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How to Make a Cocktail Without Special Equipment

Want a cocktail? You’re going to have to make it yourself. Here’s how to do it with what you already have.
By Published May 14, 2020
Miye Bromberg

Across America, the bars are closed. Happy hour is now an event that takes place in your kitchen or living room or bedroom. Want a cocktail? You’re going to have to make it yourself. Congratulations, you’ve just become your own bartender! You might think you need a lot of special expertise and equipment, but you don’t. Here’s how to make your favorite drink when you’re short on tools and ice.

Equipment Substitutions

Three basic tools—a cocktail shaker, a strainer, and a jigger—make it a lot easier to make cocktails, once you get the hang of using them. But you can also get by without them, too.

Measuring spoon

What to Use If You Don't Have a Jigger
Don’t have a jigger? No problem. If you really want to be precise when mixing a drink, use a measuring spoon—one tablespoon holds half an ounce. For larger volumes (two or more ounces), use a one-cup measuring cup—our favorites also have ounce measures. But really, as long as you keep the ratios of the drink the same, you can use any small vessel—a shot glass, a juice glass, etc.—to measure volumes; your drink might be bigger or smaller than ideal, but the balance will remain the same. (And if you decide you’d rather just buy a jigger, our favorite is the OXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Cup.)

What to Use If You Don't Have a Cocktail Shaker
Contrary to what many bartenders will have you believe, you don’t even need a shaker to make a cocktail. Almost every cocktail (except egg-white-based ones) can simply be stirred in order to chill and dilute the ingredients properly; it will just take longer with drinks that you’d ordinarily shake. You don’t even need to use a dedicated bar spoon to stir—any longish utensil will work. Legendary bartender Gaz Regan used to stir Negronis with his finger, but if your fingers aren’t as cold-resistant, a chopstick or butter knife will do just fine. Stirring won’t get you the frothy texture of many shaken drinks, but the drink itself will still taste good.

Here’s how to make your drinks: Add as much ice as you can spare to any relatively tall vessel, such as a liquid measuring cup or pint glass; ideally, you’d have enough ice to fill it about two-thirds full. Pour in your drink ingredients, and then stir.

Stir with chopstick

For spirit-only drinks like Manhattans, stir for about 30 seconds. For drinks with spirits and acids, like margaritas, which are typically shaken, you’ll want to stir a bit longer—about a minute, and possibly more. It’s OK to taste as you go. You’re among friends. You’ll know when your drink is properly diluted when it’s boozy, but not harsh or rough-feeling.

What to Use If You Don't Have a Strainer
Pour your drink through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer. Alternatively, use another glass, a saucer, or even a small plate to carefully hold back the ice as you decant the drink. Or don’t strain at all. Pour both drink and ice into another glass, or sip directly from the mixing vessel. I won’t tell. Now your drink is on the rocks! (If you do want to invest in a strainer, our favorite is the Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne Strainer.)

What to Use If You Don't Have a Muddler
Want a mojito but don’t have a muddler? Use a wooden spoon to muddle the mint and limes in your mixing vessel. A mortar and pestle can also work if you have it—just don’t turn your muddled materials into a paste. With either tool, press and turn your muddling implement firmly to express all the aromatic oils; this should take about 30 seconds.

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What About Ice?

Ice is an essential ingredient of almost all cocktails. It helps chill and dilute your cocktail ingredients, the water softening alcohol and acids like lime or lemon juice and generally making your drink more balanced and palatable. (This is why you’ll often see folks add a splash of water to their bourbon or scotch.)

If you’ve got ice, great! Even the regular ice-tray kind is fine for both making and serving cocktails. If you want to get fancy, ice from a dedicated ice mold for cocktails can improve your presentation.

But what if your freezer is so full that there’s no room for you to make or keep ice? No problem there, either. You can simulate the effects of shaking and chilling your drink with ice by simply diluting and chilling the ingredients ahead of time. Simply add half the drink’s volume in water and refrigerate it for at least eight hours, and preferably longer. So, for example, if you’re making a martini with 2 ounces of gin and ½ an ounce of dry vermouth (2.5 oz total), you’d want to add about 1.25 ounces of water before refrigerating.

Add your cocktails to the freezer in a bag

Refrigerating the drink won’t get it as cold as it would be if you shook or stirred it, though. For the coldest, most cocktail-like results, follow the advice of our science research editor Paul Adams: measure the alcoholic ingredients only into a plastic storage bag (water and juice will freeze, but spirits won’t), press out any air, and put the baggie in the freezer. Because the baggie is flexible, it should fit it in the smallest nooks and crannies that you might have. When you want a drink, just mix the alcoholic ingredients with the nonalcoholic ingredients, again adding half the recipe’s volume in water (preferably chilled).

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