By Allrecipes Magazine

Cocktail confidential

Psst! Want to know the secret to great cocktail? Just ask me, Juli Hale. As the in-house cocktail conjurer here at Allrecipes, I've got three easy formulas, a dozen tasty recipes, and lots of tips to get you shaking, stirring, and sipping delicious drinks at home this summer. Now, who's ready for a drink?

By Julie Hale

Photo: Kim Cornelison

Bar Smarts

Let's start with a few tips and tricks for your home happy hour.

The Right Glass? The One You Have!

Martini glasses, old-fashioned glasses, and Collins glasses will cover most of your cocktail needs, but use whatever you have — and for heck sakes, don't spend a lot of money on glassware. Dollar stores are great places to find inexpensive cocktail glasses. Wine or water goblets work well for cocktails, too. Check thrift stores for retro coupes and mid-century mod styles. You may even find vintage tiki mugs, in which case you should send them directly to me.

DIY Crushed Ice

Seal ice cubes inside a zip-top plastic bag, then pound with a meat mallet or rolling pin.

Easy Does It

For a lighter, lower-alcohol cocktail (also know as a session drink or shim) replace the high-alcohol liquor (rum, vodka, whiskey, gin) in your cocktail with a sherry, port, vermouth, Lillet Blanc, or lower-octaine liquers such as Pimm's, St. Germain, or Cointreau.

Jigger Math

Most cocktail recipes call for ingredients in ounces because bartenders tend to measure with cocktail jiggers. Flip-style double jiggers (with measuring cups on each end) come in two primary sizes: ½ to 1 ounce and ¾ to 1½ ounces. If you don't have a jigger, you can use this chart to find the equivalent amount in tablespoons or cups.

  • ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon
  • ¾ ounce = 1 ½ tablespoons
  • 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons
  • 1 ½ ounces = 3 tablespoons
  • 2 ounces = 4 tablespoons = ¼ cup

Invisible Rim

Go minimal: Simply rub citrus peel on the rim and walk away.

Half-and-Half Rims

To give the sipper a little relief, dip only half the rim in sugar or salt. Or, to keep the sipper guessing, dip one half in salt and the other half in sugar.

Photo: Kim Cornelison

Formula 1: Smashes

Photo: Kim Cornelison

Crushed ice, and plenty of it, is key to the smash. It's what, in pre-freezer days, made this cocktail style seem so very indulgent. All you need:

  • mint (or other fresh herb leaves)
  • fruit (optional)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • crushed ice
  • 1½ ounces liquor
  • club soda (optional)

Using a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon, muddle mint and fruit with sugar in a glass. Fill glass with crushed ice. Add liquor. And, that's it! If you like, add more ice and mint, and call it a julep. Or put it in a Collins glass and top with club soda. Or omit the mint, add extra fruit and a straw, and call it a cobbler. Or try these variations:

Peachy Rye Julep

In a silver julep cup or old-fashioned glass, muddle 2 slices fresh peach, 4 sprigs fresh mint, and 2 teaspoons turbinado sugar until peach is well smashed and sugar is dissolved. Add 1½ ounces rye whiskey, 2 dashes angostura bitters, and 1 cup crushed ice. Stir until well chilled. Mound glass with ½ cup more ice. Garnish with additional mint and a peach slice. Makes 1 (1¼-cup) cocktail.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Basil-Cucumber Smash

In a Collins glass, muddle 3 slices cucumber, 3 basil leaves, and 1½ teaspoons superfine sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add 1½ ounces vodka and 1 cup crushed ice. Stir until well chilled. Garnish with an additional cucumber slice and basil leaf. Makes 1 (1¼-cup) cocktail.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Blackberry Rum Cobbler

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 6 blackberries and 1½ teaspoons honey until berries are well smashed. Add 1½ ounces spiced rum and 1 cup crushed ice. Shake until well chilled. Pour contents of shaker (ice and all) into an old-fashioned glass. Mound with ½ cup more crushed ice. Garnish with additional blackberries and serve with a straw. Makes 1 (1¼-cup) cocktail.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Formula 2: Sours

Photo: Kim Cornelison

The sour formula is the root of many cocktails, including margaritas and mules, perhaps because it's so easy to remember and so simple to adapt. All you need:

  • 1½ ounces liquor
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup (or other sweet element)
  • ¾ ounce lemon/lime juice (or other sour element)

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice; strain and serve in a martini glass or over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Add club soda and call it a fizz. Or build it in a tall glass with club soda and call it a Collins. Or try these variations:

Apricot Moscow Mule

Fill a copper mug with crushed ice. Add 3 ounces vodka, 1½ ounces Ginger Simple Syrup (recipe below), 1½ ounces freshly squeezed lime juice, and half of a thinly sliced apricot. Top with 4 ounces club soda and a squeezed lime wedge. Stir well. Makes 1 (1-cup) cocktail and enough Ginger Simple Syrup for 3 more.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Spicy Watermelon Margarita

Purée 2 cups cubed seedless watermelon in a blender. Wipe the rim of a margarita glass with a lime wedge; dip rim into kosher salt or coarse white decorating sugar. In a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice, add 2 ounces of the watermelon purée, 1½ ounces silver tequila, ¾ ounce Cointreau, ¾ ounce lime juice, and 1 slice jalapeño. Shake until very cold. Strain into prepared glass. Garnish with a watermelon wedge or melon balls and a jalapeño slice — or simply float a jalapeño slice on top of drink. Makes 1 (¾-cup) cocktail and enough watermelon purée for 4 more.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Clover Club

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 5 fresh raspberries and 1 sprig fresh thyme. Add 1½ ounces gin, 1 pasteurized egg white or 1 ounce pasteurized liquid egg whites, ¾ ounce simple syrup, and ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice. Shake until mixture no longer sounds sloshy. (You will feel a lot of pressure.) Add ice to fill shaker half-full. Shake again until very cold. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Dust top with cinnamon, or garnish with lemon zest curl or additional thyme. Makes 1 (¾-cup) cocktail. Note: The foam on top begins to break down after about 10 minutes, so be sure to take a photo of your Clover Club, then drink it up before that happens.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Cool Color Trick

Steep butterfly pea flowers (dried blooms or tea bags made from them, available online) in vodka, gin, white rum, or silver tequila for 3 hours. (One tablespoon or tea bag is enough to turn a whole bottle a brilliant blue!) Then strain the liquor and use it to make a sour cocktail, adding lemon juice just as you serve. The acid in the juice will make the drink turn from blue to purple right before your eyes!

Photo: Kim Cornelison

Formula 3: Shrubs

Photo: Kim Cornelison

The term "shrub" refers to two different things: a tart, fruity liquid you can sip straight up (a shrub starter), and a drink or cocktail made with it. Confused? Just call it tasty. All you need:

  • 1 cup fruit
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • bonus ingredient (optional, for flavor twist)
  • 1½ cups liquor or club soda

Purée fruit, sugar, and vinegar in a blender. Add bonus ingredient (if using) and chill 4 hours or up to 2 days to blend flavors. Strain and serve with slightly less than an equal amount of liquor for cocktails or with an equal amount of club soda for mocktails. Or try these variations:

Earl Greyhound

In a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice, combine 2 ounces Earl Grey-Grapefruit Shrub (recipe on facing page) and 1½ ounces vodka. Shake until very cold. Strain into martini glass or an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge. Makes 1 (⅔-cup) cocktail.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Cantaloupe Daiquiri Shrub

In a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice, combine 2 ounces Cantaloupe Shrub (recipe below), 1½ ounces white rum, and ¾ ounce fresh lime juice. Shake until very cold. Strain into an ice-filled wine glass or water goblet. Garnish with slices of cantaloupe and lime. Makes 1 (⅔-cup) cocktail.

Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Blueberry-Bourbon Shrub

In a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice, combine 2 ounces Blueberry Shrub (recipe below), and 1½ ounces bourbon. Shake until very cold. Strain into an ice-filled pint glass. Top with 3 ounces ginger beer. Garnish with additional blueberries or a lime wedge. Makes 1 (1-cup) cocktail.

Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

For a Quick Sparkling Apertif

Top 2 ounces wine or liquer with 4 ounces club soda. Serve in a large wineglass with crushed ice. Garnish with fresh fruit.

Make It a Salty Dog

Before pouring the drink, wet the rim of the glass with a grapefruit section, then dip it in kosher salt.

Shrub Starters

Earl Grey-Grapefruit Shrub

Zest 1 grapefruit, then section the fruit, cutting it away from the peel and inner membranes. You should have 5 teaspoons zest and ¾ cup grapefruit sections. Purée zest, sections, and any juices with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup white wine vinegar. Add 1 Earl Grey tea bag. Chill, covered, 4 hours to 2 days. Remove tea bag and strain. (Shrub keeps up to 3 weeks, chilled.) Makes 2 cups, enough for 8 drinks or cocktails.

Cantaloupe Shrub

Purée 1 cup cubed cantaloupe, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup champagne vinegar or prosecco vinegar in a blender. Stir in 1 teaspoon lime zest. Chill, covered, 4 hours to 2 days. Strain. (Shrub keeps up to 3 weeks, chilled.) Makes 2 cups, enough for 8 drinks or cocktails.

Blueberry Shrub

Purée 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup red wine vinegar in a blender. Add ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns. Chill, covered, 4 hours to 2 days. Strain. (Shrub keeps up to 3 weeks, chilled.) Makes 12/3 cups, enough for 7 drinks or cocktails.

Super-Simple Syrups

Shaken Simple Syrup

Shake 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a Mason jar until dissolved. If your arm gets tired, just set it down and let the sugar continue to dissolve all by itself.

Salted Simple Syrup

Add 4 teaspoons grey sea salt along with the sugar before you shake it up.

Ginger Simple Syrup

Put ½ cup chopped fresh ginger, ½ cup sugar, and ½ cup boiling water in a blender; let stand 5 minutes. Blend until smooth. Strain and chill up to 2 weeks.

Other Changeups

Try brown sugar, turbinado, or demerara sugar instead of white sugar in simple syrup. Or use agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, or fruit syrup instead of simple syrup.

Check out our collection of Cocktail Recipes.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.