I used to care very deeply about what you and I drank, dear reader. For many years, I’ve had this strange desire to educate you on the finer, nerdier points of booze — talking about wines made from obscure grapes grown in little-known regions, explaining the hairsplitting differences between Cognac and Armagnac, holding forth on the subtleties of “challenging” spirits like rhum agricole or genever or aquavit, scoring the minute qualities of Cabernet Franc from limestone soil versus Cabernet Franc from gravel soil, debating the significance of proper ice or glassware or the “correct” way to make a Negroni. I’ve covered a baroque era of drinks that’s included eight-ingredient cocktails, “new gins,” hazy, unfiltered orange wines and pet nat, the often-nonsensical “layering” of overproof rums, expensive Japanese bar tools and precious techniques like the “hard shake,” and menus where 47 percent of the offerings contain mezcal.
But I have to be completely honest: I don’t care anymore. Things have changed. Some of these things are obvious and collective — pandemic, mass unemployment, a reckoning with racial injustice. Others are more personal. But the crux of it is this: Like many of you, I am exhausted. Fussiness in any form, especially about drinking, feels antithetical to this moment in life. This is not to say that drinks cannot be “political” (and as Alicia Kennedy has suggested, can and should be interrogated) But at the moment, I’m not looking for an education on the trivia and minutiae of booze every time I pop open a bottle. I just need a drink.
For me, my turning away from complicated drinks began last summer, when I realized everyone around me had fallen in love with White Claw hard seltzer. Near summer’s end, cultural critic Amanda Mull wrote a short essay for The Atlantic about White Claw that suggested large cohorts of people had grown exhausted from learning “the ins and outs of booze culture,” and we now stood at the end of a 10- to 15-year cycle of “interest in laborious traditional methods” like the ones I’d advocated for and written about for years. “A major factor in hard seltzer’s current popularity is what it’s not: difficult or aspirational,” Mull wrote. “Being a cool young drinker has had a lot of arbitrary rules in the past decade.”
I had to agree with Mull’s assessment of the state of drinking in 2019. By the summer of 2020, after the traumas of the past three months, that exhaustion has reached its breaking point. Which is why I’m focusing on extremely simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated drinks. I want to talk about lazy bartending and distracted imbibing.
For instance, I would like to talk here about one of my favorite categories of “cocktail,” which we might call the One Plus One Equals Cocktail. These would be drinks that require the mixological technique of opening a bottle of spirit and then a bottle of something fizzy (soda or whatnot) and then pouring both into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. You can also call this a highball. Call it whatever. I do not care what you call it.
A gin and tonic would be a “One Plus One” cocktail. The classic Paloma, with tequila and grapefruit soda, would also be a One Plus One. The Calimocho (or Kalimotxo), a Spanish concoction of red wine plus Coca-Cola, is an excellent use of the previous night’s leftover wine. One of my favorites is the Buck, which calls for ginger ale or ginger beer and a spirit (I happen to like Dutch genever in mine; this is a vestige of my fussy past). I’m also a big fan of using Averna amaro in long drinks with ginger beer or grapefruit soda. Finally, there is the lazy man’s best friend, the rum and Coke — a drink my friend Derek Brown calls “the drink of the shiftless, idle, and indolent.”
What I am describing is variations of a simple long drink over ice that one can quickly and easily make and enjoy on a hot summer day. Usually, it’s 2 ounces of spirit and 3 to 4 ounces of soda poured over ice. Because we are using sweet soda with these drinks, there’s not even a need for the extra step of sugar or simple syrup (which you would need for, say, a Collins or a Rickey). Yes, in most cases, One Plus One drinks are better if you take a knife and cut up a lime or lemon and squeeze in the juice. But you’ll still be fine if you’re too lazy even for that.
Semantic debates occasionally arise over this type of beverage. Some insist that a soda plus spirit is technically considered a “mixed drink” rather than a cocktail. My advice is to avoid people who split such hairs. But if you cannot, please remind them that most One Plus One cocktails can also involve a squeeze of citrus, a garnish, a dash of bitters, or a salted rim. This means most contain three ingredients — four if you count the ice. Anyway, for anyone who cares, they are indeed cocktails.
Here, I have included 10 of my favorite easy spirit-plus-soda drinks. I have included some basic measurements, but these are not formal recipes. Most of us know how to portion spirit, soda, and citrus to our own liking. Remember to include plenty of ice. In all cases, do a quick stir with a spoon or your finger.
Serve them as refreshments throughout the heat of the summer. They all prove that even if you are a lazy bartender, you can still be a gracious host.
With ginger beer (or ginger ale, if that’s what you have)
1. The Buck
2 ounces spirit (gin, genever, apple brandy, whatever), squeeze of lemon, 3–4 ounces ginger beer.
2 ounces Averna amaro, squeeze of lemon, 3–4 ounces ginger beer.
3. The Cloudy Sky
2 ounces sloe gin, squeeze of lime, 2–3 ounces ginger beer.
With grapefruit soda (Izze or Fresca works)
4. Easy Paloma
2 ounces tequila, squeeze of lime, 3–4 ounces grapefruit soda. Salt rim if desired.
2 ounces Averna amaro, squeeze of lime, 3–4 ounces grapefruit soda. Salt rim if desired.
6. Easy Salty Dog
2 ounces gin, squeeze of lime, 3–4 ounces grapefruit soda. Salt rim if desired.
With Coca-Cola (or I guess Pepsi, if that’s all you’ve got)
7. Slightly Fussy Cuba Libre
2 ounces rum, ½ ounce gin, squeeze of lime, 3 ounces Coca-Cola.
3–4 ounces the previous night’s red wine, 3–4 ounces Coca-Cola, dash of Angostura bitters.
With chinotto (a brown, bitter-orange-flavored Italian soda. Look for San Pellegrino brand)
9. Della Mela
2 ounces apple brandy (such as Calvados), 3 to 4 ounces chinotto, orange slice.
With black cherry soda
As a child growing up in the Philadelphia area, we always drank Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak soda. It’s this old Philly flavor I’m channeling when I mix it with Kentucky bourbon.
10. The Pennsyltucky
2 ounces bourbon, 3 to 4 ounces black cherry soda, 2 dashes Angostura bitters.