How to Hack A Cocktail Recipe With What You Have

You don’t need fancy ingredients or equipment to make a great drink, so here’s how to hack a cocktail recipe with what you have on hand!

a bottle, mason jar and cocktail shaker

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Have your grocery shopping patterns changed these last few weeks?

Ours definitely have.

We often do grocery delivery during normal times (it’s an hour I get back in my week!) but we have been making fewer orders during the last month or so.

I simply do not wish to go inside a store, and I have been sanitizing everything that comes in our house.

The grocery stores and liquor stores have been out of a lot of stuff, and Amazon deliveries are even slower.

But I’m not letting any of that slow me down in the kitchen, and you shouldn’t either. This is an awesome time to clear stuff out of the freezer and pantry, and to get creative with food and drinks.

All of this is a great reminder that you don’t need fancy equipment or ingredients to make great food.

For example, Chris and I recently made tortillas with bacon fat because we were craving a taco night. I don’t have a tortilla press, so I just used a regular old rolling pin. I could have used some books wrapped in plastic wrap to protect them.

Sometimes you have to be creative!

The same goes for cocktails. You can make drinks with just a few ingredients and you don’t even need a cocktail shaker.

Here are some easy kitchen replacements for common cocktail gear and ingredients:

jigger, measuring cups and measuring spoons

Jigger substitute

A jigger certainly is handy for measuring out liquid ingredients because of its two-sided cup shape, but you certainly don’t need one.

Instead, you can use your regular old measuring cups and spoons. If you have a liquid measuring cup, that’s even better.

Here are some quick cocktail measurement conversions:

1/2 fluid ounces = 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
1 fluid ounce = 2 tablespoons = 6 teaspoons = 1/8 cup
2 fluid ounces = 4 tablespoons = 12 teaspoons = 1/4 cup

Cocktail shaker substitute

No cocktail shaker? No problem. All you really need is a vessel with enough volume for your cocktail and a lid with a good seal.

You can use a mason jar, a French press (just use the stopper thingy) or any clean, leftover carton or jug you have on hand. Think an orange juice container or milk carton, or even a wine bottle with a stopper or screw-on lid.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, and shake, shake, shake!

Though you don’t really need a strainer, you can use a coffee filter, cheesecloth or just use the lid of your vessel to hold back ice and fruit you might not want in your drink.

muffin tin ice cubes in a muffin tin and in a glass of whiskey

Ice tray substitute

Don’t have one of those fancy ice sphere molds but fancy an old-fashioned?

Don’t fret. Your muffin tin comes to the rescue.

Fill it with hot water from the tap, and pop it in the freezer for a few hours. Voilà! A dozen large ice cubes that will get you that slow dilution you love in a big ice cube.

If crushed ice is what you need, try running it through the blender or put it in a ziploc back between two towels for protection, and smash it with a meat mallet or even a spoon.

Though ice is an important element of cocktail mixing because of its size and surface area for melting and dilution, don’t let not having special molds slow you down. Whatever ice your freezer makes — be it automatic or trays you have to refill — will work just as beautifully for now.

a cocktail muddler and wooden spoons in a mixing jar

Muddler substitute

If you are in the mood for a mint julep or a fruit bramble, you will need something called a muddler to smash your fruit.

But again, you don’t need one. Try using the end of a wooden spoon, or heck, even smash them with a spoon or fork. No rules here.

bottles of whiskey, vodka, rum, gin and tequila

Liquor substitutions for cocktails

The obvious choice is going for another bottle, any brand, of whatever spirit you’re out of. Out of your favorite spirit entirely? Swap it out with something similar in color. You might even come up with something you love even more.

Light-colored spirts can often be interchanged with other light-colored spirits. Try a mojito with tequila instead of rum, or make a Moscow mule with gin instead of vodka.

You can do the same with dark-colored spirits. Try an old-fashioned with spiced rum, or make a julep with brandy

Whatever route you go, use your nose, mouth and intuition. Take a sniff and ask yourself, “Do these things go together?” I also recommend you do a taste test using small amounts of ingredients so you don’t waste them.

You can also make your own spirits. Check out these recipes for homemade coffee liqueurIrish cream and honey whiskey.

common cocktail ingredients such as lemons, limes, berries and herbs

Cocktail ingredient substitutions

If you’re out of an ingredient, go for something in the same family.

Take citrus for example — don’t feel weird about interchanging lemon with lime, or even grapefruit or orange. Other fruits like berries can also provide a sweet-tartness, so don’t hesitate to be creative here. 

Feel free to change up herbs (basil or rosemary instead of mint) or spices (cardamom instead of cinnamon) for totally new flavor profiles. Follow your nose! 

Check out this guide to growing a cocktail herb garden for more ideas.

bottles and jars of maple syrup, honey, agave, jam and simple syrup

Cocktail sweetener substitutions

This is one of my favorite ways to change up a cocktail. Out of sugar for simple syrup? Use maple syrup, agave nectar or honey (but you may need to heat and water down the honey so it will dissolve easier).

Depending on the drink, you could try using the chocolate or caramel syrups that you usually reserve for ice cream!

You can also use fresh or frozen fruit, or even jam to sweeten your drink. 

However, I don’t recommend using sweeteners like Splenda or Equal. They may react with your ingredients and alter the taste. A taste test might help you decide!

You can also have fun with things like making your own sugar cubes. You don’t need a lot of sugar to make these, but they pack a sweet punch when muddled in cocktails.

bottles of common mixers such as orange juice, ginger beer, soda, sparkling water and ginger ale

Cocktail mixer substitutions

If your drink calls for club soda, you can add your fizz with sparkling water (even one with added flavor, if it fits your cocktail idea), kombucha or even a sweet soda like Sprite or ginger ale.

And popping open a bottle of champagne certainly won’t bring down your fizz game! Again, just try to pick something in the same family as what you’re out of. 

If your drink calls for cola or root beer, you may be able to switch them out with diet versions if you have them on hand. But again, I recommend a taste test first!

I hope this helps you hack your cocktail recipes this weekend. The most important part is having fun! (Responsibly, of course.)

And don’t overthink it! You’ve got this.

But if you’re having trouble hacking a cocktail with what you have, don’t hesitate to contact me or say hi in my Facebook group. I’d be happy to help!

And let me know if you come up with any fun recipes or cocktail hacks to share — leave them in the comments. // susannah

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Mix the perfect cocktail, every time

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    • Susannah says

      Hi Lauren! I am so glad you’re going to try some of these! You definitely don’t need anything fancy. Thanks so much for saying hi and happy mixing! //susannah

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