Happy hour is not reserved for drink specials at the local bar. Though that is where those few hours in the afternoon and late evening get their name, there is no reason you can’t enjoy a happy hour at home or with a few friends in a more private atmosphere.
While the drink specials are designed to lure you in (and hopefully stay after they end), you’ll often find that you can save even more money by making drinks at home. Beyond the cash you’ll save, you can also take advantage of controlling your own drinks.
Our Favorite Happy Hour Drinks
Many drinkers prefer to keep the drinks simple during happy hour. This isn’t the time for fancy cocktails with exotic ingredients. No, we’re often too tired and worn out from the day to put any effort into much of anything.
Some of our favorite after-work drinks are the simplest, those easy mixed drinks that come together in seconds, not minutes. A simple pour of liquor and mixer, these are the cocktails we love when happy hour comes around.
And yet, it is far too easy to get stuck in a drink rut. The routine of a fast and easy drink can become boring at times and it can be a challenge to escape this habit. To help you dig out of the evening drink cycle, let’s look at a few of our favorite happy hour cocktails and see how to transform them into something new without getting too wild and crazy.
Are you the one who sits down at the bar and orders up a refreshing Gin & Tonic after work? Maybe you’re more of a Vodka Tonic enthusiast? These are great drinks that are instant feel-good highballs which many drinkers enjoy after a long, hard day.
Shake Up Your Tonic
There are many easy ways to spice up your tonic routine. Whether that is adding a little fruit from a flavored vodka or a splash of juice, or switching out the liquor altogether, the tonic-based mixed drinks are begging for customization.
- Mango Tonic – Take your Vodka Tonic and add mango liqueur (or any flavored liqueur you happen to have in stock) for a refreshing twist.
- Strawberry Gin & Tonic – Something as simple as a homemade fruit syrup can transform your favorite drinks. In this case, it’s strawberry but any syrup will do.
- Autumn Spiced Tonic – Keep things super simple and mix up a Vodka Tonic, but begin with a DIY infusion that fits the season. This recipe is perfect for fall and the infusion is a perfect weekend project that takes very little time to prepare.
- Leprechaun – Do you have a bottle of Irish whiskey in your bar? Skip the gin and the vodka and pour a bit of the brown stuff with your tonic. You’ll be surprised at how well this works.
Maybe light drinks aren’t your style. Let’s take a look at the darker side of the soda highball in our next happy hour favorite.
Maybe you’re the type who gravitates to the simple satisfaction of a Rum & Coke. If this is your go-to happy hour drink, then there are a few easy changes you can make.
Improve Your Rum & Coke
The first recommendations are to step up your rum and cola game. Are you accustomed to pouring Bacardi and Coke? Give Appleton Estate or Mount Gay a try for the rum. Better yet, look to your local distilleries and see what craft rums are available. Some of the best new rums are being made at the smallest distilleries.
An alternative to Coke? Sure, you can try Pepsi, but let’s step it up another notch. Have you tried Q Kola? It’s a completely different take on cola than most Americans are used to and it is fantastic with an aged rum.
Shake Up the Rum & Coke
And yet, if you’d like to play around with the basic premise of a Rum & Coke, here are a few more drinks to try:
- Cuba Libre – It’s everything you love about the Rum & Coke with a healthy splash of fresh lime juice and the combination is perfection in a glass.
- Lounge Lizard – This old favorite mixes a dark rum with the cola of your choice and adds a short pour of amaretto.
- Pyrat Summer Tea – Like the Cuba Libre, this recipe adds citrus to the popular mix via orange liqueur, sour mix, and a squeeze of lemon. It is fantastically refreshing.
- Dark & Stormy – Skip the cola altogether and mix your rum with ginger beer and lime for this simple highball that is just as popular.
Of course, you can always switch to whiskey and cola and call out either, but we’re trying to shake things up here!
You do have ginger beer on hand, right? Because you’ll need it for our next drink.
The Moscow Mule is back and thank goodness for this latest resurgence. It is a fabulous drink that is catching on once again and becoming so mainstream that bars and liquor stores are finally stocking ginger beer on a regular basis.
Seriously, there was a bit of a ginger beer drought and for a few years, you had to be in the know in order to find a good one at your local stores. Ginger beer, you say? Yes, if you have been making your Moscow Mule with ginger ale (or your bartender has been serving it that way) it’s not right: the real Moscow Mule requires ginger beer.
Shake Up the Moscow Mule
If you have discovered the beauty of a properly made Moscow Mule, it’s time to shake things up. The vodka-ginger beer mix is the perfect candidate for simple twists.
- Gin Gin Mule – Choose a great gin and pair it with your favorite ginger beer, but not before muddling a handful of fresh mint into your drink.
- Pot of Gold – Things get really interesting when you add elderflower, cucumber, and mint to the vodka-ginger beer combo.
- Perfect Storm – Skip the vodka and rum and use Grand Marnier as the base liquor. It’s just as strong and tastes wonderful with ginger beer.
- Anejo Highball – Building on the rum version, add a touch of curacao and lime with bitters for a fancy yet simple upgrade.
Now that you understand the full potential of ginger beer, let’s move onto some easy whiskey favorites.
Whiskey and happy hour are like peanut butter and jelly, they were meant to be. Sure, you can order a whiskey and coke or a scotch on the rocks, but the John Collins is so much more interesting.
If you’re unfamiliar with this classic cocktail, it’s nothing fancy: whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and club soda. It’s a great way to enjoy your whiskey and soda, too.
The Collins Family of Drinks
Is the John Collins a regular on your happy hour menu? It’s so very easy to change things up and it can begin by simply switching the spirit. In fact, there’s an entire family of collins drinks ready to be mixed up.
Is gin your thing? Try the Tom Collins. There’s also the Vodka Collins and the Juan Collins (that’s tequila if you didn’t figure out the name play). You can even add berries and other fruits or flavored syrups for a subtle twist.
Shake Up Your John Collins
Want a whiskey highball that’s even easier than the John Collins? Try one of these favorites:
- Jameson & Ginger – Also called the Irish Buck, this is quite simply Irish whiskey and ginger ale. Pour and enjoy!
- Presbyterian – Things get a little crazy with this recipe because we’re mixing two clear sodas with our whiskey. I know, it’s a lot to take in.
- Mamie Taylor – Yes, even scotch can be paired with ginger sodas and here you have the choice between the lighter ale or the spicy beer. Either drink will pick you up during happy hour.
- Whiskey Fizz – Choose your whiskey because any style will do in this simple classic and all you need is lemon, sugar, and soda.
Whisky, check! Let’s move on to a little tequila, shall we?
The Tequila Sunrise is a tall and stimulating drink that is hard to screw up. Anyone can pour tequila and orange juice and add grenadine, right? It’s a safe bet for a tequila happy hourbecause (while we’re being honest here), not every bartender strives to make a good Margarita.
And yet, the Tequila Sunrise is not the most interesting or absolutely refreshing cocktail in the world. It’s great for brunch, but by the time happy hour rolls around, we need a real pick me up.
The Other Tequila Sunrise
Let me introduce you to the ‘original’ Tequila Sunrise because if you have not had it, you’re missing out. There is no orange juice or grenadine in the first recipe that took on this famous name. Instead, we mix tequila with lime juice and club soda. Then, for that sunrise effect we use creme de cassis.
On the refreshment scale, the original recipe outshines the popular recipe tenfold. Give it a try for yourself and see what you think.
Shake Up Your Tequila Sunrise
While we’re looking at refreshing tequila drinks, check out these favorites:
- Paloma – Tequila and grapefruit, it is one of those combinations made in drink heaven and few drinks display this better than the easy Paloma which uses grapefruit soda.
- Grenada – If grapefruit juice is in your bar stock and you’d like to keep that pretty sunrise in your glass, switch over to this simple recipe.
- Danny Ocean – Building on the Grenada, for this drink we toss lemon juice, agave nectar, and maraschino liqueur into the mix.
- Chimayo – A favorite for autumn, pick up a gallon of fresh-pressed, unfiltered apple cider and create a New Mexico favorite. It’s also another use for that creme de cassis.
- Brave Bull – Tequila doesn’t always have to mix with fruits and this smooth sipping lowball opts for coffee liqueur instead.
Ooh, coffee liqueur! That sounds like a Black Russian, that must mean we’re onto the next drink.
We all have those days when we want to wallow in a glass of pure comfort and few drinks can pull this off like the famous White Russian. It is creamy, delicious, and super easy to mix up, plus it comes with so many options.
Quick White Russian Switches
You don’t have to go far to make the White Russian work for your cravings of the day or whatever is left in your liquor cabinet. It’s simple and that boozy-coffee combo is one that anyone can love.
Shake Up Your White Russian
Once again, it is very easy to fall into a rut with this one, even with all the options. Here are a few more recipes that will shake up your White Russian routine:
- Roasted Toasted Almond – Whether you want the vodka or not, skip the Kahlua and pour a shot of amaretto instead.
- Smith & Kearns – Again, vodka’s optional if you need to take it easy on the liquor. This recipe is also a fantastic way to lighten up the coffee and cream because club soda is brought into the mix.
- Colorado Bulldog – If you don’t think that soda and cream work, then you haven’t had a Colorado Bulldog. This one features cola and it’s like an amplified, boozy cream soda which may be a little too tempting.
- Seattle Brew Crew – You can also add a sprightly twist to the Black Russian by adding soda to the vodka-coffee mix and this recipe will show you how easy it is.
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