8 Cocktailing Shortcuts Every Home Bartender Should Know

Consider this your holiday hosting cheat sheet

November 15, 2018 9:00 am

You’re going to entertain a lot of people this season.

The basics you probably have covered: Wine. Beer. That bottle of Scotch for the grumpy dude who takes it neat “because that’s the only way to drink it.”

Cocktails? Ideal, yes, but too cumbersome — until now.

Herein, eight caveman-easy shortcuts for making great cocktails, from surprisingly impressive syrups to ready-to-drink concoctions to the two-ingredient recipes bartenders swear by.

Oh, and one robot bartender.

Before you begin, you will need a few basic bar tools (shaker, bar knife, etc.) and a modest list of ingredients. Think:

  • Lemons, limes, maybe an orange
  • Seltzer
  • Tonic
  • Plenty of ice
  • Simple syrup (yes, you can buy it, though it’s easy to make)
  • And Angostura bitters 

Now, let’s get those drinks poured … quickly.

Innovative Beverage Group

1. Bottled cocktails
A bigger trend overseas, but thankfully a new rash of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails have hit the market here. A recent favorite: BTL SVC, a line of big hits (Old Fashioned, Negroni) and new takes — including the 1934 Cosmo (crafted from vodka, dry curacao, fresh lime juice and housemade raspberry gomme) and the Spicy Maid (tequila, cucumber, cayenne, mint bitters).

Other worthy RTDs: Empower (for martinis), St. Agrestis (for negronis), Hochstadter’s Slow & Low (for Rock and Ryes)


2. Canned cocktails
Same quick idea as above, though there’s certainly more variety in can form. We dig Cutwater Spirits, a former offshoot from the forward-thinking Ballast Point brewery in San Diego, which transforms its proprietary line of booze into a tasty cans of Bloody Marys, rum and gingers, rum and colas, and gin and tonics.

Other great cans: ‘Merican Mule (ginger/vodka goodness), Stillhouse (flavored corn whiskey in a petrol can)

W&P Design

3. Cocktail syrups
This takes an extra step or two, but the great thing here is you can use the booze you already have on hand. W&P already makes a great travel cocktail kit and some of our favorite barware — their assorted Craft spritz, Old Fashioned and spicy margarita syrups are certainly a step above the usual chain store mixers.

Other reputable syrups: Proof (maple bacon Old Fashioneds!), Stirrings (the most variety and probably the ones you’ll find the easiest), Old Forester Cocktail Provisions (whiskey drink mixers), Shrub District (fruit-based cocktail “vinegars”)


4. Cocktail kits
Kits take a bit more work, but they’re designed to give you everything you need in a box (sans the booze). Just launched this week, Dollar Cocktail Club boldly claims “they’re not rocket science,” and the kits we tried made for fun, interesting cocktails for about 12 people (quick review: maybe avoid the “spicy” part of the margarita mix … ouch!). They also have recipes for party batching.

Another good kit: Cocktail Courier, which allows you order the drink mixes with booze or without


5. Stupid simple recipes
You know my favorite two tequila drinks? The batanga (tequila, lime and Coke) and the paloma (tequila, lime, grapefruit soda). There’s a world of fantastic, two- and three-ingredient drinks out there beyond the ____ and tonic/soda. Think Dark and Stormys, Black Russians, Greyhounds, Cuba Libres …

More reading: Our three-ingredient cocktail guide; Kara Newmans Shake. Stire. Sip. (recipes for 50 cocktails made in equal parts).

6. Barware for dummies
There are dozens of varieties of the cocktail shaker with cocktail recipes printed on the side — we like the Final Touch because the glass is really strong and the measurements are printed in both ounces and millimeters.

If you don’t want to shake: Batch Bottles allow you to make stirred cocktails to exact measurements for large groups.   

7. Use booze and mixers that are versatile.
The simple Old Fashioned doesn’t have to have bourbon — we’ve had great luck with dark rums and mezcal. Speaking of which, we were hanging out with Montelobos co-founder Ivan Saldana this week, and he (correctly) noted that his mezcal can easily work in both whiskey and gin drinks. The Takeout did a great piece earlier this fall on utilizing those one-off booze purchases getting dusty on your shelves (Chambord, Sambuca, Triple Sec, etc.) to make cocktails you hadn’t thought of. Oh, and ginger beer. My God, that goes with everything.

8. When all else fails, use technology
Earlier this year, we had a chance to try Barsys, a robotic bartender that fits on your (large) countertop. Stock it with five base spirits and three mixers, and the device quickly and efficiently mixes a variety of mixed cocktails. It’s really a conversation starter more than anything.

Another machine option: We haven’t tried it yet, but Drinkworks is the just-announced Keurig for cocktails and beer. Tell your office manager.

Main image: W&P Design


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