I add a bit of good Triple Sec (Cointreau or Dekuyper's O3) as a way of simulating the orange garnish that is often used in this drink.
posted by mmascolino at 4:18 PM on July 21, 2015

A thought: if you're into fizzy things, maybe a Sodastream? My neighbour bought one a few months ago and she's loving it to pieces.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:19 PM on July 21, 2015

FWIW I once tried freezing fresh lime juice in ice cube trays and it was a mess. Stayed sticky, didn't freeze completely. Maybe there's some trick to it, but I haven't tried it again.
posted by primethyme at 4:41 PM on July 21, 2015

On the topic of storing opened Vermouth, Serious Eats did some experimentation on this, (oops, same as linked above) and found that while refrigeration is the best option, you can also get away with shelving it and displacing the oxygen out with an inert gas like nitrogen. I would add to that wrapping the bottles to keep out the light because the clear glass likely isn't doing the vermouth any favors.

I would also suggest that pre-mixing one's Manhattans or other vermouthy drinks will reduce a lot of those negative effects (possibly excluding oxidation) because increasing the alcohol level will deter most biological growth, and anything that's given a shot of lemon/lime juice, even the shelf-stable stuff, will add acid which does the same.

I prefer fresh lime and lemon juice too in fresh applications like drinks, while the fake stuff can go into pies and cakes. However, this is a cocktail we're talking about-- not every instance has to be the pinnacle of the art. If I had to choose between drinking the shelf-stable juice stuff or giving up margaritas, go ahead and start salting the rims. I don't drink to get drunk, I drink to enjoy drinking, and I can enjoy something that's less than perfect because of how I choose my moments to have cocktails.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:48 PM on July 21, 2015

Sazerac: sugar cube (you can make this with simple syrup, but the original uses a sugar cube, smashed), Rye, two (commonly available) types of bitters, and absinthe (rinse only). It's served best with a lemon twist, but you could also smear the rim with lemon juice. Absinthe will remain shelf-stable. The bottle will last forever, too, so feel free to splash out a little on the stuff.

I pitched this question to a friend who drinks better than I do, and he says "there are reasons to use lemons and lines every single day" so you should just keep a supply of those around for juice, rind, twists, wedges, etc. and they are shelf stable for a while, if not eternity-- they won't take up room in your fridge. So get the real thing unless you're drinking in a bunker of some kind, or they're cost-prohibitive. Juice them and keep it in the fridge -- not sure what the best methods are but google knows.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:31 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

primethyme, the problem is that sugar is an antifreeze. That's why when you open a can of frozen juice, it ain't all frozen. There's usually a bit of liquid syrup. To completely freeze it you need to go to a lot lower temperature than residential freezers can go.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:35 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine, and it oxidizes as it ages. Read that twice-linked Serious Eats article about storing it, and you should be OK-ish (keep it cold, and remove oxygen by using a wine saver gas or decanting it into smaller bottles with less headroom). I notice aging problems more with my dry vermouth than I do with sweet vermouth, which is probably a function both of the relative sugar content and the speed with which I go through them (we drink more sweet vermouth cocktails than we do dry vermouth cocktails). I also use old vermouth to deglaze pans when I sear steaks, and the extra funkiness actually works really well in that context.

Bottled citrus juice should not be a part of any cocktail. As linked above, lime cordial is a critical part of a Gimlet, but it doesn't belong in any cocktail that calls for fresh lime. And even fresh lime is a harsh mistress (paradoxically, a room full of bartenders preferred lime juice that was four hours old to lime juice that had just been pressed, but I never bother to pre-juice lime for parties).

Given your constraints: if you can keep lemons around and keep vermouth from aging too terribly, you should like a Corpse Reviver # 2. If you feel like investing a little, get a bottle of yellow Chartreuse and a bottle of decent Cognac and try a Champs-Élysées (in the Savoy Cocktail Book this is given as a pitcher-sized cocktail serving 6, and I have used it as an opener for dinner parties with great success).

And otherwise: look for all-spirit cocktails like the Negroni mentioned above (which, again, requires that you keep your vermouth in somewhat decent shape) or, say, a Widow's Kiss. I love a Vieux Carré (mentioned above) but I didn't get to the point of making them at home until I had a pretty serious bar going, since it calls for six (SIX!) ingredients (rye, sweet vermouth, Cognac, Bénédictine, and both Angostura and Peychaud's bitters).

Note, though, that the Cognac is useful for both the Champs-Élysées and the Vieux Carré, the yellow Chartreuse is in the Champs-Élysées and the Widow's Kiss, the Bénédictine is in the Vieux Carré and the Widow's Kiss, and if you start down this road you probably won't have much trouble keeping your vermouth fresh. Calvados is excellent in a hot toddy, FWIW.

Also consider anything that uses an Italian amaro instead of vermouth since the higher alcohol content in an amaro will preserve it better (or, for that matter, find an amaro you like and drink it on the rocks).
posted by fedward at 6:23 PM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

In re. freezing citrus juices, I juice and freeze Costco things of Meyer lemons every year and hoard this lemon slush until it's Meyer lemon season again. Nothing bad has happened to me from eating old slushy lemon juice, and it tastes fine. I use a plastic thing with a screw-top lid for it; it's easy to spoon it out as needed.
posted by kmennie at 7:15 PM on July 21, 2015

Those little packs of individual cans of Dole pineapple juice are great to keep in the pantry. Mix with Malibu over ice, or make a simple pineapple margarita with some tequila and triple sec.
posted by gatorae at 7:37 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

that was exactly what I was thinking of when people go "eww lime juice that lasts forever."

Maybe it's a Canadian/American market thing? I'm a snob in many things, but ReaLime is perfectly acceptable to my palate.
posted by porpoise at 8:04 AM on July 22, 2015

Hansen's tonic water comes in tiny cans that are perfect for gin and tonic. Glass of ice, shot of gin, a lime slice, can of Hansen's, good to go. I use Press'n'seal or a small airtight container to store the lime between uses. It lasts quite a while, I just discard a thin section at the cut edge if it looks too dry. (Would probably go through it faster if I had help, but the wife doesn't like G&T and the kid is too young to assist.)

I found a good vermouth that I like for both martinis and Manhattans (their Petal & Thorn is good for this too!). I keep a bottle of rye and a decent gin around, plus a bottle of Jack Rudy's cocktail mix and some bitters. That, and a jar of decent olives, is all I seem to need for cocktails when the mood hits me. Aside from the lime, it's all pretty shelf-stable.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:58 PM on July 22, 2015

Alaska: gin, chartreuse, orange bitters, lemon peel.
posted by John Cohen at 8:22 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

22 answers and nobody's said martini yet?

A martini isn't "made from shelf-stable components only." Vermouth isn't shelf-stable — it has to be refrigerated, and even then it doesn't last forever.
posted by John Cohen at 8:24 PM on July 22, 2015

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