Gone are the days of Jägerbombs, Redbull vodkas, and bottom-shelf liquor that didn’t leave you feeling hungover the weekend after. You’ve now graduated to fancy cocktail bars, where drink ordering is done in front of a date, coworkers, or possibly even a significant other’s parents.
And there are plenty of grown-up alternatives to Jack and Coke. But the most important thing is knowing what you want and ordering it with confidence, says Pamela Wiznitzer, creative director at Seamstress, a cocktail bar in New York. “If you want to order a vodka soda in front of your future mother-in-law, don’t question it,” she says. “Don’t feel like you need to go outside of your comfort zone.”
For those that do want to expand their alcohol horizons, we’ve rounded up five drinks—one for each of the five major spirits (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey)—that go beyond frat boy favorites. The bad news? “You probably won’t be able to order these at dive bars,” says April Wachtel, owner and educator at Swig + Swallow and Craft Mocktails. “But anywhere that has fresh juice should be able to make at least a few of them.” We’ve even gone ahead and included ingredients and directions—because you’re never too old to play bartender.
Vodka: Moscow Mule
“The moscow mule is a long drink for easy sipping,” Wachtel says. “If a bar doesn’t stock fresh juices but does stock ginger beer, you should be good to go! Whether you order this at a neighborhood bar or a cocktail bar, you’ll get a decent drink.” Ingredients: 2 ounces vodka, 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice, 6 ounces ginger beer, 1 lime wedge (for garnish)Directions: Pour all ingredients in a copper mug or highball glass. Add ice, stir, and garnish with lime wedge.
“It’s the most popular cocktail in Mexico,” Wiznitzer says. “Sure, we like our margaritas here in the U.S., but they drink palomas for a reason.”Ingredients: Kosher salt, 2 ounces grapefruit juice, 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 ounces tequila, 2 ounces club soda, 1 lemon wedge (for garnish)Directions: Pour kosher salt on a plate and rub rim of a highball glass with lemon wedge. Dip rim of glass in salt. Pour grapefruit juice, lime juice, and sugar into glass, and stir until fully dissolved. Add tequila and ice, top off with club soda, and garnish with lemon wedge.
“If you ask cocktail bartenders what their top five drinks are, the daiquiri is likely on the list,” Wachtel says. “As long as you use quality ingredients, it’s difficult to butcher. However, the daiquiri is similarly difficult to perfect—but we’re happy to try.”Ingredients: 2 ounces light rum, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice, 3/4 ounce simple syrup, 1 lime wedge (for garnish)Directions: Pour ingredients in a mixing glass or tin. Add ice, shake, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.
Gin: Tom Collins
“This is an absolute classic, and it happens to be very refreshing,” Wiznitzer says. “None of the flavors are too strong or foreign, so it’s a great option for people who are experimenting with new drinks.”Ingredients: 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon superfine sugar, 4 ounces club soda, 1 maraschino cherry (for garnish), 1 lemon wedge (for garnish)Directions: Combine first three ingredients in Collins glass. Stir, add ice, top with club soda, and garnish with maraschino cherry and lemon wedge.
Whiskey: Whiskey Smash
“The whiskey smash is a perfect refreshing summer cocktail,” Wachtel says. “It’s basically the boozy adult version of a minty lemonade.” Enough said.Ingredients: 3 lemon wedges, 2 ounces bourbon, 3/4 ounce simple syrup, 8 mint leaves, 1 mint sprig Directions: Muddle lemon wedges in a mixing glass or tin. Add remaining ingredients except mint sprig. Add ice, shake, and double strain into an old fashioned glass over fresh ice. Slap mint sprig gently to release oils, and place in glass.