I’ve been thinking a lot about who this blog is for. So let me start with who it’s not for. It’s almost certainly not for mixologists as they’ll a.) already know all this stuff and b.) know of many
other better resources to find this information. There’s also the fact that this isn’t just a repository of recipes as I try to include information about why certain recipes call for specific steps (dry shaking and double straining come to mind) and how they make a difference in the final product. So all that to say I’ve conduded (via process of elimiation) that this blog serves two sets of people: bartenders who ascribe to mixologist and the have-a-go heroes who wonder why the cocktails they make at home taste nothing like the $16 a pop ones they buy downtown.
Which brings me to the inevitable conclusion to start at the beginning and say a few words about classic cocktails.
Slay the Golden Calf
Let me start out with this – no recipe is sacred. Depending on who you are you’re either smugly nodding in agreement or shaking you head in disgust and planning my banishment from cool cocktail circles (like that’s even a thing). But let me explain. Every recipe that’s ever been invented is a rip off of something else. Take the Rob Roy for example – a total rip off of a Manhattan. Swap out the American whiskey for scotch and it’s a new drink with a new name… but really it’s kinda the same. And that doesn’t make it bad or wrong, it just makes it different. To me this is most liberating because it means that I too have permission to mess with classic recipes… and so do you!
Which leads to my next point – be free to play with your ingredients. Just because I recommend a particular spirit in a cocktail doesn’t mean that you have to. Just recently I published a recipe that calls for London dry gin but in the post you might have noticed that I used Bols Genever which is a Dutch predecessor to modern gin. I have grown fond of genever which carries a touch of maltiness unlike the juniper flavored vodka that makes up most of the gin market. So when it came time to pick a gin for the cocktail I opted out and insted picked something different altogether; and it was delightful. Classic cocktails are built on flavor profiles not brands so feel free to take a little liberty with swapping out Tanqueray for St. George’s Botanivore. I won’t tell.
The Sour/Bitter/Spicy/Sweet Ratio
Classic cocktails have earned their respective places on menus worldwide because they’re made with readily available ingredients and they’ve nailed down the sour/bitter/spicy/sweet ratios. I heard it said that every good cocktail is made up of 1.5 to 2 ounces of alcohol, to one ounce of tart, to one ounce of sweet and while that might not hold true for every classic its hard to argue that a classic G&T isn’t the perfect blend of sweet, strong and tart/bitter. I find it helpful to reference food when thinking about balance in a cocktail – what meals have I really enjoyed and what were the flavors of the meal that made it memorable?
Just last week my wife made Chicken tikka marsala and it was amazing. The sauce was sweet with heavy chocolate undertones and just the right amount of heat coming through right at the finish. She served the meal over saffron and lemon rice which was savory and sour at the same time (you salivating yet?). The entire meal was in perfect balance – not too sour, too sweet, or too spicy – and it made for a memorable dinner for sure! Just something to keep in mind when putting your personal spin on a classic.
Classic Cocktails Aren’t Better, They’re Ubiquitous
What does classic mean anyway? Well according to Merriam Webster classic is defines as “serving as a standard of excellence”. Really. I’ve had some pretty mediocre “classic” cocktails that hardly reach the bar rather than set it. Maybe a better way to say it might be “well-known” instead of classic. The Manhattan is a well known cocktail. Sure that works but just because it’s well known in it’s current state doesn’t mean that you can’t (or shouldn’t) push the boundaries of what’s in your glass.
I guess I’m kind of rambling at this point and truthfully I thought I had more to say on the subject of classic cocktails. As I sit here and think through all the enjoyable moments I’ve had with a cocktail in my hand very seldom has that glass held a bonafide classic. I suppose what I’m really getting at is drink what you want and don’t be afraid to play with the ingredients. Who knows, you might stumble upon a recipe to sticks around long to enough to find itself on cocktail menus the world over. Wouldn’t that be something.
My takes on Classic Cocktails
Do check out the recipes I use to mix up classic cocktails. I’ll be adding to this list as I go so bookmark this page and check back often.
- Bloody Mary
- Pina Colada
- Whiskey Sour
- Tom Collins
- Dark and Stormy
- Old Fashioned
- Moscow Mule
- French 75
- Ramos Gin Fizz
- Mint Julip
- Last Word
What’s your favorite classic cocktail?