Planning an intimate gathering or a big weekend blowout? If you and your friends enjoy a beautifully-made artisanal cocktail, then you might consider adding a signature drink or craft cocktail to your party menu. Of course, the level of complexity that makes sense for an event beverage varies based on the size of the group, your general budget, and the amount of effort and time that you want to invest in this project. That's why we've pulled together a list of 7 flavorful and refreshing cocktails that include freshly-squeezed juices and no chemical-packed pre-made mixers, ranging from "very easy to make" to "a more ambitious (but fun!) undertaking".
Ranch water, a simple mixed drink inspired by West Texas cowboys (and widely enjoyed throughout the Lone Star state) offers the citrusy flavor and tequila-fueled potency of a Margarita, but proves much easier and quicker to make. All you need is your favorite tequila (or mezcal or sotol), plenty of freshly-squeezed lime juice (don't use the bottled stuff-fresh is the way to go!), and super-fizzy soda water (Texans swear by Topo Chico). If you take a few minutes to juice a bunch of limes before your friends come over, then you'll be able to whip up a party's worth of Ranch Waters in a matter of moments.
Another truly beginner-friendly cocktail recipe is the Tom Collins, a libation dating back to the 19th century. A classic Tom Collins includes gin, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup, stirred and topped with soda water. If you're making cocktails for a party, though, it's helpful to consider that gin's juniper flavor can be polarizing. So unless you know that your guests are gin enthusiasts, swapping in a different clear liquor-the neutrally-flavored vodka-is a smart move. The Vodka Collins is easy to make on the fly, but if you've already made a batch of fresh lemonade for your outdoor get-together, then you can cut down on the steps even further by using lemonade in lieu of lemon juice and simple syrup to make this craft cocktail even easier.
The bourbon sour is a cocktail staple in the South, and part of its appeal rests in the fact that it can be dressed down or dressed up to suit your preferences (and your patience). A straightforward three-ingredient sour with just bourbon, simple syrup, and lemon juice allows for fast service, but a smaller party with serious cocktail nerds might inspire you to add an egg white to your cocktail shaker for a perfectly-frothy libation.
An English favorite with a Big Easy twist, the New Orleans Pimm's Cup conjures up images of sunny and steamy Louisiana afternoons, heaping portions of Cajun and Creole grub, and good times (or "bon temps", as NOLA would say) with friends and family. Basically, it's an ideal cocktail for a summertime brunch. It's made by shaking up a combination of Pimm's No. 1 (a gin-based liqueur made in the UK) and lemonade, straining the liquid into a glass, topping it off with soda water or lemon-lime soda, and garnishing with cucumber and your choice of fruit. Crisp, tangy, low-ABV, and beyond refreshing.
The Rum Runner is a tiki bar standby, which makes it an ideal option for a tropical-themed summer soiree with craft cocktails. This rum-based libation is more complex than some of the other drinks we've outlined so far, but a quick trip to the liquor store to pick up a few specialty liqueurs and a ready supply of fresh pineapple juice and lime juice will set you up for success. The Rum Runner is also an easy cocktail to pre-make in bulk, which will save you and your guests a great deal of time at your party's drink station.
"Moonshine" has an illicit, "dangerous" reputation among drinkers who have only heard of it in the context of Prohibition-era stories or Wild West movies, but it's really just a term for a high-proof, unaged spirit (usually whiskey), and it can be purchased (legally) at liquor stores nationwide. The Carolina Swizzle smooths out the hard flavor edges and sometimes-bracing bite of moonshine by balancing it with zingy pink grapefruit juice, smoky and peaty Scotch, and sweet and aromatic Falernum and Amaretto.
Espresso Martinis have had a major renaissance in recent years, but because the traditional recipe calls for freshly-brewed espresso, it can be a tricky drink to make for a group. This recipe expedites the process by replacing brewed espresso with instant coffee; to make it, you just add vodka, instant coffee ("brewed" by mixing instant coffee crystals with hot water until the crystals dissolve), milk, chocolate syrup, and coffee liqueur to a large cocktail shaker, shaking with ice, then straining into glasses.