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The Easy Formula for Recipe-Free Sour Cocktails

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The idea of memorizing dozens of cocktails is daunting. Bartenders must be near geniuses, you might think, with those many, many recipes knocking around in their heads. But, like so many impressive talents such as close-up magic or being able to solve a Rubik's cube, there is a trick to it. And once you know it, you’ll be able to shake up cocktail after cocktail without a recipe book in sight.

It’s a simple formula: two parts spirit, one part sour, one half part sweet.

There you have it, the key to unlocking pretty much every sour cocktail out there.

Here’s what it actually means: To make essentially any simple cocktail that falls into the Sour category, pour two ounces of liquor into a shaker with one ounce of something sour (like lime or lemon juice) and a half-ounce of sweetener (like simple syrup or agave syrup). Shake with ice, strain into a glass (either with or without ice, depending on your preference) and there you have it—a perfect sweet-tart cocktail.

First, try out these tried-and-true combos:

2 oz tequila + 1 oz lime juice + .5 oz agave syrup = Margarita

2 oz whiskey + 1 oz lemon juice + .5 oz simple syrup = Whiskey Sour

2 oz gin + 1 oz lime juice + .5 oz simple syrup = Gimlet

Then, once you’re comfortable, try some new combinations. Swap out the lime juice in a Margarita for grapefruit juice, or use honey syrup instead of simple in a Whiskey Sour. Or you can completely make up your own signature cocktail with spirits like mezcal or vodka or brandy, using a sweetener of your choice (you could even try a liqueur) and whatever tart juice you have around.

Once you’re really smooth with your mixology skills, feel free to alter the proportions according to your tastes—scale up the citrus or add more booze, but be sure to track your measurements so you’ll know for next time.

And, just like that, you are a pro home bartender and your friends are very impressed.

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