If you’re looking for a culinary activity, you can bake, you can cook, or you can whip up condiments like ketchup from scratch. But if your true goal is to drink, none of these pastimes will cut it. Instead of drunk cooking, choose one of the eight booze-based ideas below, all of which pair the fun of a DIY project with the need to get hammered more productively.
Grab some basic equipment, a lot of booze, and some citrus fruits, and you’ll be equipped to make drinks as lowbrow as the Jell-O shot, or as refined as the perfect Manhattan made with in-season and from-scratch maraschino cherries. Once you’ve done your DIY-ing, your best bet for activities is probably a World Cup drinking game, or just a towel in the grass and a boom box blasting “Turn Down for What.“
This spring, boozehounds went nuts for an NYC-based Instagram account filled with photos of bright frozen beverages known as Phrosties. You could buy them, have them delivered by a shady messenger, then get wasted in the sun. Thanks to the law, you can’t anymore, at least not here (looks like they’ve resurfaced in Baltimore and Paris, though). No worries—it’s easy enough to make your own phrosties at home, without worrying that maybe the secret ingredient is MDMA.
This re-creation of the technicolor frozen booze bombs might actually be a little classier—you mix up an actual margarita, minus the salt and the ice, then give it the same treatment you’d give a granita, leaving trays to freeze overnight so that the drink turns from liquid into crystals. Spoon that slushie into plastic bottles (if you want to be authentic) or regular old glasses (if you’re not boozing in the park like a teen).
To make two Tropical Tequila Sunrise Phrosties, mix the following together in a bowl: 1 cup of grapefruit juice (from 2 huge grapefruit), ½ cup lime juice (squeezed fresh from 6 limes), 1 cup of Triple Sec, 1 cup of tequila, and 1 ¾ cups water. Divide that between two shallow pans and add 3 drops of red and 1 drop of yellow food coloring to one pan. Place them both flat in the freezer overnight, or for at least 12 hours. Stir with a fork to break up the crystals and create a slushie-like texture. Spoon half the red slushie into the bottom of each bottle or glass, then top each with half of the lighter-colored slushie. Store the phrosties in the freezer until ready to drink. Serve with wide straws.
2. Infused Vodka
The ratio of gourmet-ness to ease is extreme here: You barely have to lift a finger to create booze that’s impressive to behold and tastes way better than any sticky-sweet flavored stuff you can buy in a bottle. You can infuse vodka—any alcohol, really—with whatever flavor you choose. Just make sure the flavor is one you want to drink or mix into a simple cocktail where you can appreciate it, like a proper daiquiri, a sparkler, a spritz, or a screwdriver. Note that infusions don’t delivery immediate gratification: You’ll want at least a week for flavors to meld.
Great options include citrus (use strips of zest), herbs, cucumbers, spices, and fruit (I used scraps from in-season strawberries) To make one cup of strawberry vodka, fill half of a 12-ounce jar with cleaned strawberry tops (the stem and top of the fruit). Pour in vodka to nearly the top of the jar. Set in a cool, dark place—like a kitchen cabinet—and leave for two weeks, shaking the jar every few days. At two weeks, start tasting (use a clean spoon and dip only once). The vodka is done when it tastes enough like strawberries for your liking.
To customize your own flavors, use a similar proportion of flavor to booze, increasing the add-in amount and time spent infusing for milder ingredients, like cucumbers.
3. Bloody Mary Mix
We Blood Mary drinkers are a picky bunch. We know just how we like our mid-morning cocktail, and we don’t want anything less spicy or more watery. To get exactly what you want, skip pre-made concoctions and keep a bottle of homemade “mix” on hand for pouring into glasses with vodka and ice at weekend brunches.
To make enough mix for about five Bloody Marys, place 3 stalks of celery and a skinny, half-moon-shaped slice of onion in a food processor, then pulse to break down completely. Pour out about 1 cup from a 46-ounce jug of tomato juice and set aside for another purpose. Add the pulverized celery and onion, plus 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, the juice of 1 lemon, 1½ tablespoons of brine from a jar of pickles or olives, 1½ tablespoons prepared horseradish, 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, 1 teaspoon Old Bay spice, and a pinch of salt. Shake well. That’s your Bloody mix. When ready to drink, combine with cold vodka in a 3-to-1 ratio and serve in a glass over ice. Garnish with stalks of celery, olives, lemon wedges, or crab claws.
You can tweak these proportions with more hot sauce, or a different brand; with lots more Worcestershire, or even a chopped-up anchovy; or with as much pickle brine as you can stand. To make a Bloody Maria, use tequila instead of vodka.
4. Flavored Simple Syrup
While not alcoholic on its own, simple syrup is essential to mixing great cocktails. That’s because in simple syrup, the added sugar is already dissolved, so you won’t be contributing graininess to your drink. Though the plain variety is great for the classics, it can be fun to steep herbs, fruit, or citrus right into your syrup. Let your tastes and creativity run the show here, but ginger is a great place to start if you’re a fan of Moscow Mules and Dark & Stormies.
To make about 1½ cups of ginger simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and a peeled and sliced 3-inch piece of ginger in a small pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil just for a minute, then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow the ginger to steep for 30 minutes. Strain into a glass jar to remove the slices, then store the syrup in the fridge (it’ll keep pretty much indefinitely).
For other flavorings, start tasting the syrup after about 15 minutes, then let the herb or fruit continue steeping if you want a stronger taste.
Popsicles satisfy summer appetites: They’re light and they’re cold. These spiked popsicles also fulfill your booze cravings. They’re all-natural pops, derived from whole fruit, very little added sugar, and some gin, making them the polar opposite of the Jell-O shots that follow. Find some skinny popsicle baggies (I used a brand called Zipzicles), then fill them with whatever combination of fruits and herbs you like, plus about 3 tablespoons of alcohol for every 1¼ cup of liquefied fruit. Since too much alcohol will prevent freezing, these treats aren’t the booziest option, but that just means that you can have a lot of them.
To make four blueberry-peach freezies, combine 1 cup frozen blueberries and 1 pitted peach (it’s fine to leave on the skin) with ¾ cup water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 3 tablespoons gin in a blender. Blend until completely smooth. Use a funnel, a baster, or a water bottle to transfer the liquid into the Zipzicles or other popsicle bag. Place them in a mug with the seam side facing upward, then put the mug flat in the freezer overnight, or until the freezies are solid. Eat by pushing up from the bottom.
Other ideas for flavors include coconut-mango-lime with rum, blackberry lemonade with vodka, and cantaloupe-cucumber-mint with white wine. You can also make these in standard popsicle molds.
6. Jell-O Shots
Bring it back to your high-school days by mixing Jell-O with alcohol instead of just water, then add a vaguely adult touch by garnishing disposable shot glasses with wedges of lime. Want to make things a little bit more difficult? Buy a few pints of strawberries, then cut off the bottoms to create a flat base for your fruity shots. Scoop out the inside of the berry, then pour the Jell-O mixture up to the top of each berry.
To make about 15 strawberry Jell-O shots, place 1 packet of strawberry Jell-O in a large measuring cup. Pour ¾ cup boiling water over the powder, then let sit for 2 minutes. Stir to dissolve the gelatin completely, then add 1 cup vodka and ¾ cup coconut water. Pour into 15 disposable shot glasses (sold as Solo bathroom cups at the supermarket) or about 30 hollowed-out strawberries. Cut a few thin slices of limes, then cut those into triangles and use for garnish. Leave the shots on a tray or baking sheet in the fridge for 3 to 4 hours. If you want to go all out, you can also order gelatin or find it at a specialty store; in that case, use homemade fruit juice and syrup, as in this classy rhubarb Jell-O shot recipe from Food52.
7. Watermelon Bomb
All you’ll need for this beachside classic is a large watermelon and about a fifth of vodka—or whatever alcohol you prefer to pair with your melons. To make a watermelon-vodka bomb, here’s what to do: Cut a small circle—like a plug—out of the top of the watermelon. You might want to dig in a little bit with a spoon or melon baller. Then, using a funnel or measuring cup with a spout, pour in as much vodka as watermelon will absorb. Replace the plug you created. Put the watermelon in the fridge, and let it soak for 12 to 24 hours—the longer the better. In early in the summer when watermelons are smaller, use less vodka and give each friend his or her own melon to booze on.
To serve, cut up the watermelon into slices as usual.
8. Maraschino Cherries
Most maraschino cherries you see are so unnaturally florescent and fake you’d rather throw them in the trash than in your Manhattan. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Maraschinos were originally just the Italians’ way of preserving regular cherries (of the Marasca variety), and the sugar and alcohol in homemade maraschinos are simply the preserving liquids.
At home, you’ll essentially be doing as the Italians did. To create a cherry I’d be happy to slurp and swallow after finishing my cocktail, I flavored sugar syrup with nothing more than vanilla and almond extracts (you could also try warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest). And I bought a bottle of Luxardo, a specialty liqueur that tastes of cherries.
To make a big jar of homemade maraschino cherries, pit 1 pound of washed cherries—the brightest red will yield the prettiest result. Add the cherries to a small pot with ½ cup sugar, ½ cup water, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon almond extract, and 1 cup of Luxardo cherry liqueur. Pour into a large clean jar, and place it on a towel in the fridge. Once it’s cool, you’re ready to go. Homemade cherries will keep for a few weeks in the fridge. (Adapted from this recipe.)