Travel, entertainment, laundry—these days we’re doing less of all of it because simplification is a necessary approach to daily life. This is not to say we’re doing less drinking. Perhaps you’re paring back the complexity of your cocktails’ formulae, letting slide the precision of proportions, abandoning artisanal ice, eschewing intricate garnish. Consider this moment an enlightened reprieve from the pressure of craft in general. Counting gentle dashes of bitters, flaming a carefully rationed orange’s peel, dusting off that long-neglected bottle of crème de violette—it can all feel hollow, the effort downright impossible some days. However, the joy of drinking persists. It’s just a matter of keeping it straightforward.
Enter the age of the one-ingredient cocktail: a streamlined means of remaining emotionally centered, intellectually focused on the important tasks at hand. Like doom-scrolling, or undertaking your weekly sponge bath, staring blankly out the window in existential despair, or finger-painting the name of every woman you’ve ever loved on the living room wall in sriracha. A most approachable method of delivering booze straight to your soul and bloodstream, the one-ingredient cocktail is the reason for the season. Here are five to try.
For centuries, Russia has employed a solution to surviving the most brutalizing, apocalyptic winters: vodka. The greatest military forces in history never stood a chance against a Siberian snowstorm, but this simple single-ingredient drink has brought throngs through the darkest of days with its viscous, heartrending fortification. This winter, if the heat is turned off, if you’ve piled on every last sweater and stray-cat pelt you own, you can rely on this minimalist comfort to warm your bones. An especially jovial mood might call for lining up shots and downing them one-by-one, a handy hack I’ve privately begun calling “The Romanov.”
Fragrant and medicinal, gin has become the plague’s official “pocket full of posies” spirit, and with so many international iterations available, a most effective way to armchair travel. Fix a mugful of navy-strength, strap on a fanny pack and bam! You’re in Sydney, mate. Or glug out the dry stuff, stand in the cold shower—London! Pour a pint of something floral, open a tin of tuna, and it’s omakase in Kyoto. To jet-set, combine every gin on the shelf in a stockpot and circumnavigate without refueling.
Perhaps you’re not going home for the holidays this year. Especially if your mom’s vegan sister is hosting, the gifts under the tree repurposed or made of felted hemp. Better to remain home in your own personal Margaritaville—hold the limes and Cointreau and agave and salt and ice. Tequila was meant for solitary, lonesome, isolated existence.
During these unprecedented times, vivid nightmares of being stuck on a cruise ship with 10,000 people—a horse-sized mouth-and-lung monster stalking you about the poop deck, breathing heavily down your neck—may be more common than in years past. Especially if you’re lamenting the blue-lagoon island vacation you used all your non-refundable, non-exchangeable AmEx points to book, and are stuck in your studio apartment watching QVC into the wee hours. Revive your resort fantasy with the one-ingredient rum cocktail so forgiving you don’t have to choose between light or dark, blackstrap or overproof. I’ve taken to sipping on something raw and unfiltered, occasionally popping an ol’ N95 (literally old) over the bottle and straining out the swimmy bits to be infinitely more gulpable.
Even in the Before Times, whiskey, the original one-ingredient cocktail, was the official drink of glassy-eyed angst. Picture yourself a year ago: recent breakup, your career a shambles, your net worth a disappointing Antiques Roadshow appraisal. How did you deal? You went to a bar. You ordered a double, neat. You stared at the wall. Today, everything is literally the same, except you’re the bartender and your bathtub is the bar. So forget the “double, neat,” grab a handle of anything strong and brown, and nurse away. After all, if you’ve only got one ingredient, you’d better make it last.