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, our benchmarks tend to clock in above the mark where they can reasonably be dubbed sessionable. The good news is they can easily be altered to bring down the ABV while still preserving the flavor profiles that made these drinks classics in the first place.
For a sour or daisy formula, like the Daiquiri or Margarita, respectively, the easy way to lower ABV is to, in bartender parlance, 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, in an all-booze drink like the Manhattan—two ounces of whiskey, one ounce of sweet vermouth and bitters—you can start by inverting the 2:1 ratio so that the spirit becomes the supporting player. To maintain balance, you’ll then want to split your new base of vermouth with a drier ingredient that provides the kind of punchy, savory notes found in whiskey. Try using amontillado sherry, or even splitting the vermouth between sweet and dry. The trick here is to follow the same logic as you would for batching a drink and adjust the ingredient ratios to taste.
Here are five classics rebuilt as session cocktails that are just as crave-able as their forebears.
Reprinted with permission from Session Cocktails by Drew Lazor and the Editors of PUNCH, copyright © 2018. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House.