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11 cocktail ingredients you have hiding in your kitchen

And a round of easy drinks you can make with them when your favorite bar is closed.

Pamela Vachon Contributor
Pamela is a freelance food and travel writer based in Astoria, Queens. While she writes about most things edible and potable (and accessories dedicated to those topics,) her real areas of expertise are cheese, chocolate, cooking and wine. She's a culinary school grad, certified sommelier, former bartender and fine dining captain with 10 years in the industry. When not sitting at the keys, she leads in-home cheese classes, wine tastings and cocktail demonstrations.
Expertise Wine, cheese, chocolate, cooking.
Pamela Vachon
5 min read
Rachen Buosa/EyeEm/Getty Images

Making a cocktail doesn't have to involve esoteric mixers and nine different kinds of alcohol, as these easy mixed drinks prove. They're made from ingredients you probably already have on hand, and are simple to make even if you don't have a shaker -- the perfect solution to when your favorite bars are closed due to coronavirus and you're limiting trips to the grocery store.

Everyone from out-of-work bartenders, to sudden bar cart mixology enthusiasts, to Ina Garten have been stepping up to the social media plate to demonstrate their cocktail skills lately. If your "home bar" consists of little more than a single half-empty bottle, you may be feeling left out of the fun. But there's no reason to!

"The hallmark of a good cocktail is the right balance of ingredients that pair well together," says James Yardley, founder of New York City's Speakeasy Sessions at The Gin Mill. "A good Old Fashioned is the right mix of bitter, sweet and spirit, just like a cheeseburger is the right mix of bread, meat and cheese." Balance is key, but you need not have an assortment of bartender darling liquors and liqueurs on hand to achieve the perfect triangulation Yardley describes.

Furthermore, you hardly even need the bartender tools. Any vessel or vessels that can be sealed can become a shaker. Anything that measures can be a jigger. Any glass that holds liquid can become a cocktail glass.

Even if you only have a single bottle of a light or dark spirit, many simple and classic cocktails can be made using basic ingredients that you probably have hiding in your fridge or pantry. These 11 cocktails show how staples function in ways that can turn a single spirit into an Instagram-worthy cocktail! Not to mention the perfect thing for your next virtual happy hour.

1. Simple syrup: Daiquiri


"Simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water," says Yardley. "We use it instead of dry sugar because it dissolves into the drink faster." Simple syrup can be made by shaking or heating to dissolve the sugar, and provides the sweet note in many cocktails. A classic daiquiri is a bartender favorite for its simple adherence to the bedrock formula. Plus you can imagine yourself somewhere other than your living room couch. Get a classic daiquiri recipe.

2. Honey: Penicillin cocktail

You probably have honey on hand lately for any number of immunity-boosting or symptom-soothing formulas. Honey is another common sweetener used in cocktails, especially where it plays with ginger, such as in this classic Scotch cocktail, which almost seems like it could be good for you. Get the Penicillin cocktail recipe.

3. Maple syrup: Maple Old Fashioned


Maple is a common substitute for either of the two sweeteners above, lending a rich and nuanced sweetness to any cocktail. No bitters? No problem. "I've always compared adding bitters to cocktails to adding spices to dishes," says Alan Wither of Gotham Bar and Grill. To substitute for it, he suggests: "muddle some orange and lemon peel with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and infuse that into vodka. Dark chocolate and coffee grinds are great, too." Get the Maple Old Fashioned recipe.

4. Agave: Tommy's Margarita


If you've been wondering whether you might still be quarantined for Cinco de Mayo, and you regularly keep agave on hand as your go-to sweetener, you don't have to acquire anything more than tequila to make this classic margarita variation. Get the Tommy's Margarita recipe.

5. Vinegar: Strawberry shrub cocktail


"Vinegar often gets overlooked as a way to add acid to a drink," says Yardley. Most shaken cocktails rely on an acidic component, usually in the form of citrus. But if you're finding lemons and limes in short supply during the current craze of home mixology, other fruits can easily be acidulated into shrubs using any basic vinegar you have on hand. Get the strawberry shrub cocktail recipe.

6. Wine: Kalimotxo


If your priority was stocking up on wine over spirits, you can still venture into cocktail territory. Sangria is always a good idea for virtual happy hours, or for low-energy days, a simple mix of red wine and cola is actually a very popular Basque cocktail. It's not low-brow, it's positively continental! Get the Kalimotxo recipe.

7. Aquafaba: Grapefruit gin sour

Aquafaba is the name given to the starchy liquid that exists in a can of cooked chickpeas. If you were good about stocking up on these nutrient-dense staples, then you actually have an abundance of a terrific cocktail ingredient available. A common substitute for egg whites, use aquafaba in any frothy, sour-based cocktail. Get the grapefruit gin sour recipe.

8. Jam: Bramble


A bramble is a classic cocktail that commonly utilizes muddled blackberries and blackberry liqueur, but your basic, everyday jam can take the place of both in building a refreshing and elegant gin-based cocktail. That, as they say, is my jam. Get the jam bramble cocktail recipe.

9. Spices: Dr. Mitchill's cocktail


Spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon are commonly used as a cocktail garnish as in this early-edition cocktail, offering the drinker a heady whiff before the glass even hits the lip. These can be applied to many cocktails, and you can try any ground spice that appeals to you -- clove, star anise, fennel, etc. Get the Dr. Mitchill's cocktail recipe.

10. Extracts: Peppermint mocha Martini

Common baking extracts are just intense infusions of flavor into a high-proof spirit, kind of like single-note bitters. If you have vodka and vanilla extract, then you have vanilla vodka. If you have bourbon and almond extract, now you have almond bourbon. (If such a thing doesn't exist, it really should.) If you have vodka and peppermint extract, now you have a (socially-distant) party. Never mind the holiday vibe. Season is meaningless in quarantine. Get the peppermint mocha Martini recipe.

11. Tea: Royal-Tea


Tea leaves are one of the most versatile flavor-bombs that professional and enthusiastic home bartenders can use, especially since there are so many varieties. Infusions and syrups can both be made from teas, and strong tea itself can be used a cocktail ingredient. If you're going for an infusion, Yardley offers the following instructions: "My best advice is to use glass container with a tightly fitting lid, fill it with your spirit, add the same amount of tea that you would as if you were making it to drink normally, and then watch the color change and taste it every five minutes until you like the flavor." Get the Royal-tea cocktail recipe.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.