The Most Versatile Cocktails
What are we even talking about when we say versatile cocktails or ‘Multi-Tool’ Cocktail?
There are a few classic cocktails that aren’t so much strict recipes, they give a framework from which you can almost endlessly twist, tweak and adapt into an unlimited number of cocktails. We like to think of these versatile cocktails as roadmaps!
You can happily personalize these recipes, just keep it within reason. Go too far and you move away from it being a variation of a classic into a whole new thing. However, where the line is, comes down to interpretation. Experiment away with different ingredients, just honor the integrity of the original recipe.
The simplest twist on these recipes is what spirit base you use. These cocktails generally have an original version made with a particular spirit. Nonetheless, it’s often the next version that breaks through and becomes famous. The Rickey for example was first made with Bourbon, but popularisation really came through making it with Gin. The classic Buck has been overshadowed in fame and popularity by both the Dark’ n Stormy and the Moscow Mule, but both are still Bucks at their core.
Beyond changing up the base spirit, these recipes have other areas where twists, substitutions or additions can be made to create brand new cocktails, whilst clearly staying within the traditional framework of the original. Switching one citrus juice for another, using flavoured syrups or sugars. Infusing flavours into the base spirit or adding in fresh fruit, the limitations to the adaptions are only as numbered as your imagination.
Some people look for the most versatile alcohol for cocktails, these recipes adapt and work with the spirit you actually like to drink. Let’s dive in, get mixing, and prepare you to create the next modern riff on an old classic!
What’s core to a Collins? Spirit, lemon, sugar, sparkling water. It’s likely origins are that of a Punch from a London hotel of the early 1800s. The version that made the Collins famous was the Tom Collins, using Old Tom Gin. A style of Gin that was sweetened with sugar or other sweetening agents, usually because Gins were a little rough round the edges back then and needed a little help to make them more palatable.
When it comes to a spirit base, there are really no limits here as it is one of the most versatile cocktails, anything you enjoy drinking can work. The Collins makes heavier, darker spirits you might associate with sipping in stiffer stye drinks, into long refreshing cocktails with great depth of flavour.
Other twists? Infuse your spirit. How about a Tom Collins with Earl Grey infused Gin or vodka? Subbing in flavoured sugars or syrups such as vanilla syrup, tea syrup, raspberry syrup. All will add an additional delicious layer of flavour to your cocktail.
Sparkling water is fine, but how about a sparkling tea, or even a splash of cola, like in a Long Island Iced Tea? Then of course you can crush and fold in fresh berries such as raspberries, or strawberries, creating the perfect summer twist on the Collins.
Add some of these ideas together and you can see how you can get to something quite exciting and different, that still sits within the framework of the original Collins. How about a ‘Strawberry Vanilla Cognac Collins’? Yes please!
In shorthand, take the spirit, lemon, sugar of the Collins, shake together with ice then strain the mixture into a narrow highball glass and top off with sparkling water.
Essentially, it’s a shaken Collins, usually served without any ice and a splash more sparkling water. Other than that, it really does fit all the criteria of the Collins and therefore all of its flexibility for when you want to get creative with different ingredients as discussed above. Classic variations include the Silver Fizz, which adds egg white (or aquafaba) to create a fluffy foamy fizz, or the rich bodied Golden Fizz which adds a fresh egg yolk for additional richness.
As it’s served tall without any ice, for aesthetics, make sure to fine strain your drink into your glass, especially if you had additional fruit or herbs to your recipe. You don’t want unsightly bits floating around in your drink!
03. Rickey & Ranch Water
The key difference to the Collins and Fizz, except for using lime not lemon juice, is the use of extra sparkling water to balance the acidity of the drink, in place of sugar.
This means it’s both more effervescent than the Fizz or Collins and it’s also lower in alcoholic strength too. The Rickey is a delicious, refreshing low ABV cocktail that’s also lower in sugars and calories too. You might want to think of this as a homemade OG hard seltzer.
As with the Collins and Fizz, you can get creative here too. From the base spirit to using an infused sparkling water or combinations of citrus juices. Grapefruit & lime, or a splash of a fresh ginger shot with lime. There’s still plenty of room for creativity without abandoning the Rickey formula.
Although a modern classic in its own right, the Ranch Water is really a Ricky at its heart. Take a bottle of Topo Chico, drink a couple of ounces out of the top and add Tequila and a splash of fresh lime juice. Now you basically have a Tequila Rickey in a bottle, perfect for parties. No need for ice, glasses, and a reduced chance of spillage!
Although the Ranch Water really should be Topo Chico, Tequila and lime, there’s no reason you can’t get creative with these ingredients too. Just don’t claim your Gin, lime, peach and Perrier combination is a Ranch Water in West Texas!
The buck is an old classic that’s a combination of spirit, ginger ale, and citrus juice. It’s a great alternative to the G&T, especially for those who aren’t a fan of tonic water. As with all these recipes you can mix in virtually any base spirit. Citrus juice is essential for a Buck. A splash of lemon juice for something like a Gin Buck, but you can replace that with other citrus juices such as lime juice for a Moscow Mule or Dark ’n Stormy, probably the two most famous members of the Buck family. You can of course get more exotic too, Whisk(e)y Yuzu Buck anyone?
To stay in the Buck family, you still need to use a ginger soda such as Ginger Ale, or for something spicier, use Ginger Beer. However, this still leaves plenty of room to get creative with your choices of both base spirit and fresh citrus.
This is both a drink itself and a very broad family of versatile cocktails that encompass recipes as varied as the White Lady to the Margarita, and the Daiquiri to the Bramble. The one we’re going to focus on here is the beautifully simple, classic Sour.
It’s the same base as the Fizz or the Collins, minus the sparkling water. With the addition of a foaming agent such as egg white or aquafaba, and usually a dash or two of bitters.
The most famous is probably the Whiskey Sour, and this is another great way to enjoy heavier spirits in a lighter, crisper way. When the sour is perfectly balanced, it creates this refreshing canvas onto which you can add your favourite flavours from your favourite spirits, without any powerful flavours getting in the way. Just a gentle and refreshing citrussy base onto which you can add whatever you want.
This framework is so flexible, you can virtually ‘sour’ anything. The Amaretto Sour is an old and popular favourite. With this sweeter base, depending on the brand you use, less or no sugar is needed to balance the recipe.
As with all these recipes you can get creative beyond the base alcohol. You can use a blend of citrus fruits, herbs, spices or soft fresh fruits. Change up the bitters or use different sugars or syrups to balance the recipe. If you’re not a fan of foam, you can leave it out and still enjoy a delicious sour. Daiquiris don’t have foam do they!
Due to the flexibility of the sour base, the only thing you need to be aware of is claiming you’ve invented a new cocktail, because there’s a good chance it’s already been made! Have you tried the Clover Club yet?