I love the look of a well-stocked home bar, the rows of tinted and faceted glass, the colorful liqueurs and eye-dropper bottles of bitters...it's just not a look I've ever had in my own home, where alcohol comes expensive and goes quick. I'm far more likely to find a surprise bottle of vodka in my freezer than a full array of options at my fingertips. Luckily, there are plenty of stellar cocktails that only take one bottle, even if they tend to be hard to find in your favorite cocktail book.
We've done some gin and tequila triage, but today is all about vodka. Vodka's nice to work with because of its relatively neutral flavor, which pairs pretty seamlessly with a wide range of ingredients. You won't need vermouth or bitters, liqueurs, or any other booze to complete these recipes—if you can make it to the grocery store for things like fruit and herbs (or already happen to have them in your fridge), we've got nine great ways to polish off that lonely bottle.
Thyme for a Salty Dog
If you're a hound for grapefruit juice, you'll love the Salty Dog—with a salt-coated rim, it's bright and punchy, super refreshing, and pleasantly bitter. This rendition gets an extra-tart splash of lime that's balanced by a sweet undercurrent of thyme-infused simple syrup.
Get the recipe for the Thyme for a Salty Dog »
Ultimate Bloody Mary
There's nothing more disappointing than a watery, anemic Bloody Mary. This fully-loaded version calls for a high-quality, flavorful tomato juice, though you can sub in V8 or Clamato for some extra nuance. Either way, this is an all-in sorta situation—think a celery salted rim, soy and Worcestershire sauces, freshly grated horseradish, and a glug of hot sauce, along with a dash of both cayenne and black pepper. It delivers a mustardy heat and savory complexity that few other cocktails successfully capture. Check out our complete post for more ways to tailor the drink to your personal preferences.
Get the recipe for the Ultimate Bloody Mary »
If you like ginger and incredibly easy cocktails, this is the recipe for you. And if you don't typically love vodka (perhaps that's why you've got a whole bottle lying around?), the crisp appeal of a Moscow Mule may surprise you. It's as simple to make as a vodka tonic, only it calls for spicy ginger beer in place of the tonic, with a generous squeeze of lime to pep things up.
Get the recipe for the Moscow Mule »
Rhubarb and Ginger Cocktail
Rhubarb can be tart and astringent on its own, but simmered with sugar it develops a richly sweet, smooth flavor. Think of this as a slightly dressed-up, more colorful take on the Moscow Mule—topped with sparkling ginger ale (the gingery-er the better) and fresh lime juice, it's all kinds of refreshing.
Get the recipe for the Rhubarb and Ginger Cocktail »
Something very special happens when coconut milk and vodka meet, especially under the spicy-tart auspices of ginger beer, lime, and Meyer lemon juice. It's creamy, faintly floral, and delightfully soothing without the overwhelming sweetness you'll often find in tropical drinks.
Get the recipe for the Sunny Getaway »
Honey and Marmalade Sour
Marmalade in a cocktail? Oh yes, we're for real—it's jammy but bitter, which adds really nice complexity to the vodka. A squeeze of lemon juice coaxes out the citrus notes for a drink that's intense and bracing, with just enough balancing sweetness from honey.
Get the recipe for the Honey and Marmalade Sour »
Basil Lime Cooler
Like mint, basil has wonderful cooling properties. Here, the herb is put to good use in a light, fresh cocktail of vodka, lime, and basil-infused simple syrup. Topping it off with seltzer gives it an invigorating finishing touch.
Get the recipe for the Basil Lime Cooler »
Fruity concord grapes are puréed with freshly squeezed lime juice and shaken with vodka and simple syrup. Sound too sweet? Think again. The lime juice balances out the naturally sweet grapes, for a drink more akin to a sour. It's a perfect beverage to usher in fall, and the deep violet-red hue also happens to make for a stunning presentation.
Get the recipe for the Concord Crush »
Jammy strawberries pair well with vodka but on their own can tend to run a little too sweet. Here, they're cut with lime juice and fresh, bright mint. Once it's mixed with club soda, the cocktail transforms from joltingly sweet and sour into a light, effervescent brunch-friendly drink. Just keep in mind that you may want to adjust your volume of simple syrup depending on how sweet your strawberries are.