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No more complicated cocktails! Here are our 8 favorite cocktails with four ingredients or less

I don't know about you, but I barely bat an eye when I'm sitting at a bar and order a cocktail full of unrecognizable spirits. I watch the bartender measure and shake countless elixirs together to make a magical concoction that I swear I'll try to re-create at home. But then, I get home and reality hits — there's no way I want to buy, much less measure out eight or 10 different ingredients to make a drink.

If you're anything like me, the good news is that you can make excellent cocktails at home without shelling out for a bar cart's worth of liquor. Here are 8 of our favorite drinks that you can make with four ingredients or fewer. And yes, most also call for ice cubes and a garnish, but if you really want to keep it to four, you can eliminate the garnish. (Keep the ice, though, please.)

Mint Julep

This Southern classic is as simple as it gets: bourbon, sugar, ice and mint. For an extra punch of herbaceousness, steep an ounce of fresh mint in the simple syrup while the mixture is heating. And as odd as this may sound, the key to a mint julep is using lots of crushed ice in each glass. Please don’t skip this part. 
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Absinthe Cocktail

Another simple classic, this drink is for all the true abinthe lovers in your life. (Maybe it's you!) Simple syrup tempers the heat of anise-heavy absinthe, and a heavy hand with angostura bitters highlights the herbal notes of the spirit. The icing on the cake is a simple lemon round. That's it!
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Agave Margarita

Here's our take on a classic margarita, no sour mix needed. The bright tartness from the lime plus the sweetness of the agave nectar blend to make a perfectly-balanced cocktail. The best thing about this margarita — aside from its simplicity — is that you can riff off of this basic formula. If you want to make a strawberry margarita, puree up some fresh strawberries and try various measurements to get your desired sweetness. Swap in some mezcal for a smokier taste. The possibilites are endless! 
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Boulevardier Cocktail

Made with whiskey instead of gin, a Boulevardier is the burlier version of the classic negroni. Feel free to use your favorite whiskey in this drink; however, if you'd like to use rye, we recommend a whiskey on the sweeter, less-spicy side. Make sure to seek out high-quality spirits here; since you're making the drink with equal portions of all of the components, you'll really be able to tell the difference. You can serve your Boulevardier up, as pictured, or on the rocks.
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Classic Bee's Knees Cocktail

This classic cocktail is a remnant of the Prohibition-era. Made with a nice pour of gin, honey and lemon juice, this bright cocktail is easy to take down (so watch out!). Since the ingredients in this cocktail are so minimal, use fresh squeeze lemon juice instead of the store bought stuff for an elevated experience. 
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Moscow Mule Cocktail

Vodka, ginger beer, lime and ice is all it takes to have this classic sipper. For the full experience consider springing for the copper mugs which help to ensure that your drink stays ice cold way longer. 
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Negroni Cocktail

This classic, bittersweet cocktail is a perfect aperitif. Make sure to seek out high-quality spirits here; since you're making the drink with equal portions of all of the components, you'll really be able to tell the difference. You can serve your negroni on the rocks, as pictured, or up, in a coupe glass.
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Classic Manhattan Cocktail

This classic cocktail is traditionally made with rye whiskey, but you can certainly make it with bourbon if you prefer. Add as many cherry garnishes as you'd like.
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Author image

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.