One amazing trick that turns liquor into a "drink"!
September 25, 2015 10:24 AM   Subscribe

What are some "single add-ins" to ANY kind of spirit or liquor that makes it an interesting drink?

Look, I dig futzy cocktail culture as much as the next girl, but there are just some evenings when you don't want a 9-step, make-a-homemade shrub, steep-an-obscure-herb-in-simple-syrup experience (nor do you want to ask your husband to do it - hi honey!!). We made vodka Greyhounds the other night and they were just the *shit* - so good, fresh, and simple. There must be other "just add a thing to your bottle of hooch" secrets out there! Assume we have most hooch on hand, from gin to many bourbons to even more rums to obscure stuff like Xtabentún. Also assume that I would be willing to go buy anything I don't already have, and that there's nothing so high-rent or low-rent that we wouldn't try it at least once (hi again, honey!!). Thanks!
posted by ersatzkat to Food & Drink (62 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't already have a range of bitters, that's what you're looking for! Even if you've already made a cocktail, a dash of bitters will provide that extra magic that makes it even better.

I'd start with Angostura and Peychauds and then branch out from there. Mmm, old fashioneds.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:26 AM on September 25, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm not sure it would go with ANYTHING, but Hum is pretty incredible. Looks like you're rum people, so you'd get a lot of use out of it.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:28 AM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

My absolutely most favorite drink is just gin and ginger ale -- it's very simple and super delicious and I drink it all the time. If you're up for one more step, add grenadine. I call it a Head of Protocol because it's basically a grown-up Shirley Temple.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:29 AM on September 25, 2015 [25 favorites]

Ginger beer is most known for mixing with vodka for Moscow Mules, but I like it with whiskey and rum too.
posted by primethyme at 10:29 AM on September 25, 2015 [12 favorites]

Adding a sour fruit juice to a spirit (lemon, lime, cranberry, grapefruit, orange) almost always works. You may want to add sugar to the drinks with lemon or lime.
posted by demiurge at 10:31 AM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

When you get to be old(er), milk is the magic ingredient to turn liquor into something that will leave me with a comfy stomach. It especially works well with flavoured vodkas. But really, I can take anything, do 3 parts milk and 1 part liquor and it's a night.
posted by nobeagle at 10:33 AM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, as winter heads in (depending on your hemisphere), many liquors including most schnappses are great in hot chocolate. Peppermint, butterscotch (this is my favorite), hazelnut, whatever -- they are REALLY good. Kahlua and triple sec (I think it's called a skier's toddy?) is also excellent.

Another simple one is a kir royale which is sparkling white wine (e.g. champagne) and creme de cassis. You can make a regular kir with plain white wine but it's not quite as good.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:33 AM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

We keep club soda/seltzer and ginger ale on hand. Those + bitters to taste are enough to turn any liquor into a simple and refreshing cocktail. Our favorite is bourbon or any other whiskey that you prefer.

If you're feeling really fancy, pick up some of the real marachino cherries they have at Trader Joes.
posted by muddgirl at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ginger beer or root beer syrup.
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on September 25, 2015

Whiskey is great with 7-Up, and also in Hot Chocolate or coffee. Seltzer is great with any of the creme liqueurs (Bailey's, etc) and also with gin or vodka if you can add a twist and or squeeze of any fruit.
posted by TenaciousB at 10:46 AM on September 25, 2015

Say what you will about the site, but I find buzzfeed's format enjoyable for discovering new cocktails. Here's a list of two-ingredient cocktails (all with pictures!) and cocktails with three or fewer ingredients (tea-infused beer? I'd try it...)
posted by R a c h e l at 10:48 AM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Vernors Ginger Ale is more complex in drinks than regular ginger ale. Works with everything we've put in it.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:51 AM on September 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

I find that almost all distilled spirits taste good in a hot toddy made with tea and lemon.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:00 AM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also a good tonic (one of the 'artisinal' ones), and a splash of seltzer lends an 'adult' flavor to nearly any strong spirit.
posted by dbmcd at 11:12 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've found that a glass of Stiegl Grapefruit Radler mixed with one shot of any tequila makes a really nice Paloma. I bet the radler would work with some other light liquors too.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

These won't make high cocktails, but Tonic Water, Club Soda, Cola, Root Beer, 7-Up.

Seconding Ginger Beer; any drink that's called a Mule is going to be some version of liquor + ginger beer, with Moscow Mule being the original, or at least the most common.

Vermouth is a common ingredient to follow liquor: martinis, manhattans, etc. use it. Outside of the martinis, (or inside, I won't judge), use bitters to moderate the sweetness. Sweet vermouth and dry vermouth will mix a drink into different directions; I like a little of each in my Manhattan.

Where vermouth works, you can often use Champagne as well. The sweetness or dryness of the champagne is going to count here as well. Bonus: bubbles!

And, not to put too fine a point on it, water and/or ice; it's normal enough for straight-liquor drinkers to turn their nose up at ice in the glass, but if straight liquor isn't your drink, iced liquor may be. Water opens the drink's flavor up a little, and ice (or just chilling the liquor) can knock down the boozy nose by reducing vaporization of the alcohol.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

St. Germain is an elderflower liqueur that has gained a reputation as "bartender's ketchup". That is, it can be added to just about any liquor or cocktail to make it taste better. The hype for it was at its peak a few years ago, but I still find it convenient to keep a bottle on hand to mix with anything for two-ingredient cocktails.
posted by Skephicles at 11:23 AM on September 25, 2015 [19 favorites]

I am a child, but I love grenadine in just about everything. (And Vernors)
posted by getawaysticks at 11:29 AM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rose's Lime Juice (sweetened) plus gin makes a gimlet. Kahlua plus vodka makes a Black Russian.

If you're open to adding two things, my go-to cocktails are the Manhattan (dash Angostura bitters, 1 part sweet red vermouth, 2 parts bourbon or rye) and the Negroni (1 part Campari, 1 part sweet red vermouth, 1 part gin). Both can be made on the rocks, so you don't have to mess with a mixing glass. If you want something that lasts longer and has less kick than the Negroni, do an Americano: 1 part sweet vermouth, 1 part Campari, top off with sparkling water. An orange slice is optional.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:30 AM on September 25, 2015

Bitters, yes; sugar and bitters, more yes. If you have the time to make some 1:1 simple syrup, then do.
posted by holgate at 11:32 AM on September 25, 2015

Scotch + Drambuie = Rusty Nail
Sparkling wine + bitters-soaked sugar cube = Champagne cocktail
Gosling's rum + ginger beer = Dark 'n Stormy
posted by crLLC at 11:41 AM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pink gin is just gin with lots of bitters (8-9 dollops to start), over ice. It's really good.

(It featured in some British novel I was reading and I had to try it).
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:04 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am a big fan of these dry sodas. They work with many different kinds of spirits and make for excellent, unusual, simple cocktails.
posted by erst at 12:04 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

St. Germain is an elderflower liqueur that has gained a reputation as "bartender's ketchup".

A former neighborhood bartender introduced me to what she called (not at all derisively, I don't think, but comically) a "ladies' whiskey," which was simply a slug of insert-brown-liquor-here with a dash of St. Germain, on the rocks or neat as the season and your preference requires. I've been having ladies' whiskeys for about a decade since then. They go over well as an aperitif when we have people over, especially if someone's brought a bottle of brown stuff that's not, like, 25 year old Macallan.

Bonus: elderflower cordial is really easy to make yourself, too.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:10 PM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Bourbon + ginger beer (not ale! get the real deal stuff with a kick) + a squeeze of fresh lime on the rocks is my favorite lazy, yummy drink.
posted by geeky at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nthing good quality, brewed, spicy, ginger beer with bourbon, vodka, gin or rum, with a squeeze of lime.

I've also been on a real grapefruit-soda-with-bourbon kick lately. You want a good quality soda that's got some complexity and a good balance between sweet and bitter.

You also can't go wrong with a shot or two of Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) over ice with a squeeze of lime.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 12:35 PM on September 25, 2015

Since you mention rum... how about allspice dram (sometimes also called Pimento dram). There are a couple brands you can buy, or it's quite easily made. (It's basically crushed allspice berries steeped in high proof rum, then mixed with sugar syrup made from "raw" or Demerara/Turbinado sugar.) I made a bottle of it last year. It's great with rum drinks. One of my common usages is a little simple syrup (I keep a bottle of that in my fridge all the time), juice of half a lime, 2 oz rum, dash of allspice dram. Stir over ice. Sometimes I also add a dash of Velvet Falernum.
posted by dnash at 12:40 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ice. Just add ice to some bourbon. Or vodka. Or Scotch. Or tequila. Or any alcohol.

I also like a 50-50 mix of cold beer and hot coffee.
posted by AugustWest at 12:49 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Scotch drizzled over good vanilla ice cream, with a little powdered coffee or chocolate sprinkled over it. Sounds strange, but it's terrific.
posted by beagle at 12:52 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Take something sweet, take something sour, mix with alcohol and ice and you've got yourself a cocktail.
posted by any major dude at 12:59 PM on September 25, 2015

Sounds weird, but one night we used Emergen-C as a mixer and it worked.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:23 PM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

A Kir is a combination of two things, white wine and creme de cassis. A gin and tonic is a mixture of two things (plus ice and a lime wedge).
posted by SemiSalt at 1:42 PM on September 25, 2015

Decent tequila (Don Julio?), fresh lime juice (1/4 lime), and a pinch of salt. Its pretty much the best.
posted by axismundi at 1:43 PM on September 25, 2015

San Pellegrino Limonata + bourbon = something like a whiskey sour but way, way better.

(Subbing in vodka, rum, or Pimm's also yields good drinks, but bourbon's the best)
posted by the phlegmatic king at 2:37 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

grapefruit soda and tequila. amazing.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:44 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Pimms and ginger ale or lemonade.
posted by emilyw at 2:59 PM on September 25, 2015

Tequila+pineapple juice= The Dream Pop. I invented this drink. MeMail for my donation link.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:24 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


water of any type, but especially seltzer or naturally bubbly mineral water.

I mean, you can make a cheater vodka gimlet with lime flavored seltzer and vodka. Ditto a kind of lazy g&t if you replace the vodka in that "recipe" with gin.

Scotch + seltzer = scotch & soda

Bourbon + ice = bourbon on the rocks.

(I like my liquor to taste like adulthood.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:37 PM on September 25, 2015

keep some ginger ale, grapefruit and/or other tart juice cans and lime or lemon in the pantry. this will suffice for the 80/20 rule.
posted by lescour at 3:43 PM on September 25, 2015

Falernum and orgeat seem to be the hot ingredients on drink lists here in NYC – you can make, them or buy, them.
posted by nicwolff at 3:47 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Certainly a fan of gingerbeer (duh) but came to say that Campari and Aperol and Cynar and similar are good for this. I can drink most liquors with a splash of Campari and soda/sparkling water.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2015

Jack (Daniels) & Ginger (Ale), with a lime (if you have one). I prefer it over ice.
posted by whitewall at 4:03 PM on September 25, 2015

My "secret" ingredient for all my diet pop boozy drinks is fresh lemon or lime juice. I have found that fresh lime and lemon juice keeps pretty well in the fridge and really makes a drink awesome. Tequila and lime juice on rocks. And forever Diet Canada Dry + rum + lime juice.
posted by 58 at 4:35 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also should add I buy lemons and limes at costco and do a mass squeezing. I keep the juice in the freezer in smaller batches and take out as needed.
posted by 58 at 4:38 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

My favorites:

Vodka and lemonade
Gin and lemonade (sometimes I add honey and call it a bee's knees)
Tequila and orange juice
Bourbon and cream soda
Whiskey and ginger ale
Dark rum and ginger beer (dark and stormy)
posted by impishoptimist at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2015

This isn't exactly an answer, but one thing - in fact, the single kinda defining thing - that separates '("fancy") cocktails' from 'mixed drinks' is that cocktails have a lot more of the main spirit being used, a lot less of the non-spirit, and so are much smaller. Mixed drinks are basically made to be at the alcohol level of a strong beer, and the goal is often to say 'I can't even taste the alcohol!' Cocktails are typically one main liquor, something sweet or sour to complement it, maybe a little something extra (most often bitters) and two big ice cubes. Very often the second ingredient is itself a liqueur (like triple sec or vermouth), meaning basically the whole drink is strong alcohol except the ice. What this means, of course, is that you have to use a 'main liquor' that you actually enjoy the taste of.

To me, your underlying question seems to be 'what are basic liquor cabinet essentials to have on hand (that will outlast the main bottles of booze)'. Apropos of the above, I'd say bitters, triple sec, vermouth, lemons/limes, and I guess simple syrup (though this is honestly easier to just make yourself). An ice tray with bigger cubes can be helpful - you don't need the fancy silicone ones with huge cubes, just a normal plastic one that actually makes cubes instead of little slivers.
posted by goodnight to the rock n roll era at 4:55 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since I just did this: add some Ancho Reyes chile liqueur to bourbon or rye. It's sweet and spicy and delicious.
posted by rtha at 5:00 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mix pretty much any alcohol with Moxie and you get something that tastes just like Moxie.. So if you like Moxie..
posted by mbatch at 5:54 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Juice the oranges yourself, right there, on the spot. It really makes a difference. Pick up a zester from the bar supply/cooking supply store for getting the zest off your citrus (the orange part of the orange peel (or yellow for lemon, etc) as separate from the bitter white part). A good one will make nice long curls that you twist over your drink to release the orange oil (you can do this for coffee/espresso too)
posted by sexyrobot at 6:50 PM on September 25, 2015

Squirt or any other grapefruit soda is what you're looking for. Mixes well with all the best liquors: Tequila, bourbon, rum, vodka.
posted by lester at 6:56 PM on September 25, 2015

Peychaud's bitters

The Bitter Truth orange bitters

Dolin dry vermouth

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

yellow Chartreuse

Ginger ale

Get a Y-peeler to use on a lemon, orange, or grapefruit; squeeze the peel over the drink to release the oils before dropping it in.

Of course, ice is a given in almost any cocktail (unless you have some other way to make it cold, like tonic).
posted by John Cohen at 7:44 PM on September 25, 2015

Frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate. "I mix that shit with everything."
posted by drlith at 7:46 PM on September 25, 2015

I'm a big fan of a nice greyhound, but lately I've been making myself spritzes: 3 parts prosecco, 2 parts aperol, splash of soda (so technically three ingredients, but still dead simple.) I wouldn't say it tastes *like* a greyhound, but it's similarly refreshing and not overwhelmingly sweet.
posted by jameaterblues at 8:10 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pineapple juice.

Tequila and pineapple? Sure

Whiskey and pineapple? Why not

Rum and pineapple? That's practically already a drink

Vodka and pineapple? Surprisingly good! It's like a sweeter greyhound

Gin and pineapple? Didn't Snoop Dogg write a song about this?

It goes with goddamn everything.

The above suggestion about San pellegrino limonata is great as well. My favorite bar does that as a well drink. Goes with EVERY kind of booze.
posted by emptythought at 10:54 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

This isn't a liquor but involves beer: tomato juice + beer.

If that sounds terrible, it did the first time I heard of it, too. Then I tasted it and it was delicious! I was making bloody marys at the time and learned a new use for tomato juice in the world of alcohol.

Here's a recipe, but just the tomato juice and beer is fine on its own.
posted by atinna at 1:20 AM on September 26, 2015

Tequila and orange juice is quick, easy, and tasty, so long as you aren't using some rotgut tequila. Herradura, Sauza Hornitos, and Patron are all good. Just keep it to the lighter 100% agave tequilas. An anejo does not go as well.

A bit of something red (grenadine, probably) turns it into a tequila sunrise, if that is more up your alley.
posted by wierdo at 1:25 AM on September 26, 2015

Oh, another easy and fairly tasty combo is the Jaegerbomb, which is just Jaegermeister and Red Bull. Take care, though, as you will feel far less drunk than you actually are thanks to the Red Bull.

And back on tequila, shortcut margaritas are pretty damn easy. Middle of the road tequila, some triple sec or Cointreau, lime juice, and top off with Sprite or 7 up. (Sprite is sweeter, 7 up is less so) You can really shortcut it by leaving out the lime juice and relying on the lemon-lime drink to get enough of that flavor, but I find that even realime makes it pop better.
posted by wierdo at 1:33 AM on September 26, 2015

Kraken brand rum and coconut flavored LaCroix fizzy water.
posted by MsMolly at 7:20 AM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good homemade sour mix (which isn't hard to make in quantities) + a fruit schnapps = something that tastes like adult Slush Puppie.
posted by mmascolino at 11:23 AM on September 26, 2015

If you have Tanqueray 10 or Citadelle gin, get some Q tonic and some key limes and you will have a delicious G&T.

If you have Hendricks' gin, get some Fever Tree tonic and some key limes and you will have a delicious G&T.

If you have Herradura añejo tequila and some Cointreau and some key limes and a little bit of simple syrup you will have a delicious margarita.

If you have Don Julio añejo tequila and some Bols triple sec and some key limes and no simple syrup you will have a delicious margarita but FFS do not *ever* mix Don Julio and Cointreau, I don't know why but it just doesn't work.
posted by jet_silver at 8:57 PM on September 26, 2015

The Dry sodas someone mentioned above are killer mixers. I keep the Dry Cherry on hand to mix with gin or bourbon and it is happiness.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here in Leeds in the UK the Dark and Stormy - dark rum (as good as you can get but it still works with cheaper rums) and ginger beer - is pretty much the king of cocktails. We always add a good heft squeeze of fresh lime and chuck them in the glass. It's a quick, easy and frankly delicious cocktail. Pretty much any spirit will do the job though... Proper party drink.
posted by Mr Ed at 8:38 AM on September 29, 2015

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