Food52 in 5

Fancy, No-Fuss Cocktails for This Weekend (or Anytime)

February 16, 2018

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My favorite bartender is my fiancé. Worth noting: He’s not an actual bartender; he’s a computer scientist. He also knows almost nothing about cocktails. But he knows how to make my favorite one—a dirty gin martini—by heart. He calls it, the “4-3-2-1” method: 4 ice cubes, 3 large jiggers gin, 2 large jiggers dry vermouth, 1 small jigger olive brine. Shake, shake, shake. Pour into frozen coupes. One olive for him, 2 for me.

If you ran this by a real bartender, there are probably a baker’s dozen issues with the formula. But it’s my favorite, because Justin always makes it perfectly and at the perfect time—after a bad day, or a great one, or because The Bachelor is on. And he does this funny dance while he shakes, just to make me laugh.

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That’s an almost-classic cocktail I can get behind. No citrus-squeezing or simple-syrup making. No sinkhole-open tab at a bar where you have to wear real clothes. Home, couch, cat, sweatpants, martini. Here are a handful of drinks in that spirit—all of which you can make in less than five minutes. Feel free to play (or dance) around with them. They taste better that way.

Pickle Brine Martini

The classic martini—gin and vermouth—is all about the ratio of those two ingredients. Early martinis favored equal parts of each. Julia Child liked hers “upside-down” with one part gin to five parts vermouth. Eventually, “dry” martinis with more gin and less vermouth came into vogue. This paved the way for my parents’ go-to order: “Vodka martini. Hold the vermouth.” (Later, I realized this is another way of saying: vodka in a glass.) As you know, I’m partial to a three parts gin to two parts vermouth ratio. Whatever happens, I want to know the vermouth is there. And the salty brine. Usually, it’s green olives. But in desperate times, I’ve been known to turn to capers and pickles, both of which, it turns out, are quite good.


The Negroni came to be in 1919. Count Camillo Negroni was in Florence. “One hell of a dude,” writes Chad Parkhill in Around The World In 80 Cocktails: “a famous gambler, fencing teacher, and former rodeo cowboy.” He went to a bar and requested an Americano—Campari, sweet vermouth, club soda—just instead of club soda, how about something stronger? Say, gin? Thus, the Negroni was born. The Boulevardier, invented by Harry MacElhone, does another swap. Instead of gin, there’s bourbon. Serve with an orange peel or a grapefruit wheel, if you want to underscore the Campari.

Tequila Manhattan

A Manhattan, in essence, is an Old Fashioned with vermouth. It came to be in the late 1800s, when it was the coolest drink in—you guessed it—Manhattan. As Parkhill notes, this was also the start to the vermouth boom: “Vermouth soon became the ‘bartender’s ketchup,’ finding its way into nearly every new drink recipe that debuted during and after the 1800s.” Now that vermouth is having another resurgence, revisiting—and reinventing—the Manhattan feels particularly fitting. This version loses the rye whiskey and calls in tequila.

Cynar Spritz

The Aperol spritz is having a moment. (I think it all started with Ina Garten’s husband, Jeffrey’s, birthday—but that’s just a working theory.) It follows the spritz's Veneziano formula: bitter aperitivo, prosecco, sparking water, orange wedge, and, if you’re lucky, green olives. The bitter aperitivo is usually Aperol, sometimes Campari—both neon pink and orange, like a cartoon sunset. But my favorite bitter Italian liquor is neither. It’s actually a bitter amaro, called Cynar (pronounced chee-nar). A dark, mysterious bottle, plus a bright red label with a big artichoke. Don’t worry—it doesn’t taste like an artichoke; there are 12 other herbs and plants involved. Swapping this into the spritz template creates something that’s equally refreshing, just slightly more sultry.

White Russian

You’re probably familiar with the White Russian—possibly from The Big Lebowski. (By the way, it’s not classically made with powdered creamer!) This creamy, controversial drink (you either love or hate it) was actually precursed by a Black Russian—two parts vodka to one part Kahlua—that was popular in the 1960s. And that was precursed by a Russian—equal parts crème de cacao, gin, and vodka. If you’re like The Dude, the White Russian could be your go-to cocktail. Or, if you’re like me, it could be your go-to "I want a cocktail, but I also want dessert," drink. Two parts vodka to 1 part each Kahlua and cream.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.