10 Killer Cocktails You Can Make With Just 3 Ingredients

Simply perfect.
By Jonah Flicker ,

Sometimes ordering a drink feels more like a chore than a pleasure, and that’s just not how the transaction is supposed to work. Certain bars have cocktail menus that read like Thomas Pynchon novels, with page after page of elaborate concoctions involving ingredients like bacon-infused bourbon, smoke, and swan-shaped yuzu leaf garnishes. Even if these drinks taste good, they can be a little intimidating.

Of course, there’s a time and a place for this specific type of alcoholic hullabaloo. But it’s also important to remember the basic pleasures of a simple cocktail, one that you can easily make at home. Author and cocktail expert Robert Simonson has a new book, 3-Ingredient Cocktails (available on Amazon now), that champions this concept, offering original, modern, and classic recipes that are both straightforward and tasty.

Simonson has to drink all the drinks in his line of work, and a few years ago he realized that three ingredients seems to be the solid foundation of a good cocktail. 

“The seeming soundness of that triangular construction spurred me to investigate that sub-category of drink further,” he says. “Also, it had struck me that many of the new cocktail books, with their seven-ingredient potions calling for obscure products and homemade syrups and tinctures, were of little utility to the home bartender. This book is intended as an alternative to those volumes.”

It’s not that he thinks complicated cocktails are inherently bad — what matters to him is how good a drink is, no matter how many ingredients are involved. But he believes that level of intricacy is best left to the mixology pros.

Robert Simonson

“For the cocktail enthusiast wishing to whip up some refreshments at home, mastering simple recipes is the best route,” he says. “And, make no mistake: just because a formula is simple doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be mastered. There is a big difference between a poorly made Manhattan and a deftly executed one.”

Take this advice and try one of these ten easily achievable cocktails from Simonson’s book for yourself:

Classics

1. Martini

Contemporary drinkers are accustomed to a Martini being made of just two components, gin and vermouth. But early recipes of the drink called for a third, orange bitters. The addition brings added depth to the cocktail.

  • 2 ¼ ounces London dry gin 
  • ¾ ounce dry vermouth 
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Combine ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Express a lemon twist over the drink and drop into the glass.

2. Manhattan

Either bourbon or rye will work in this classic cocktail, which dates from the 1880s, but rye contributes a welcome level of spice and a studier backbone.

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey 
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth 
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with brandied cherry.

3. Negroni

The Negroni is sometimes served “up,” but serving it on the rocks allows the intense flavors of the drink to nicely mellow and integrate over time.

  • 1 ounce London dry gin 
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth 
  • 1 ounce Campari

Combine ingredients in rocks glass over one large piece of ice. Stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Express an orange twist over the drink and drop into the glass.

4. Hanky Panky

This drink was invented at the famed American Bar at The Savoy hotel in London. The two dashes of the intensely herbal Fernet Branca go a long way.

  • 1 ½ ounces London dry gin 
  • 1 ½ ounces dry vermouth 
  • 2 dashes Fernet Branca

Combine ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Express an orange twist over the drink and drop into the glass.

5. Side Car

A classic brandy sour that dates from the time of Prohibition, this drink, to be its best, requires a decent quality Cognac, VSOP level or higher.

  • 1 ½ ounces Cognac 
  • ¾ ounce Cointreau 
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe.

Modern

6. Red Hook (Vincenzo Errico)

The Brooklyn Cocktail variation was invented at the famed New York City cocktail bar Milk & Honey in 2003. It inspired several other Manhattan and Brooklyn variations.

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey 
  • ½ ounce Punt y Mes 
  • ½ ounce Maraschino liqueur

Combine ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe.

7. Cosmonaut (Sasha Petraske)

Sasha Petraske, the late founder of Milk & Honey, invented this drink as a better answer to the ubiquitous Cosmopolitan.

  • 2 ounces gin 
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 barspoon raspberry preserves

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe.

8. Remember the Alimony (Dan Greenbaum)

This unusual mixture of gin, sherry and Cynar was first sold at the short-lived Manhattan bar The Beagle.

  • 1 ¼ ounces Fino Sherry 
  • 1 ¼ ounces Cynar 
  • ¾ ounce Beefeater Gin

Combine ingredients in rocks glass over one large piece of ice. Stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Express an orange twist over the drink and drop into the glass.

9. Fair Harvard (Robert Simonson)

This easy-going mixture of pisco, the clear brandy that hails from Peru and Chile, and the soft, lightly sweet blanco vermouth, makes for a lovely apertivo-style cocktail.

  • 2 ounces pisco 
  • 1 ounce blanco vermouth 
  • 3 dashes orange bitters

Combine ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Express a lemon twist over the drink and drop into the glass.

10. Gold Rush (Sam Ross)

This is a simple whiskey sour given a luscious, slightly decadent feel by the use of rich honey syrup instead of sugar.

  • 2 ounces bourbon 
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice 
  • ¾ ounce honey syrup (3 parts honey to 1 part water)

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over one large piece of ice.

Reprinted with permission from "3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon" by Robert Simonson, copyright © 2017. Published Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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