It's time to simplify happy hour. 
people holding cocktails over pink table
Credit: Ted + Chelsea

The key to overcoming home bartending intimidation is knowing your ratios. The sheer volume of cocktails and ingredients out there is enough for anyone to shy away from mixing their own drinks at home, but if you memorize this simple formula, you know all you need to create a plethora of favorite cocktails. 

Types of Cocktails  

Many popular cocktails fall under one of two umbrellas: spirit-forward cocktails and sours. The latter features some sort of sour element, usually citrus juice, while the former puts the focus on the liquor. These two umbrellas provide the base for numerous cocktail subcategories. 

Spirit-Forward Cocktails 

"Spirit-forward" usually refers to cocktails with a base spirit that is mixed with vermouth or some type of fortified wine (like sherry, port, etc.), in order to lessen the alcohol's bite. These drinks may also include small doses of bitters, liqueurs, or sweeteners. 

And while sours — which are usually served cold — are typically shaken, spirit-forward cocktails are often stirred, as to not dilute the concentration of the spirits. 

Examples of spirit-forward cocktails Manhattans, martinis, negronis, and old fashioneds


Most other classic cocktails will fall under the umbrella of "sours," many of which are associated with summertime. This umbrella simply refers to mixed drinks that incorporate citrus juice, or shrubs, in addition to a base spirit and a sweetener. These drinks are served cold, meaning they are made by shaking with ice in a cocktail shaker. 

Examples of sours include margaritas, whiskey sours, daiquiris, sidecars, and aviations

Other Types of Cocktails 

I know that probably leaves you thinking, "What about cocktails that don't fall into one of these two categories?" To that I would say, spirit-led cocktails and sours provide the foundation for which many other cocktail subcategories are built upon. For example, a mojito is simply a daiquiri (a sour cocktail consisting of rum, simple syrup, and lime juice), with the addition of club soda and mint. 

Memorize the following formula, and you'll have the base for countless cocktails.

The 2-1-1 Cocktail Formula 

graphic with 2-1-1 cocktail formula
Credit: Allrecipes Illustration

The above formula, known as the "2-1-1 Formula," is the essential sour cocktail formula. The ratio refers to 2 ounces of spirit, 1 ounce of sweet, and 1 ounce of sour. Here we've provided examples of each element, but keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive: 

  • Spirits: Aperol, campari, gin, mezcal, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey, wine, etc.   
  • Sweet: Simple syrup, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, grenadine, triple sec, maraschino liqueur, limoncello, amaretto, etc. 
  • Sour: Lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and shrubs (vinegar-based syrups)

To make your sour, fill a cocktail shaker about ¾ of the way full with ice, add ingredients, shake for about 10 seconds (or until the shaker is too cold to hold), strain into a glass, garnish as desired, and serve. 

Keep in mind this formula is more of a guide than a rule; you may find some drinks benefit from a slight adjustment in ratio. Some prefer to use the 1 ½ -¾-¾ ratio, which is the same proportions, just less liquid. 

Cocktails You Can Make Using the 2-1-1 Formula 

Now that you know the formula, you've opened yourself up to a world of cocktail creations. Here are just some of the drinks you can make using this formula: 

  • Aviation: gin + maraschino liqueur + lemon juice + creme de violette (optional)
  • Daiquiri: rum + simple syrup + lime juice
    • To make a Mojito: Add fresh mint and club soda. 
  • Gimlet: gin + simple syrup + lime juice
  • Gin Sour: gin + simple syrup + lemon juice
  • Lemon Drop: vodka + simple syrup + lemon juice
    • To make a Vodka Collins: Add club soda. 
  • Margarita: tequila + triple sec + lime juice
  • Sidecar: brandy + triple sec +  lemon juice
  • Tequila Sour: tequila + simple syrup + lime or lemon juice + egg white (optional)
    • To make a Paloma: Add grapefruit juice and soda water. 
  • Whiskey Sour: whiskey + simple syrup + lemon juice+ egg white (optional)

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