England & America (mid 18th century)
Pendennis Club, Kentucky (1888)
The Old Fashioned is essentially The Original Cocktail, with roots going back to the mid 1700s at least. Back in the day, it could’ve been any kind of booze (in Wisconsin, they still do this one with brandy). Bourbon respects the drink’s established Kentucky roots. Rye gives it a little extra kickiness.
Bitters are what makes this drink. Research into their history by David Wondrich and Brad Thomas Parsons indicates the first known bitters were patented in London in 1712 as a cure-all tonic to help settle the stomach. Roots, barks, spices, dried fruit peel, flowers, and just about anything else was fair game to be tossed in the pot along with grain spirit (to extract their essential compounds). These bitters would be combined with white wine or brandy, often taken as a hangover cure. Around 1750 or so, someone came up with the idea of adding a bit of sugar and water to make the mix more palatable. As these things tend to go, this combination spread to Colonial America as not just a healthy quaff, but a recreational delight. The word “cocktail” was first used in print in by the Hudson, New York newspaper The Balance, and Columbian Repository in 1806 to describe this trendy little number as such:
“Cock tail, then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.”
All drinks using this template were called “Cocktail” for years and years. It would’ve been “Rum Cocktail” or “Brandy Cocktail” or “Whiskey Cocktail.” As the 19th century marched along and all kinds of new drinks emerged with unique identifying names (Martinez, Manhattan, Martini), people came to ask for this original version as the “Old Fashioned” cocktail. The bar at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky helped standardize this name and recipe – specifying bourbon as the preferred spirit. As the century turned and Prohibition restricted access to “the good stuff,” people took to adding all kinds of adulterants to make the drink less awful: muddled oranges, cherries, lemons – even pineapple and mint on occasion. A drowning in seltzer was the final disgrace. And wouldn’t you know it, that formula stuck all the way through the next turn of the century, when people got their hands on copies of old 19th-century recipe books that called for the original, simple style of spirit, sugar, water (as ice) and bitters – with just a little hit of orange oil that perfectly unifies the caramel and vanilla of the bourbon with the holiday spices of the bitters.
Hardware: Jigger, Barspoon, Vegetable peeler or sharp knife
Ice: Ice rock or ice cubes
Glassware: Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Bourbon or rye whiskey – 100 proof stands up well (recommended: Rittenhouse rye, Wild Turkey 101 bourbon)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Rich demerara syrup (2:1)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Angostura bitters, Orange twist, Orange wheel (optional), Cherry (optional) (recommended: Filthy amarena, Luxardo maraschino)
Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife, cut a strip of orange peel to make:
1 orange twist
Don’t include too much of the bitter white pith, if any. Holding the twist with the outside facing down over an Old Fashioned glass, pinch to express orange oil into the glass. Reserve the twist for a garnish. Into the glass, add:
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 barspoon rich demerara syrup
Add an ice rock or two to three ice cubes then add:
2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey
Stir briskly to blend and chill. Insert the orange twist as a garnish.
Some people like an additional orange wheel and cherry garnish, some say all that does is take away from the whiskey. As you like it.
Florence, Italy (1919)
A classic cocktail with a surprising number of devotees, the Negroni is distinguished by its use of Campari, the bitter-orange aperitif that is – to put it kindly – an acquired taste. But I’ll say this: once you do acquire the taste, there’s no going back.
The Negroni is a great appetite stimulant – perfect before a big dinner. It works equally well on the rocks (in spring and summer) or up (in fall and winter). You’ll want a good, sharp, juniper-forward gin here – one that won’t get beaten down by the other two bullies in the drink.
The drink has an interesting origin story: Italian-born Count Camillo Negroni had spent time in America as a cowboy and in London as a bon vivant. On his return to Florence in 1919, he asked the bartender at the Caffè Casoni for a stronger take on the popular Americano cocktail, swapping gin for soda water, and serving it up (or on the rocks). It caught on locally, and his namesake cocktail became a hit internationally. Anthony Bourdain is on record as a fan; Gaz Regan is famous (infamous?) for his “finger-stirred Negroni.”
There’s something magical about a well-made Negroni: it’s like a reset button for your day, signaling the start of a great night when anything is possible.
Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass (or Old Fashioned glass)
Spirits: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray) or Plymouth gin
Mixers & Liqueurs: Italian vermouth (recommended: Carpano Antica, Noilly Prat, Dolin), Campari
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange twist
Chill a cocktail glass (or Old Fashioned glass) in the freezer at least ten minutes.
In a mixing glass about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
1 oz gin
1 oz Italian vermouth
1 oz Campari
Stir well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. As an alternative, this drink may be served in an Old Fashioned glass over rocks.
Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then rub the twist around the glass rim to coat. Garnish with the twist laid across the surface of the drink.
Mexico or London (1930s – 1940s)
No singular cocktail has more people claiming its invention than the Margarita. Seems they all want to grab some family blood from America’s most popular cocktail. And, if you ask me, America’s most abused cocktail.
But there’s some strong evidence the cocktail originated in London, of all places – as the “Picador” cocktail, a spin on the classic 2:1:1 Sour template, in a variation known as a Daisy (just a Sour with a liqueur instead of simple syrup). Funny coincidence, “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy”.
You might have to hit five or six bars and restaurants to find one that isn’t made with that god-awful sour mix, even in recipes calling themselves “Cadillac.” How hard can it be to squeeze some fresh citrus, people? Sheesh.
Many people are surprised when I tell them a Margarita (done properly) is one of my favorite cocktails. Many people are also surprised when they taste a proper one for the first time – far different from the frozen, blended version that came out of Dallas in 1971 and came to be the standard for the next forty years. With the rise of fine tequilas since 2000 or so, many bartenders have come to embrace the perfect balance of a well-crafted Margarita, and an appreciation for this fragile and misunderstood spirit. An unusual minor tweak to the standard sour template is the addition of just a teaspoon of rich simple syrup – the drink simply is not the same without it. The syrup adds body and cuts through a strange bitterness that can sometimes linger between the tequila and Cointreau, bringing perfect balance.
Done like a Sidecar, this beauty needs no Slurpee, no salt. Some prefer this one on the rocks instead of served up; Either way works. Sabor es lo primero.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Tequila (blanco or reposado – recommended: El Jimador, Espolón)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel, Kosher salt (optional)
Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.
If you choose to salt the rim, sprinkle some kosher salt on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lime wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the salt. Try to avoid getting salt on the interior glass surface.
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz tequila
1 oz triple sec
3/4 oz lime juice
1 tsp rich simple syrup
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. (As an option, serve over ice cubes in an Old Fashioned glass.) Garnish with a lime wheel.