Over the weekend Ezra Klein asked, “What three cocktails should everyone — or at least everyone over 21 who likes to make cocktails — know how to make?” Well, since I bartend on the weekends I figured I’d offer my perspective:
The Sidecar Cocktail
The sidecar is a classic cocktail that provides a great example of how to make lots of other cocktails. It teaches us about balance. During the renaissance many architects utilized the golden ratio which was functional and aesthetically pleasing. Mixologists can approach building drinks in a similar way.
Generally speaking many well-balanced drinks will be around 4 parts spirit, 2 parts sweet ingredient, 1 part sour ingredient. Margaritas work well with the true golden ratio of 3-2-1; but as a tequila lover I think 4 parts work great for that too. A lot of restaurants use 2-1-1, which works but I prefer to taste a little more of the spirit and the balance of sweet to sour of 4-2-1. So go ahead and start creating new drinks following that basic formula and you’re bound to have more successes than failures.
- 4 parts cognac
- 2 parts Cointreau
- 1 part lemon juice
Garnish with lemon peel.
Tradition & Style
The Old Fashioned Cocktail
America’s first cocktail! The name actually refers to the way a drink was made, but now it’s a specific drink. Easily one of the most mangled cocktails – I understand why few people think they like them. But a good Old Fashioned can showcase what is enjoyable about cocktails. This is also a really fun cocktail to make because of the differing philosophies for Old Fashioneds.
Some bartenders use a traditional sugar cube while some prefer the more easily dissolvable simple syrup. Some muddle fruit, some don’t. You could garnish with the classic lemon or the more popular orange and cherry. All should use bitters, but the amount and type vary and make a big difference. Techniques to build the drink vary – experiment.
- 2 oz bourbon
- 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 2 dashes Orange Bitters
Garnish with (flamed!) orange peel, no cherry.
The Martini Cocktail
Everyone needs to know this essential cocktail. I’m not going to give you a long lecture about martinis – so overplayed. Yes, the classic is made with gin not vodka, but whatever you like just order (if you’re expecting vodka make sure you tell your bartender that). James Bond was wrong to order it shaken… blah blah. Everyone likes to pontificate about the effects of stirring versus shaking. Here’s the truth – it’s just about presentation. If you don’t want a cloudy drink you should stir it. It takes a little longer (barely) but you get a beautiful crystal clear cocktail. General rule of thumb: stir clear ingredients, shake cloudy ones. Whichever method do it enough to dilute the ice and properly chill the drink.
Ratio and style of martinis vary a lot and many are good in their own ways. Some classicists loath dirty martinis. Don’t get them started on a dirty vodka martini. I like them; that’s their problem. Also, no one (sadly) orders sweet martinis (using sweet vermouth) anymore so no need to ask for it dry. My one pet peeve: always use some vermouth and then use more than that. A glass of gin or vodka is not a martini. It’s a glass of gin or vodka.
I have many different preferences on this one – for forgotten classic:
- 3 parts Gin
- 1 part Dry Vermouth
- dash orange bitters
Garnish with lemon twist.