Improve Your Screwdriver With 6 Easy Tricks

Orange juice and vodka has never tasted so good.

Photo: Florian Berger; Illustration: Emily Carpenter/Thrillist
Photo: Florian Berger; Illustration: Emily Carpenter/Thrillist

Lots of people begin their drinking careers with a Screwdriver. It makes sense; the two-ingredient cocktail is simple enough for anyone to make -- all it takes is orange juice, vodka, and a glass. But that first Screwdriver (and, probably, many subsequent iterations) is all too often made with subpar ingredients: watery OJ, dirt cheap vodka, and not a cube of ice in sight.

So when it comes time to start drinking better, imbibers -- understandably -- leave the Screwdriver behind along with the cheap jugs of wine and sugary shots. But the Screwdriver is more than just cocktail training wheels, and it’s worth trying again as a full-fledged, cocktail-loving adult. All you need to do is make it (slightly) better. Here’s how:

Use fresh orange juice

This should be a no-brainer. Fresh orange juice is completely different from store-bought bottled juice or icy cans of concentrate. You know that. It has much more acidity and bright, beautiful flavors, and it will lend those qualities to your drink. If you don’t feel like squeezing oranges by hand, go ahead and buy something at the store -- just make sure it’s as fresh as possible.

Add Amaro

If you’ve never had orange juice and Campari, then you need to stop what you’re doing right now and try it -- just add about one ounce of Campari to every three ounces of orange juice. We’ll wait. Did you try it? Great, right? Now imagine that but even boozier. A splash or three of a bright and bitter aperitif-style amaro like Campari will add complexity to your Screwdriver and turn it into a real, bona fide cocktail.  

Spice up your Screwdriver by swapping out the standard neutral spirit for something that has a little more character. Try a citrus vodka like Crop Organic Meyer Lemon or Hangar 1’s Buddha Hand. Or add some spice with a ginger-flavored vodka like Hanson of Sonoma Ginger. Or, heck, go ahead and splash in some whipped cream flavored vodka for an orange creamsicle experience.

Upgrade your garnish

As a neophyte drinker, you probably didn’t even consider garnishing your drinks. But that final touch does more than just make for a pretty Instagram pic. A spritz of orange oils expressed from a peel will give your cocktail depth and a delicious touch of zesty bitterness. A basil leaf will bring some herbal notes to the cocktail. Candied ginger will give you something spicy and sweet to nibble on in between sips. It might be a simple drink, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a good garnish.

Add bitters

As with a spritz of orange oils, a few dashes of bitters will instantly round out your cocktail. Experiment with whatever bottles you have around -- Angostura, Peychaud’s, orange, lavender -- and find your favorite. We’re particularly fond of Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters, Cecil & Merl’s Turmeric Bitters, and Bittermens Tiki Bitters.

Actually shake it

It’s easy to be lazy and build a Screwdriver right in the glass. But if you take the time to shake it before straining it into a glass over fresh ice, you’ll notice an immediate improvement. Shaking a cocktail not only incorporates the ingredients, it also slightly dilutes and chills the drink and aerates the mix, creating a beautifully frothy libation that has the perfect texture. Get out your shaker tin and put 10 seconds of effort into your drink. You’ll be happy you did, we promise.

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Justine Sterling is a Thrillist contributor.