How to Hack the Hotel Mini Bar

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Hack your way to a better hotel room cocktail.

You’ve just stumbled in from a marathon of meetings, compounded by crushing jetlag. What lies before you at the end of the day? Quite possibly a mediocre hotel room. What now? You turn to your only friend: the mini bar.

That box of Lilliputian bottles is there to tempt you after a long day of travel, but you don’t have to sell yourself short. With a few extra ingredients pinched from the breakfast buffet or coffee cart, you can craft a hotel room cocktail well worth drinking. From a freshly-muddled Caipiroska to a cozy Hot Toddy, these mini bar hacks are so enticing that you might even invite housekeeping in for a drink. Now milk that mini bar.

Hack a Brown Derby with honey packets from the breakfast buffet.


The Hack Pack: Ice; sugar packets; lemon; maple syrup

A respectable Whiskey Sour is never far from reach. You probably won’t be able to make simple syrup (unless you pack a travel-sized vial of your own). But a few sugar packets from the in-room coffee setup will suffice.

Or, snag a few glugs of maple syrup from the breakfast buffet waffle station and use that as an alternative sweetener that adds woodsy flavor. Provided you can pilfer a lemon too, you’re set to shake up that Whiskey Sour—with ice from the ever-present hallway ice machine.

If you happen across a tiny bottle of bourbon in your mini fridge, make a Brown Derby with grapefruit juice and a few packets of honey from the breakfast tray. And if you had the foresight to pack your trusty travel bitters, mix up an impressive Beggar’s Banquet with that same bourbon, maple syrup and lemon juice—plus a fizzy beer topper.

Cinnamon cereal stands in for the spice itself in this creamy milk punch.


The Hack Pack: Ice; orange juice; milk; sugar packets; lemon/lime; cinnamon cereal

You can sip a bare bones Gin and Tonic during your stay. But why settle for mediocre drinks when you can improvise a Tom Collins? Take that teensy bottle of gin and use the bottle bottom to muddle sugar and raspberries—or any handy berry from breakfast. Then top with gin and lemon juice—or orange juice if in dire straights—plus club soda for a fruit-boosted Collins.

Fancy a Caipirinha? Unless you’re vacationing in Brazil, it’s not likely you’ll get your hands on tiny bottles of cachaça, but don’t fret. Try a Caipiroska in its place, by muddling lime and sugar together with a tiny vodka bottle, then adding vodka and ice before shaking and topping with a splash of club soda.

To really get your money’s worth at breakfast, go big and use two plastic cups from your room to shake up a Spiced Rum Milk Punch. A few ounces of milk? Easy. A toy-sized bottle of rum? Check. Now the fun part: Absconding from the buffet with a bowl of cinnamon cereal for rimming and topping your creamy punch (in place of actual cinnamon).

Those tiny salt and pepper packets come in handy for an in-room Michelada.


The Hack Pack: Ice; sugar packets; lemon/lime; hot sauce; packets of salt and pepper

The Boilermaker is one of the easiest beer-based drinks you can make, and the old-school pairing of beer and whiskey will do you right after a long day of meetings and questionable conference food. But, a few extra ingredients can transform that mini bar beer into a legitimate cocktail. Consider the humble Shandy: All it requires is a brew of your choice, stirred with lemon juice and sugar to create a refreshing drink that’s a bar above that basic can of beer.

Things can get even fancier with the help of hot sauce swiped from the hotel dining room. Whip up a bootleg Michelada with a chilled lager, hot sauce, lime juice and a savory salt and pepper rim. Those little bottles of heat have never proved more useful.

Take advantage of the coffee cart to make a tea-infused Hot Toddy.


The Hack Pack: Whole milk (or heavy cream or half-and-half); brown sugar packets; honey packets

You need a soothing Hot Toddy after a trying day on the road or in the air. Use your room’s electric tea kettle or coffee pot to heat water and combine the water in a mug with a sugar (or honey) packet, a mini bottle of whiskey and a swatch of lemon peel. If your hotel was kind enough to leave you some tea bags, throw those into the mix along with whiskey or spiced rum.

Who says Irish Coffee can’t be made in a poorly stocked hotel room? Naysayers, that’s who. The authentic technique and glassware may not match those of the finest Irish establishments, but this is a covert operation, and it’s the booze that matters. If you can get your hands on brown sugar packets, then your hotel might be half decent. All that’s left to do is combine the whiskey and sugar and pour over hot coffee made in your room. You probably don’t have heavy cream lying around for moments like these, so you can make do with the hotel-provided half-and-half, which you can warm in your tea kettle and shake until frothy. If you somehow have a sealed jar and heavy cream available, shake it like you mean it to achieve real-deal whipped cream. This might be the king of all cocktail hacks.

From our Friends



  • mark.j.saxton posted 3 years ago

    First, you can make simple syrup if you have a coffee maker....put small equal amts of sugar and water in a proper container and melt.....
    I opened this in hopes of seeing an easier way to "steal" (there, I said it...) from the mini bar. I HAVE HEARD that some hotels actually inventory by weight...a good cocktail guide or liquor POS system should have weights of popular spirit items . Don't forget to add the "tare " weight of the package.
    For the more pedestrian systems, just remember what you did as a kid when you would swipe booze from your parents stash...for clear spirits, water. For brown spirits, you can use that crappy syrup from the brk. buffet mixed w/ water. You will eventually be found out, but if you invade it on the last night of your stay, do the in room check out early the next morning. By the time the discovery is made, there is a SLIGHT chance you will be billed...or they may flag your account and try to collect the next time you stay. Remedy; don't go back there.

  • DrG2FL posted 3 years ago

    Seriously...Hack, pinch,abscond? Surely you meant take a few items that you paid for in your Hotel bill from the breakfast bar. It is difficult to take this site seriously when the "hook" is to steal items from a Hotel. Yes, steal from the nameless, faceless money grubbing corporate world of Hotels. If your child worked like a demon to escape poverty and was savy enough to start a chain of successful hotels what you are recommending is that it is okay to "pinch" a few items because "they won't miss it"? Has the art of journalism sunk to this level? Could no one on your staff be a tad more creative such as "Use your minibar fridge and breakfast buffet freebies to concoct a fabulous Happy Hour!". Not slatious enough?

  • latrecia.brumfieldtate posted 3 years ago

    I love small bottles --perfect portions, portable--, but they are not sold (against state law) in the state I live in. This store has a nice selection.
    Virginia ABC Liquor
    320 23rd St S
    The Buchanan Building
    Crystal City, VA 22202

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