Back to basics

Creating classic cocktails at home

Since the craft cocktail revival began over a decade ago, we’ve seen bar menus full of 10-ingredient drinks named for obscure literary figures or concoctions so meticulously created they take 15 minutes to arrive in your hand. While one can appreciate the artistry and skill it takes to produce these cocktails, sometimes you just want a reliable classic.

You may be wondering how to make a few of your favorites at home using the three most time-honored spirits of whiskey, gin and rum and two relative newcomers to the American drinking palate: tequila and vodka. Simple, elegant and deliciously boozy, a classic cocktail’s most satisfying quality is how easy it is to concoct. No handlebar mustache or bow tie needed. These five classic cocktails contain no more than four ingredients and have stood the test of time and trends to become distinguished, decades-old placeholders on bar menus across the country.

Whiskey: Old Fashioned

In cocktail writer Robert Simonson’s book devoted to this classic cocktail, he says, “No single cocktail is as iconic, as beloved, or as discussed and fought-over as the Old Fashioned. Its formula is simple: just whiskey, bitters, sugar, and ice.” Do you take yours with bourbon or rye?

● 2 oz. of rye or bourbon
● 1 sugar cube
● 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
● Garnish with orange peel

In a rocks glass, muddle the sugar cube and bitters until cube dissolves. Add whiskey and one large ice cube or three small cubes. Stir well. Express orange peel over the glass by twisting the peel to release the oils, and then rub the underside of the peel along the rim of the glass. Place peel in glass.

Pro tip: Use a high proof whiskey of 95 or more to stand up to ice dilution. The Old Fashioned is a whiskey-forward cocktail only enhanced by the sugar and bitters.

Gin: Martinez

First appearing in O.H. Byron’s 1884 “Modern Bartenders’ Guide”, the Martinez is a strong and cleverly concocted precursor to the classic martini that even Manhattan aficionados will love.

● 1.5 oz. gin (Old Tom style if you can find it or a London dry)
● 1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
● 1 tsp. Maraschino liqueur
● 2 dashes Angostura bitters
● Garnish with orange peel

Fill a coupe glass with ice to chill. Combine ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled. Discard ice in coupe and strain ingredients into glass. Express orange peel over the glass by twisting the peel to release the oils. Place peel in glass.

Rum: Classic Daiquiri

This simple and strong rum cocktail contains only three ingredients and is listed as one of the six basic drinks one should know in David Embury’s 1948 classic “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”.

● 2 oz. white rum
● 1 oz. fresh lime juice
● ½ oz. simple syrup (recipe below) *

Fill a coupe glass with ice to chill. Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake to chill. Discard ice in coupe. Strain ingredients into chilled coupe.

*Simple syrup

● 1 cup water
● 1 cup sugar

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Let cool completely. Transfer syrup to a squeeze bottle and store in refrigerator.

Pro tip: To give the daiquiri a little zing, add a float (liquid garnish) of green chartreuse on top. Turn your bar spoon over and rest the edge of the spoon on the inside edge of the glass. Gently pour the green chartreuse close to the side of the glass, dribbling over the back of the spoon to form a thin layer on top of the cocktail.

Tequila: Classic Margarita

Much like the daiquiri, the classic margarita is three ingredients and simple to make. Its disputed history dates back to the 1930s where not only its inventor is in question but its country of origin. As margarita means “daisy” in Spanish, the cocktail was most likely a riff on a popular Prohibition drink of the same name.

● 1.5 oz. of blanco tequila
● ¾ oz. Cointreau
● ¾ oz. fresh lime juice
● 1 tsp. agave nectar (optional)
● Garnish with lime wheel

If using a coupe glass, fill the glass with ice to chill. If using a rocks glass, fill the glass with ice. Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake to chill. Strain ingredients into coupe glass after discarding ice or into rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Pro tip: If you choose to salt your rim, run a lime wedge along the rim of the glass to coat thoroughly. Place flaky sea salt or kosher salt in a small bowl and dip the glass rim in the salt to coat.

Vodka: Moscow Mule

Combine two ingredients no one in America wanted, add a copper cup and you have the makings of the Moscow Mule. Unable to sell ginger beer and vodka to a finicky American audience, a bar owner and a Smirnoff distributor joined forces to create one of the country’s most popular vodka drinks.

● 2 oz. vodka
● ½ oz. fresh lime juice
● 4-6 oz. of ginger beer
● Garnish with lime wheel

In a Collins glass or Moscow Mule mug, add lime juice. Fill half the glass with ice. Pour in vodka. Fill the rest of the vessel with ginger beer. Stir and garnish with a lime wheel.