Meredith Heil

Bookmark, screenshot, memorize: Make this your cheat sheet for all future flights.

Meredith Heil
June 05, 2018

If you fly even half as often as I do, you're all too familiar with your preferred airline's beverage cart. You know the soft drink standards, the Cokes, the Diet Cokes, the ginger ales, the tomato juices. You know the beer selection, the house wine, the few random eccentricities (Fresca? Love you, Delta.) and, of course, the liquor cabinet. But no matter how many nips your flight attendants carry, a person can only drink so many gin and tonics or rum and cokes before getting painfully bored... especially when that person's a cocktail writer stuck on a 14-hour long haul.

That's how I found myself sitting on a recent transatlantic flight, armed with a notebook, a pen and more mini bottles than a Duty-Free checkout kiosk. I turned my seat-back tray table into some sort of deranged laboratory, mixing, matching, measuring and sipping away as the good people of row 12 attempted to gulp down their Chicken Kiev and watch The Shape of Water in peace. It was a harrowing experience (at least until they passed out ice cream bars and everyone forgot about me), made better by one sweet French flight attendant who not only pledged her support by handing over a few extra bottles, but also provided me with her very own whiskey-spiked coffee recipe (number one on this list). Bless you, Celine.

The result: Nine stellar cocktails, each able to hold its weight against anything stirred up back on earth. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.

Prepare for Takeoff: Tips & Tricks

Save space in your carry on

While not essential, you might want to throw a few extras in your carry on to fill out your cocktail kit like bitters, hot sauce (those baby Tabasco bottles you get with room service are perfect), martini olives, pearl onions or maraschino cherries, as long as they're packaged in two to three-ounce containers. Packing a couple of those little 2.5 ounce squeeze bottles of lemon and lime juice is also a great idea, as is picking up a few pocket-sized garnishes like mints, ginger candies, beef jerky or dried fruit. And if you really want to go all out, no barkeep worth their salt rim ever refused a small metal funnel.

Many airlines publish their standard drinks and snacks menus online, so look ahead to see what supplements you need if you've got a particular recipe in mind.

Hit the snack bar before you board

A lot of the friendly skies' more satisfying concoctions call for ingredients or bar tools that can easily be procured with a trip to the nearest Starbucks. Honey, sugar and artificial sweetener packets, extra straws or stirrers, plastic utensils, extra napkins and salt and pepper packets are all good grabs.

Another reason to make the stop? Simple syrup. Ask the barista to add a half to three-quarters-filled double-cupped hot water to your order and head to the milk counter for a heaping handful of sugar packets (I prefer Sugar in the Raw, but regular white works too). Separate the cups and pour the sugars into the empty cup until they're about even with the other cup's water level. Add the sugar to the water and stir until it's completely dissolved, then put a lid on that puppy and let it cool. While you can definitely make this recipe onboard, you might as well use that extra hour before the flight to let it come to room temperature so you're ready to rock as soon as the beverage cart starts rolling.

Err on the side of stirred, not shaken

Some recipes truly rely on a hard, frosty shake, but that's quite a tall order when you're working with equal sized cups, cramped quarters and inevitable turbulence. Stirred cocktails are your friends, up there. And if you must shake away, ask for an extra plastic cup and quickly pour the iced contents back and forth between the two until chilled and fully integrated. The effect won't be ideal, but at least you're saving your row-mate from some pretty awkward elbow-to-forehead action.

The Drinks

Jetfuel Joe

This is the after-dinner drink of champions. Pair this sweet belly-warmer with a post-mealtime romcom and you'll be sawing logs before the guy (finally) gets the girl.

Hot coffee plus an empty hot beverage cup

½ bottle Jack Daniels Honey (or unsweetened American whiskey + ½ a sugar packet)

½ bottle Baileys Irish Cream

1 packet Lotus Biscoff Cookies (for garnish)

Instructions: Take a few sips of coffee to make room for the booze. Combine all ingredients and stir thoroughly.

Layout a clean napkin. Use your fingers or a heavy book to crush the cookies inside their wrapper until they become fine crumbs. Open a corner of the wrapper and dump out a generous amount of crumbs onto the napkin and spread it in a thick, even circle. Wet the rim of the empty cup with the coffee mixture, then roll it in the crumb pile until it coats the entire lip. Pour the hot cocktail into the rimmed cup, wrap yourself in a staticky blanket and push that recline button all the way in, pal.

Meredith Heil

Pushback Presbyterian

If you've got less than 90 minutes between wheels up and wheels down, this one's for you. Easy, nicely balanced and potent enough to power you through the in-flight magazine's half-answered crossword puzzle. 

Ginger ale

Club soda

1 bottle Scotch whisky, either blended or single malt

Lemon wedge 

Candied ginger (optional)

Instructions: Pour the Scotch into a cup over ice. Fill with equal parts ginger ale and club soda. Garnish with lemon wedge and piece of candied ginger.

JFK Sour

A stirrable, eggless twist on the classic New York Sour, this slow-sipper is undoubtedly the most technically advanced on the list. But do it right and you're sure to impress your entire cabin (not to mention your taste buds). 

1 bottle rye or bourbon

5 lemon wedges

Simple syrup (see above)

Red wine

Plastic spoon

Instructions:  Pour whiskey into an empty cup. Add about half a nip's worth of simple syrup. To measure, either eyeball the wash line or funnel the syrup into the empty whiskey bottle until it reaches the midway point. Squeeze in the juice of four lemon wedges, add ice and stir well.

Hold a spoon face down over the beverage. Slowly pour the wine over the back of the spoon so it floats on top of the whiskey. Garnish with the remaining lemon wedge.

Standby Sangria

There's nothing quite like a refreshing red sangria, teeming with juicy, booze-soaked fruit, juice and wine. A pitcher might not be possible onboard, but this simple recipe makes the best case we know for ordering that fruit and cheese plate. 

¼ bottle Cognac

½ plastic cup red wine (about 4 ounces)

Orange juice

Cran-apple juice

Fruit from fruit & cheese plate

Instructions: Take a couple of small pieces of fruit from your fruit and cheese plate (i.e. grapes, blueberries, strawberries, orange slices—anything but bananas generally works) and drop them into the bottom of a cup. Add Cognac. Using your spoon, a swizzle stick or the flat bottom or a pen, stir and muddle until the fruit is pulpy and saturated. Fill the cup with red wine up to the halfway mark. Top with equal parts orange juice and cran-apple and let the mixture sit for 10-ish minutes. Pour over ice and dig in.

Red-eye to Cancún

Spice things up on your next flight with this zesty, tequila-spiked Bloody Mary variation, which gets its kick from that tiny bottle of hot sauce you packed and its good looks from an easy, deliciously salty pretzel or chip-crusted rim.

1 bottle tequila

Tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix

5 lime wedges

1 small salt packet

1 small pepper packet

1 bag pretzels or chips

Beef jerky from snack pack (optional)

Hot sauce (optional)

Instructions: Combine tequila, tomato juice, the juice of four lime wedges, salt, pepper and a few dashes of hot sauce. Stir well.

Lay out a clean napkin. Use your fingers or a heavy book to crush the pretzels inside their bag until they turn into crumbs. Open a corner of the wrapper and dump out a generous amount of crumbs onto the napkin and spread it in a thick, even circle. Wet the rim of the empty cup with tomato juice, then roll it in the crumb pile until it coats the entire lip. Pour the completed cocktail into the rimmed cup and garnish remaining lime wedge, jerky and anything else you can get your hands on.

Mile High Mint Julep

Get your Derby Day party started early with this ridiculously easy to make Southern slammer. Any kind of mints work here as long as they're not chewy. Just be sure to taste them ahead of time so you can gauge their flavor potency.

1 bottle Bourbon

Sprite (or equal parts club soda and simple syrup)

2-4 mint candies, depending on spice level

Instructions: Use a heavy object to crush mints, either inside their package or sandwiched securely between two napkins. Add Bourbon to an empty cup and stir in crumbled mints. Let the mixture sit for 20-30 minutes. Top with Sprite or club soda-simple syrup mixture and stir until combined.

Meredith Heil

Multi-leg Martini

Vodka and Kahlua might not be the classiest breakfast, but when you're doing something as downright terrifying as speeding through the air 30,000 feet above ground, boozing it up before noon is 100 percent acceptable. They call it liquid courage for a reason, right?

1 bottle vodka

½ bottle Kahlua (or simple syrup if not available)

2 mini-creamers

Cooled coffee

Instructions: Combine all ingredients into an ice-filled cup and vigorously stir until a foam cap begins to form. Sip, repeat and try to distract yourself with yesterday's USA Today.

Destination Havana

Tropical, crisp and effervescent, this plane-ified spin on a classic Hemingway daiquiri (white rum, grapefruit, lime, Luxardo, simple) will float you all the way through Cuban customs. If there's no Fresca onboard, you can sub in a mix of grapefruit juice and club soda at a 2:1 ratio.

1 bottle white rum

Cran-apple juice

5 lime wedges

Fresca

Instructions: Pour equal parts rum and Cran-apple into a cup over ice. Squeeze in the juice of four lime wedges, top with Fresca and stir. Garnish with remaining lime wedge. Enjoy while typing up the next great American novel.

Air France 75

The only thing fancier than a complimentary bottle of Champagne from Air France? Turning that bubbly into a chichi pre-Prohibition cocktail that'll knock the socks off any uppity flight attendant that comes your way. 

1 bottle gin

4 lemon wedges

½ sugar packet

Champagne (or sparkling wine)

Instructions: Combine gin, sugar and the juice of three lemon wedges in a cup over ice. Stir vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Strain into an empty cup, top with Champagne and garnish with the remaining lemon wedge.