You're stuck in the middle seat on a long-haul flight—and not on Lufthansa, where Aperol and Campari are free-flowing—and digestif carts roll around just as your gulping down the last of your mystery meat. If mediocre vodka sodas and screwdrivers aren't your thing, it's time to learn how to MacGyver in-flight drinking.
We talk to six mixologists to get their best tips for hacking craft cocktails at 30,000 feet. Once you learn the basics, you'll be well on your way to boozy bliss, and, hey, maybe that lack of legroom won't be so bad after all.
① Less Is More
Keep it simple and avoid sugary, concentrated juices as mixers, which can be overkill when pairing with your favorite spirit. "While it is very much becoming a trend to mix your own cocktails on a plane, I have to admit I'm more of a classic drinker when traveling," Amy Starr, general manager and beverage director of NAHA in Chicago, says. "If I choose to drink, I'll either enjoy a spirit over ice or a nice glass of Champagne."
② Cocktail Kits
Thomas "T" Leggett, mixologist at The Roosevelt in Richmond, Virginia, always flies prepared. "I usually stick to rum and tonics on a flight, but W&P Design makes some really nice in-flight cocktail kits now," he says, referencing the brand's portable stainless steel tins equipped with mini tools, mixers and even a small linen coaster to create memorable cocktails like Moscow Mules, Bloody Marys, hot toddies and more. Companies like Hella Cocktail Co. also offer sets of mini bitters bottles, which, when paired with a simple sugar packet, can easily yield an old-fashioned or Champagne cocktail.
③ Shop at the Airport
Brent Lamberti, a brand ambassador for Stolichnaya's elit vodka, sips on vodka gimlets but doesn't assume in-flight carts will stock what he needs. So he suggests grabbing supplies at the airport, like limes (from an airport bar), sugar packets and a disposable coffee cup (with a lid!) from any Starbucks or McDonald's. Just be sure to "shake gracefully" while soaring high, then pour over ice.
"It's fun to get through security and shop for interesting mixers in airport convenience stores," Mia Mastroianni, head bartender at Soho House West Hollywood and mixology expert on Spike TV's Bar Rescue, says. "With a little forethought, I can usually find something to mix with an airline's spirits for a more complex cocktail than a simple spirit-and-juice combo." Like Lamberti, Mastroianni espouses sugar packets, plus honey sticks.
④ BYO Lemons
Taking aboard fresh, whole fruit—which TSA will allow you to stowe in your carry-on—is an easy way to take in-flight cocktails from basic to top-notch. Ted Gibson, spirit specialist at Rancho Valencia in Rancho Santa Fe, California, reveals a few simple solutions: "Turn your gin and tonic into a Tom Collins simply by packing a lemon—you'll need gin, lemon, simple syrup (sugar and water) and soda." Or for a mojito, pack a lime and some mint—bonus points for muddling strawberries in-flight. If a cocktail recipe calls for shaking, Gibson says, "Just grab an extra 'glass' and pour from one to another a few times." Carefully—and maybe not during turbulence—of course!
⑤ Carry-On Staples
Charlotte Voisey, mixologist and director of brand advocacy at Scottish spirits company William Grant & Sons, suggests packing mini bottles of bitters and garnishes (like orange peels) in your carry-on. "When the flight attendant comes to take your drink order, choose your favorite whisky on the rocks, ask for a packet of sugar and combine that, along with the bitters, on ice," she says. Twist the peel to express, garnish, and you've got a solid old-fashioned.
⑥ Mix Ahead
"Plan ahead," Mastroianni, who favors Negronis with mescal, says. "It's the perfect drink to pre-batch in three-ounce TSA-approved bottles." Plus, she adds that since its recipe is three equal parts, it means it's fail proof, too.
"Prep a mini bottle with a simple, fresh sour—an equal split of fresh lemon juice and simple syrup," Voisey says. "This will combine with almost any spirit for a refreshing sour. Just order your go-to spirit and a glass with ice."
Pack your passport—and an appetite—as we hit the world's hottest culinary destinations on and off the grid all month long. Now Boarding: your next trip to paradise.
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