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3 Classic Cocktails Revamped for All-Day Sipping

May 24, 2018

There’s a time and a place for strong, full-spirit cocktails. For me, that’s the evening, when I’ve handled all my responsibilities and let my hair down (figuratively and sometimes literally).

But there are times and places where I’m more likely to sip something throughout the day: backyard BBQs, tailgating, beach trips, rooftop parties. And those are the moments I'm looking for a less-spirited cocktail. In his newest book, Session Cocktails: Low-Alcohol Drinks for Any Occasion, cocktail expert Drew Lazor cocktail expert Drew Lazor explores the increasingly popular world of drinks that have "sessionability." Below, we’ve excerpted his expert guidance on how you can enjoy classic cocktail flavors in a new way.

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.

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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—2 ounces of whiskey, 1 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 three classics rebuilt as session cocktails that are just as crave-able as their forebears.

What's your best sippable drink? Share favorites in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • rocksteady
  • Cory Baldwin
    Cory Baldwin
  • JoAnne Lingo
    JoAnne Lingo
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
  • Sm
Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


rocksteady May 25, 2018
I actually think JoAnne has a great point. I'm a drinker and I'm starting to get scared by all the very clear research pointing out how bad it is for our long term health. Plus it's so socially ingrained in us for it to be normal, fun, relaxing, etc. Sm's comment reflects this perfectly. I know F52's mission isn't to be healthy, but I think it's an important and useful conversation.
Eric K. May 26, 2018
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, rocksteady and JoAnne. We love alcohol-free drinks too, for all kinds of reasons. If you're interested, this piece has a pretty wide range of ideas:
Cory B. May 25, 2018
My favorite "light" cocktail is an Americano! Equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth, in a Collins glass over ice and topped with soda water. It's like a fizzy negroni without the gin. OR sometimes I skip the vermouth completely and just do Campari soda with a lemon or lime.
JoAnne L. May 24, 2018
How about no alcohol at all? We’ve been seduced by the beer, wine and spirits makers into thinking that a day and especially a celebration isn’t complete without alcohol. The new medical guidelines state that ONE drink per day for men and women should be the limit, that factually, no drinking is best. Moderate drinking might save you from dying of a first heart attack BUT it increases your chance of dying of a stroke and hardening of the arteries. Sorry to be a Party pooper.
Sm May 24, 2018
Wow, you got nothing better to do? Go pour yourself a drink or two.