Your Pantry Is a Treasure Trove of Cocktail Ingredients

Yep, pantry-friendly cocktails are a thing.

June 18, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food & Prop Styling By Alexis Anthony.

We've teamed up with Tequila Don Julio, makers of top-shelf tequilas since 1942, to highlight creative (yet totally doable!) ways to shake up your cocktail game. Here, food writer and recipe developer Irene Yoo shares three summer-ready drinks all made with—wait for it—pantry ingredients.

I’ve always been a saver. The “What if I could use this in the future?” possibility applies to all aspects of my life: a denim skirt from high school, some outdated aux cords, scrap pieces of paper (they could be used for origami one day!), you get the idea. This mentality finds its way into the kitchen, too.

My pantry resides behind a closed door, so it can be easy for all sorts of staples and goodies to make their way in and fail to see the light of day thereafter. But now, there is nothing but time to put these forgotten items to good use—especially towards an ambitious, satisfying project. A package of guava paste is doled into sweet breakfast pastelitos; the last cupful of lentils becomes a delicious dal for lunch; and that long-fermenting jar of kimchi plays its final coda as the braising liquid for pork belly, a dinner pièce de résistance.

But what about drinks?

Sure, the pantry is an excellent toolkit for whipping up meals, but it seems high time that we turn to it for stepping up our cocktail game, as well. Recently, I’ve been leveraging pantry ingredients to make bespoke cocktails that bring me back, if by taste only, to some of my favorite New York City bars.

Bloody Mary With a Tequila Twist (Bloody Maria)

One of my favorites lately is a tasty tequila-based riff on the queen of pantry cocktails: the Bloody Mary. While a classic Bloody Mary often serves to obscure the taste of traditional vodka, in this twist (which also goes by the name Bloody Maria), tequila provides a more robust flavor profile and definitely holds its own in this umami-packed drink.

I always have all the necessary ingredients hanging out on my shelves: hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and olives or pickles (which not only bring a nice tangy crunch, but also a very useful brine). Oh, and don’t forget a fresh lime—they’re not technically a pantry staple, but when stored properly, last a very long time. This cocktail is a perfect pick-me-up on the weekends, since it makes any afternoon meal feel like a proper brunch.

Tequila Mai Tai

I don’t know about you, but nuts are one of the hardest things to get through in my house, since I munch on just a few at a time. It seems I’ve always got small handfuls of almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and the like languishing in zip-top bags or near-empty jars.

From the back of the pantry I pull out a sad-looking bag of old macadamia nuts left by my parents on their last visit, which was months ago at this point. These are ripe for a homemade orgeat, a sweet syrup typically made with almonds, sugar, and orange flower water.

Making an at-home version couldn’t be simpler, and a batch will last you several weeks. I swapped in the macadamia nuts for almonds in this orgeat, which plays just the right under-note for my variation on a Mai Tai. But if you don’t have any handy, don’t worry—it can be made with any tree nut. Enjoy this drink in your favorite sunny spot (I like it sitting on my balcony with my sunglasses on).

Pineapple, Coconut & Tequila Slushy

Hiding under the nuts, I find some canned coconut milk and canned pineapple chunks for making my take on a piña colada. Typically it calls for rum, but I like to use tequila to balance out the sweetness of this frozen cocktail.

For the drink you’ll need a spiced simple syrup, which is a cinch to make. The recipe here calls for warming spices like allspice and clove, but you could also use cinnamon, star anise, ginger, and vanilla—whatever you have in your cabinets. The addition of a few lime peels in the syrup, as well as a squeeze of fresh lime juice in the drink, rounds everything out with a citrusy tartness.

No matter which spices you use, I pretty much guarantee that a few sips of this slushy drink on a warm weekend afternoon will make you feel like you’re relaxing by the beach (even if you’re stuck inside).

What's your go-to cocktail at the moment? Tell us in the comments!

Our friends at Tequila Don Julio have been producing a range of top-notch tequilas—made with 100% pure Blue Weber Agave—in Jalisco, Mexico since 1942. Keep their Blanco Tequila (it's got a crisp agave flavor, plus hints of citrus) and Reposado Tequila (it's barrel-aged for a smoother, richer finish) stocked in your bar cart for mixing up all kinds of cocktails, from an umami-rich Bloody Mary to a pineapple-coconut slushy.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Marta
  • Irene Yoo
    Irene Yoo
Irene runs a monthly Brooklyn-based pop-up series called Yooeating, with new takes on Korean home cooking, street food, and drinking culture by pairing with other culinary cuisines that feel like home.


Marta November 14, 2020
are these syrups pure sugar? no water added?
Author Comment
Irene Y. November 17, 2020
hi marta! they are generally equal parts sugar and water, the recipes have specific measurements :D