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DIY Custom Cocktails

Oct 23, 2013

by Kelly Carámbula handmade and vintage goods

There’s no reason fancy drinks should only be served in swanky cocktail bars. Creating your very own custom cocktail is easier than you think! I like to begin by choosing flavors that are in season – fall flavors like apple cider or Concord grapes will be arriving at local farmers’ markets any day now (if they haven’t already). Using these ingredients, I’ve created two multi-serve cocktails that are easy to make ahead of time and are perfect for fall festivities.

Before we start, here’s a little introduction on how I set about creating a new cocktail. I always start with a single serving, then multiply for larger amounts, adjusting as I go. For a custom flavor, it can be helpful to find a classic cocktail recipe, then switch out one ingredient. The more comfortable you get with how flavors work together, the easier it will be.


Choose Your Base Flavor (1.5-3 ounces)
This is usually a juice — the fresher the better. You can also muddle fresh fruit to create the juice.

Choose Your Booze (1.5-2 ounces)
For something warm and cozy, go with a darker alcohol like bourbon or dark rum. For a bright and refreshing drink, go with lighter alcohol like gin or vodka.

Choose Your Sweetener (.5 ounces)
If you choose to use simple syrup, mix 1 part sugar, 1 part water. This can be infused with an additional flavor like an herb or spice. Other choices include maple, honey, or agave, diluted with equal parts water (so it doesn’t just sink to the bottom of the cocktail).


Choose Your Acid (.5 ounces)
Pick either lemon or lime.

Shaken, Stirred or Neither

For most cocktails, a cocktail shaker is filled with ice, then either shaken or stirred. Generally speaking, cocktails with more than 4 ingredients are shaken; shaking encourages flavors to blend and accelerates the melting process of the ice. Stirring is generally used for cocktails that have a stronger alcohol content, like a martini or Manhattan.

Optional: Seltzer (1-2 ounces)
For a lighter, more refreshing cocktail, add a little seltzer water to the strained cocktail just before serving.

Maple Concord

(Makes 10 servings)


You will need:
3/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups Concord grape juice
2 cups gin
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Fresh Concord grapes, for garnish
1/4 cup demerara sugar, for garnish
1 large serving bottle
Toothpicks or small skewers
Cocktail glasses


Step 1: Gather your ingredients. Gently stir together the maple syrup and warm water until thoroughly combined.


Step 2: Using a funnel, combine the maple mixture, concord grape juice, gin, and lemon juice in the bottle. Close the cap and give it a gentle stir to mix, about 10 seconds. Chill.


Step 3: Meanwhile, place two Concord grapes on a toothpick or skewer, then gently roll them through the demerara sugar.


Step 4: When you’re ready to serve the drink, add the garnish grapes to each glass and set the bottle of the mixed cocktail next to your glasses for your guests to help themselves.

Spiced + Spiked Apple Cider

(Makes 12 servings)


You will need:
1/2 gallon fresh apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
15 whole cloves
5 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
2 cups bourbon, optional (Note: this drink also tastes great without the bourbon)
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar (1 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/4 cup sugar), for garnish
Lemon, for garnish
12 cinnamon sticks, optional
Large wide mouth Ball jar and ladle or a large jar with a spigot
8 ounce Ball jars


Step 1: Pour the cider into a large pot over low heat.


Step 2: Next, gather your spices. Place the ginger, cloves and cardamom in a tea infuser and place in the cider. The cinnamon sticks and nutmeg can be placed directly into the cider. Gently stir.


Step 3: Let the spices and cider simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.


Step 4: Just before you’re ready to serve, prepare your glasses. Place the cinnamon sugar on a rimmed plate. Rub the rim of each glass with a lemon, then gently dip the rim into the cinnamon sugar. Add a cinnamon stick to each glass.


Step 5: If using bourbon, stir into the mulled cider or alternately, add 1 1/2 ounce bourbon to each glass. Ladle the cider into each glass and enjoy!

All photographs by Kelly Carámbula.


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