And they're all five ingredients or less.
Pink Cadillac Margarita Cocktail
Credit: Jennifer Davick

While no one wants to play mixologist at their own party, you also don't want to be caught not knowing how to make humble requests for say an Old Fashioned or a Gin and Tonic (plot twist: it's more than just gin and tonic).

Here are five basic cocktails that are worth committing to memory or at least a cheat sheet on your bar cart. The only piece of special equipment you need to make these drinks happen is a jigger (a double coned device used for measuring in ounces).


Perhaps it's because we're down South, but the margarita isn't just a special occasion drink or only had with Latin cuisine down here. There are two self-evident truths held in regards to margs: don't use bottled mix and don't use bottled lime juice. While that might mean you have to squeeze some citrus prior to the party, your guests praise and admiration will make up for it. Just dip the wet rim of a glass in kosher salt and mix ¾ oz. lime juice, 1 oz. Cointreau, and 1 ½ oz. blanco tequila. You can add a smidge of agave syrup if you want it sweeter. Garnish with a lime wheel, which looks fancier than a wedge with zero additional effort.

WATCH: Pink Cadillac Margaritas

The Old Fashioned

For this drink, we recommend keeping a jar of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.'s Bourbon Cocktail Cherries on hand. They keep for a long time and add sweet depth instead of a sugar high like maraschinos. Mix together 2 oz. bourbon (Bulleit is our choice), 1 brown sugar cube, and 3 dashes of Angostura bitters. Garnish with a thing orange wheel or a thick strip of orange rind along with a one or two cherries.

Gin and Tonic

The secret to a great gin and tonic is great gin and great tonic. Again, we'll give a shout out to Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. because their tonic is tops. We're also big fans of Bristow Gin from Mississippi or High Wire's Hat Trick Botanical Gin from Charleston. Once you mix 2 oz. gin and ¾ oz. tonic, top with club soda (we like using Topo Chico mineral water for a smidge of natural salinity), and garnish with a lime wheel.

Moscow Mule

While those copper mugs that are traditionally used to serve this refreshing ginger drink are pretty, you don't necessarily need them to enjoy a mule. You can use enamelware coffee mugs for a cheeky replacement or serve in jelly jars frosty from the freezer. Mix 2 oz. vodka with 3 oz. of ginger beer (try Blenheim's from South Carolina) and the juice of half a lime. Garnish with a lime wheel and, if you're feeling fancy, a few pieces of candied ginger.

Dirty Martini

There's always one in every bunch that gets a kick out of asking for their martini "extra dirty." Remember to internalize your eye roll and mix 2 ½ oz. gin or vodka with ½ oz. dry vermouth and ½ oz. olive brine. Garnish with a couple olives.