For most drinkers, classic cocktails serve as craving benchmarks. When it’s sweater weather and you’ve got whiskey on the brain? Make it a Manhattan. When you’re roasting in the midsummer sun and in desperate need of refreshment? Send Margaritas. The trouble is, the ABV of our benchmarks tends to clock in above the mark where they can reasonably be dubbed sessionable. The good news is these drinks can easily be altered to bring down the ABV while preserving the flavor profiles that made them classics in the first place.
For a sour or daisy formula, like the Daiquiri or Margarita, the easy way to lower ABV is to split the base, substituting a lower-proof ingredient for half of the base spirit. In the case of the Margarita, consider cutting the tequila in half (at least) and subbing in savory manzanilla sherry—an ingredient that fits right in with the sweet-sour-salty Margarita flavor matrix—to make up the balance.
Meanwhile, with an all-booze construction like the Manhattan, start by inverting the 2:1 ratio of whiskey and sweet vermouth so that the spirit becomes the supporting player. To maintain balance, dial back the new, richer base by splitting it with a drier ingredient, such as dry vermouth or amontillado sherry, which provide the kind of punchy, savory notes found in whiskey. The trick here is to consider sweetness and texture in the drink structure, and adjust the ingredient ratios to taste.
A final method for turning the classics more crushable is simply to add water. By topping with tonic water or coconut water (or both), even the most hard-hitting drinks can become lighter, brighter highballs.
You can use these techniques to modify just about any cocktail, but for ultimate ease, we’ve assembled nine bartender-backed recipes across every style, from a split-base Gin & Tonic to a lesser-known stirred classic.