In an attempt to demystify the always delightful but often murky path to cocktail enlightenment, we present four basic cocktail categories: sours, fizzes, Old-Fashioneds and three-parters. These drinks are intended to simplify thinking about building drinks - to help home mixology become an approachable, everyday activity.
Our approach - to break down our favorites to their bones - aims to help budding bartenders understand the structure behind the drinks, so that recreating fancy stuff seems less daunting. That Brooklyn you tried at the hipster bar - it's just a three-parter! And if you can make a Cosmo (hint: It's a sour), you can make a Bee's Knees too.
Know the basics, and you can begin to build your own recipes using myriad global ingredients and flavors. Here are the four essential formulas, complete with the whys and hows, plus an old school, simply delicious recipe for each type:
Sours contain citrus juice, should be tart (or at least tangy) and are usually shaken in a cocktail shaker and served straight up. (Juice drinks like screwdrivers and greyhounds go in the tall/fizz category.) Fresh squeezed juices are critical here, often paired with simple syrup (sugar dissolved in an equal volume of water) to sweeten. Sidecars, margaritas, cosmopolitans and the newly revived favorite Last Word can all be considered sours.
2 ounces light rum
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ to 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Shake all ingredients with ice until well-chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with lime wheel. (For a more intense drink, dissolve the lime juice with 1 tablespoon sugar in the mixing glass before adding ice, and skip the simple syrup.)
Fizz or Collins
Fizzes include anything with bubbles - highballs, Champagne cocktails, Collinses, mules, bucks. These drinks can be incredibly simple and are clearly the most refreshing. Plus it is not difficult to keep a few six-packs of sodas and 750s of basic booze in your liquor cabinet. Throw in a few lemons and limes, and you can whip up a Moscow mule, a rye and ginger, a Campari gin and tonic, a mojito, a Tom Collins or a paloma anytime.
All refrigerators should hold a bottle of prosecco or cava to celebrate life's special moments in the moment. And those bubbles make a great addition to dozens of cocktails built from bar basics. Add peach nectar for a Bellini, pomegranate or cranberry juice for fun pink drinks, or go classic with a French 75.
Recipe: Gin buck
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Ginger ale or ginger beer
Add gin and lemon juice to an ice-filled glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with lemon wedge. Serve at once.
These old school short cocktails are simply sweetened liquor zipped up with something bitter. The sweet can come from sugar, muddled with fruit or simmered into syrup, or a sweeter liqueur like triple sec or maraschino. The bitter can be a few dashes of any of a vast variety of bottled bitters, or a bitter spirit like an amaro. Often whiskey-based, like a Sazerac, a Toronto or a rusty nail, these guys are potent, and when properly balanced, perfect.
2 ounces gin
2 ounces Italian sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca
Add gin, vermouth, and Fernet to a mixing glass with ice. Stir thoroughly until chilled. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with an orange twist.
These drinks are the most spirit-forward of the collection, a three-part combo of booze plus what's known as a "modifier" (a lower-alcohol ingredient like vermouth) plus a bitter or a syrup. Here we find the beloved martini (did you know early martini recipes call for orange bitters?), Manhattan, Brooklyn, Negroni, boulevardier, Rob Roy and all of their bold and boozy cousins.
Recipe: Old pal
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce Campari
Mix the 3 ingredients in a mixing glass, and add ice. Stir to chill, and strain into a cocktail glass garnished with a lemon twist.
Ingredients: The days of hiding cheap liquor and bargain mixers in cocktails are long over. Stock your home bar with the best spirits you can afford, and use fresh, top-quality ingredients - your drinks will shine brighter than ever. Fresh, clean ice is important - make or purchase ice frequently. And be sure to garnish your creations simply and appropriately.
Glassware: A variety of glassware can be fun, but limiting your collection to a couple of simple shapes (highball and lowball; wine glass and tall; cocktail and Old-Fashioned) can be economical and save space without the drinks suffering.
Measuring: Free-pouring helped Tom Cruise impress Elizabeth Shue in "Cocktail," but good consistent drinks are based on ratios and formulas. Get yourself a jigger and measure. You'll also need a cocktail shaker, a mixing glass and a bar spoon for stirring.