Quick Cocktails for the Busy Person
One thing we hear all the time, in a tone of mixed wistfulness and shame, is, ‘Oh, cocktails are my favorite, but somehow when it comes down to it, I almost always end up just grabbing a beer or pouring a glass of wine.’ And it’s easy to see why. You’ve had a long, hard day at the office, or taking care of the kids. You somehow manage to feed yourself or even the whole family, clean the dishes, and get any children you might have to bed. It’s time to relax for a few minutes before you crash yourself. Nothing sound better than a nice cocktail, but after everything else it seems like a little too much work. You just don’t have the energy.
There’s nothing wrong with a glass of beer or wine, but when what you really want is a cocktail it’s not an entirely adequate replacement. There’s just something more refined, more luxurious, and more relaxing about sipping a cocktail at the end of the day to celebrate a job well done–if you can just get one into your hands.
We want to help. So, we’ve put together a few tips that just might bring that nightcap within reach.
For us, at least, the kind of energy we lack most at the end of the day is mental. We too often find ourselves staring at our bar blankly, unable to muster the capacity to answer two simple questions:
- What do I want?
- Do I have what I need to make it?
A good way to avoid this moment of paralysis is to choose a default drink. In absence of a clear and present alternative, what’s your standard, go-to cocktail? Having this go-to drink option ready not only takes the pressure off of your decision; it makes keeping track of inventory easier too. You bar doesn’t need to be ready for anything; it just needs to have a few necessary bottles.
The most important quality of your go-to drink is, of course, that you’re always happy to drink it. It’s handy if it’s also a relatively simple drink; the fewer bottles to monitor and the fewer steps between you and a satisfying drink, the better. For example, Steph’s go-to drink of the moment is the Finnochietto Martini, and Brian’s is the standard martini; that means that a mere three ingredients total is all we need for both of us to be satisfied.
2. Favor Old Fashioneds …
Old fashioneds are the de-clutterers of the cocktail world. No shaking or straining is necessary. Even the measuring is simple enough to do by eye. No special equipment. No extra dishes to clean. Just a short glass, some sugar, some bitters, one spirit, a spoon, and some ice. It’s quick and it’s easy.
And, as we say often, old fashioneds aren’t just for whiskey. Brandy, rum, tequila, and even gin can all be used to make very interesting, very satisfying, very easy old fashioneds. You can find a number of ideas posted on this site, and it’s easy enough to do quick experiments yourself.
3. … Or Highballs.
Like old fashioneds, but taller and bubblier. Like old fashioneds, highballs are built in the glass, rather than with a shaker or mixing glass and strainer, and they tend to have few ingredients. The addition of seltzer (of some other soda) makes them the perfect choice for when you want something as quick and easy as an old fashioned, but a little lighter or more refreshing. If you’re looking for some good highball ideas, the gin sling is a great place to start; we also recently did an entire week of easy highball recipes.
4. Make them ahead of time.
The main advantage wine has over a cocktail at the end of an exhausting day is that all you have to do is pour. With some cocktails, you can even the score a little bit by making a batch of them one day when you have a little more time and storing it for those busier days. You can fit about six cocktails in an empty bottle, or four in a 16 oz. Mason jar. Mix once, pour multiple times.
We hesitate to recommend this option because, honestly, it’s just not the same to pour a cocktail out of a bottle. Mixing it is an important part of the overall cocktail aesthetic. But in the end a de-ritualized cocktail is better than no cocktail at all.
There are a few keys to successful batching:
- Choose wisely–batching doesn’t work with drinks involving carbonation (they go flat, obviously) or juice (it settles out unattractively). But drinks made entirely of alcoholic ingredients (martinis, Manhattans, or Negronis, for instance) are pretty stable for storing;
- Skip stirring with ice, but add water–we stir cocktails with ice for two reasons: to chill them and to water them down. You don’t need to chill a drink that you’re going to store, but you still do need to water it down. So, skip the ice, but add 3/4 oz of water per serving. As a bonus, this makes mixing a batch all the easier; you can basically just pour all the ingredients into your jar or bottle;
- Keep it cold–if your cocktail is high proof, being mostly spirits (e.g. a martini), you can store it in the freezer without it actually freezing, making it nice and chilled for serving. If it has a lot of fortified wine or lower proof liqueurs (e.g. a Negroni), keep it in the refrigerator instead. That’ll keep it from freezing, and it’ll still be chilled enough to drink;
- Give the bottle a shake before pouring–it seems like this maybe freshens the drink up a little bit. At the very least, it’s a nod in the direction of the ritual.