How to mix delicious cocktails at home — without actually doing any work
Unless you count ‘adding to cart’ as effort
“Why does he keep unfollowing and following me?”
“I said, he keeps unfollowing me!”
Catching up with friends over a drink sounds fun in theory. But whether it’s my age, or my pathetic inability to be loud — just ask the colleagues who politely strain to hear me in Zoom meetings, or the crew members on set who ignore my instructions — bars are not the place for me to do it. The thumping music leads to non sequitur-laden conversations like the one above, a snippet from a night out last week. Shrieking my drink order at the bartender is the highest form of communication I can manage, and even then, I try and keep it to three syllables or fewer — martini, gin soda, Hoegaarden.
On occasions when you want to actually speak with your friends, the elegant solution is drinks at home. For those whose tastes have evolved beyond sweaty dance floors, and who don’t mind saving a few bucks, learning to play bartender at home is a crucial step on the path to adulting.
Don’t worry, there’s no need to learn how to burn sprigs of rosemary for herb-smoked old fashioneds. With a host of new liquor and mixers for cocktails on the market, you can shake up delicious drinks even if your knowledge is limited to rum-and-coke and vodka-orange. These are designed to take any gathering up a notch — or keep you company on a solo night.
According to Bhakti Mehta, founder of Little Food Co. catering and Tapped Fest, having a variety of mixers for cocktails on hand is the push you need to start. “You don’t need elaborate equipment to make great cocktails. A good shaker is enough, and ice. You can never have enough,” she says.
Damian D’Souza, former chef at Ellipsis and founder of Goa-based delivery kitchen The Khaana Cartel, agrees. “For the novice bartender, a flavoured shrub and soda can be anything you want it to be,” he says. A shrub is an old-school mixer that’s making a comeback — it’s an unconcentrated syrup infused with botanicals, herbs, and fruit. They’re a bit like a less-sweet RoohAfza (here’s an impassioned defence of the all-time best summer drink.)
We’ve rounded up a list of shrubs and other mixers for cocktails, as well as alcohols to pair them with for simple cocktails that will hit the spot. Add a few garnishes, and it’ll look like you secretly took a bartending course.
The best new liquors and mixers for cocktails to buy in India
Take a break from the sugary drinks. D’Souza and Mehta agree that Bloody Marys are the overlooked brunch accompaniment you should be stirring up. Jimmy’s Bloody Mary mix is spicy, tangy, and goes well with eggs. Add your choice of vodka or gin, and doctor it up with celery sticks, olives, cocktail onions, and extra hot sauce. A mix of brown sugar, salt, and pepper on the rim looks fancy and cuts through the tartness.
When in doubt, reach for citrus
When the weather is stifling, few sips are more refreshing than a mojito or spiked nimbu pani. Instead of faffing around with squeezing fifty lemons, crushed ice and tequila, swing for this mix instead. The margarita and mojito mixes by &Stirred come in convenient small serving sizes, so you can enjoy a couple of drinks and find out what you like without buying a whole bottle. Cocktails for one aren’t a drinking problem, they’re a drinking solution.
When working with citrus, salt is essential for balance. You can do the classic salt rim, or rely on a bottle of salted lemonade to create all kinds of lemony drinks with different boozes or garnishes mixed in.
Bubbles make everything better
At least, according to D’Souza, and we’d have to agree. Hard seltzers are a convenient grab-and-go cocktail, and they’re making an entry in India. All you need is space in the fridge to step up from the usual beers. They can be used creatively as mixers, too. Speak Easy is a homegrown brand with fun flavours like pink guava, mandarin, and passion fruit. Indian Standard Time offers lime and grapefruit. For those who like fruity cocktails, hard seltzer is the way to go.
Caffeinate while you cool down
“In balmy weather, nothing beats a good espresso and tonic, with or without gin,” says D’Souza. Svami offers a range of tonic flavours that you can use as mixers for cocktails, like grapefruit — which would pair well with coffee — and cucumber — an option for avant-garde drinkers. If you want to experiment, try this mixed tonic pack. For those in Mumbai, Pune, or Goa, you can get all four flavours with a bottle of Stranger and Sons gin.
Garnish with a slice of lime and enjoy this sweet, simplified take on a classic espresso martini. It’s the cold coffee glow-up you never knew you needed.
Tequila isn’t just for a big night
Technically, the only real tequila comes from Mexico. But that hasn’t stopped Indian brands like Pistola and 1800 from launching agave spirits that taste like the real thing: smooth, aromatic, and just right for mixing. In 2022, leave tequila shots behind and opt for a more sophisticated alcohol consumption strategy.
Margaritas are the obvious choice for good reason. Spice things up with a picante, which consists of lime juice and sugar, tequila, and some fiery red chilli slices. To make life easier, use a lemonade or margarita mix. Garnish with a few coriander leaves.
Make the most of local spice
Mehta recommends making mango cocktails while the season lasts, by pairing aamras or mango pulp with any white spirit and ginger ale or soda. It’s a crowd-pleaser with all the feels of a grown-up Rasna (here’s how to throw a cost-effective modern birthday party, with no Rasna in sight). Swizzle offers unique mixer options like chilli-mango margarita and pudina punch to infuse your drinks with some Indian spice.
The brand’s gift boxes are a nice alternative to a bottle of wine as a party gift, especially for your friends who don’t drink. Mixers make it easy to invite the teetotallers and drinkers to the same event, and make sure both camps are catered to.
To explore more mixers, check out the bars in your neighbourhood. Many of them offer mixers and DIY cocktail kits of their most popular drinks. Armed with a drink-in-a-bottle, there’s nothing you can’t make.