As someone who writes about cocktails for a living, Maggie Hoffman owns hundreds of bottles of booze. Still, she knows most cocktail lovers aren’t that fortunate. With that epiphany came the idea for her new book, The One-Bottle Cocktail: More than 80 Recipes with Fresh Ingredients and a Single Spirit (Out March 6 from Penguin Random House), created specifically for the people who don’t happen to have a fully-stocked bar. Now, thanks to Hoffman, even if your liquor cabinet and your bank account are nearly empty, you can mix a damn good drink.

A longtime contributor to Serious Eats, Hoffman recalls a story that focused on three-ingredient cocktails. It was popular, but attracted lots of angry commenters. She says, “They would say, ‘Whatever, this has three ingredients, but one of them is sherry, one of them is Scotch, and one of them is Cynar, and that’s going to cost me $75.’” The commenters raised a legitimate concern: “It struck me that it was a risk for a person to be like, ‘I’m going to make this drink, and I don’t even know if I’m going to like it, and it’s going to cost me $75.’ You can make a bunch of them, but what if you don’t like it?”

She realized that what people wanted most were simple drinks they could make without spending a fortune on liquor. “You might have a nice bottle of Scotch. Someone might have left Campari at your party, and you might have gin, because you make gin and tonics, but most people don’t have a whole section in their liquor cabinet with, you know, Montenegro Amaro, Cynar, the stronger version of Cynar… and if you buy vermouth, vermouth isn’t that expensive, but it only stays good for like a month in your fridge. Keeping a well-stocked liquor cabinet is a challenge.”

Inspired, Hoffman started a new series of posts about what to make when you only have one bottle of liquor—whether it’s gin, vodka, or tequila. They became some of the most popular cocktail posts on the site, and when Hoffman met a book editor, everything fell into place. “I reached out to a bunch of bartenders I had interviewed in the past or from bars that I loved, and people that had won cool competitions like Speed Rack—a great competition for female bartenders. I said, ‘Would you do the grocery store challenge? You get one bottle. It can be tequila, mescal, pisco, vodka, bourbon, rye… any of these things—and nothing else from the liquor store. No bitters. No vermouth. How are you going to develop these flavors?’” She says the bartenders took it seriously, and kept her updated on their progress. “Some of them literally wandered around the grocery store, and they would send me Facebook messages being like, ‘What do you think about oolong tea? What about celery juice? What about coffee?’ They came up with brilliant ideas for making the bitter side of a cocktail and the earthy side of a cocktail, balancing the drink using these ingredients in really smart ways.”

Instead of spending a fortune at the liquor store, Hoffman wants you to hit up Whole Foods or head to the local farmers’ market, and make fresh, seasonal cocktails with the things you find. In addition to all of the recipes, The One-Bottle Cocktail has lots of great tips for beginning bartenders.

For example, Hoffman understands that some people are intimidated by cocktail shakers: “I think people who feel afraid of cocktail shakers have probably done one of two things. Either they have the kind of cocktail shaker that has a screw-on lid—a three-piece cobbler shaker—and those things, if you put ice in them and then you shake them, there’s a vacuum and you can’t get it off. Or they’ve used a Boston shaker—a two-part shaker that is often metal and glass. That’s also quite hard to get apart if you’re not used to it. Most bartenders now use metal and metal. Both the big cup and the little cup are metal, and the beauty of that is you can give it a little squeeze and it’ll open, which helps. They’re also not breakable. You really don’t want to be whacking a glass cocktail shaker on the counter. Metal on metal opens like a dream.” She also explains the reasoning behind using a cocktail shaker in the first place. “When you’re shaking, you’re not just cooling your drink, you’re also adding tiny little bubbles, and that is one of the great things about cocktails. It has this texture of the froth.”

Another thing that’s easier than most people think? Making your own syrups. Hoffman says, “If you can make tea, you can make syrup. I love to have mason jars around. I usually don’t do a syrup on the stove, because it’s so much easier to just boil some water, especially if you have an electric kettle. It doesn’t even have to be fully boiling. Warm up some water. Put it in a mason jar with the correct amount of sugar. Then you close it up, and you shake it, and it dissolves.”

While Hoffman’s book is aimed at people who don’t own much liquor, the recipes are also helpful for people living in states with strong liquor laws. You won’t find any recipes here that require Chartreuse or other hard-to-find spirits. “There are a lot of bar books out there, and the drinks are great, but they really take some dedication. If you’re interested in drinks, but not that much of a fanatic, these drinks are a similar sort of modern, savory, complex flavor without requiring the effort and devotion you would have to have to make something one of those bar books.”

The next time you’re not sure what to do with that random bottle of liquor someone left at your house, open Hoffman’s book. You’ll find plenty of suggestions, and these recipes might also inspire you to try a few creative experiments the next time you pick up a bottle of whiskey or rum. At the end of every chapter, Hoffman includes a page of “bonus drinks,” a list of more drinks to make with that particular spirit. She says, “I tested each of the drinks again with a bunch of different spirits to see if they also worked, and I didn’t add it to this list unless it was really delicious. So you have five or so more drinks to use up the rest of that bottle.”

Hoffman shared one of the recipes from her book with Playboy—a cocktail called the Desert Sunset that she describes as “basically a mezcal margarita made with carrot juice.” If you haven’t tried mezcal before, she says, “It’s a delicious spirit. Some people don’t know that tequila is a mezcal, but most tequila these days is made by big companies in very modern techniques. Mezcal that’s made traditionally is made by roasting the hearts of the agave in the ground, and that’s how the fibers turn to sugar that they can ferment,” she explains, adding, “Most of the good ones are made by small producers in very small batches. It’s delicious stuff and often very savory.”

Hoffman says you’ll be able to find all of the ingredients for the Desert Sunset in most grocery stores, including the smoked paprika. “It’s from Spain and often comes in a little square tin. The brand I have is Chiquilin smoked paprika.”

Desert Sunset

Carrot cocktails sometimes end up tasting oddly healthy. But this one from Chad Hauge of Chicago’s Longman & Eagle is just pure fun. It’s salty, bright, smoky, and fresh—the kind of thing that’ll get you dancing. Orange and lime juices give the carrot juice a lift, and leathery mezcal finds its match in a rim of salt and smoked paprika. If you don’t have a bottle of mezcal, you should get some. Liquor store’s closed? Blanco tequila will do.


• 1. oz. fresh lime juice, divided
• 2 teaspoons coarse salt
• .5 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
• 2 ounces mezcal
• .5 oz. 1:1 agave syrup (recipe follows)
• 1 oz. fresh carrot juice
• .5 oz. fresh orange juice


To rim the glass, pour ½ ounce of the lime juice onto a small plate. Stir together salt and smoked hot paprika on another small plate. Dip a rocks glass first into the lime juice, then dip and roll it in the paprika mixture. Set aside. Combine mezcal, agave syrup, carrot juice, orange juice, and remaining ¾ ounce lime juice in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled, about 12 seconds. Fill the rimmed glass with ice and double-strain the cocktail into it. For agave syrup: Mix one part (say, 1 oz.) agave nectar with one part (again, 1 ounce) hot water and stir until dissolved.

Reprinted with permission from The One-Bottle Cocktail: More than 80 Recipes with Fresh Ingredients and a Single Spirit by Maggie Hoffman, copyright © 2018. Published Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.