A wise man once wrote: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
And that’s not a bad thing, especially when it comes to drinks. The classic mixed drinks, concocted in the American Golden Age of Cocktails (roughly 1830-1865, FYI), continue popping up again and again, mostly un-retouched, in serious bars. There is a reason for this: a classic cocktail, in the hands of a skilled barman, can be a transcendent experience.
For me, a well-made Sazerac trumps any modern, foam-laden, or liquid nitrogen-enhanced beverage. As time changes and as the world turns, barmankind pendulously returns to the classics: the old fashioned, the Manhattan, the martini, the julep, et al.
Every barkeep worth his salt can craft these drinks with a trusted recipe and probably has an opinion about them to boot. I asked some of my municipal colleagues of the craft to share a little about the drinks that inspire their work, and their preferred method of building them.
Christian Johnston, Blue Light Grill
Favorite classic: Corpse Reviver #2
When I was working for Chef Justin Hershey at Zinc, he banged an ideology into my head that has stuck with me since: simplicity is beauty. Anytime I put a cocktail together in my head with more than four or five ingredients, nine times out of 10, I’m overthinking it. To me that’s the beauty of the Corpse Reviver #2; it’s an extremely simple cocktail that is easy to make and even easier to mess up. It falls under a class of hair of the dog cocktails: a wonderful blend of booze, citrus and botanicals can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
1oz Plymouth gin
1oz Lillet Blanc
5oz fresh lemon juice
My go-to gin is Plymouth, and for absinthe I like Kubler. Combine all ingredients, except absinthe, in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake well for about 10 seconds. Rinse a martini glass with absinthe. Strain the cocktail through a tea strainer to remove fruit pulp and ice shards into the rinsed glass, serve with a twist of lemon and enjoy.
Leah Peeks, The Whiskey Jar
Favorite classic: The old fashioned
The old fashioned is the oldest of the old-school cocktails. The first published definition of a “cocktail” recipe in the early 1800’s called for a “stimulating” drink made of a base spirit with sugar, water, and bitters. Drink-makers took that general idea for a cocktail and got weird with it, adding any delicious ingredient they could get their hands on. It got so weird that a Chicago Tribune article in 1882 discussed the virtues of the “old fashioned” cocktails of just spirit, sugar, water, and bitters, because by that time cocktail making had expanded to such a degree that adhering to the original definition of the drink was decidedly “old fashioned”.
I make my old fashioned in the spirit of the original cocktail, with the addition of orange peel. Orange oil and bourbon were made for each other, and the orange fills out the drink in such a nice way that I can only imagine the earliest cocktail makers would have also insisted upon it if citrus fruits hadn’t been a luxury item in the 1800s.
2 oz good bourbon, like Buffalo Trace
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters #6
2 dashes Woodford Reserve Bourbon
barrel-aged spiced cherry bitters
(Angostura works in a pinch for both)
Gently muddle about two inches of orange peel (with as little white pith as possible) into the bottom of a rocks glass. Add the rest of the ingredients, ice, and stir with a bar spoon. Enjoy.
Matt Pawlina, Commonwealth Restaurant/Skybar
Favorite classic: The Vieux Carre
New Orleans has given the world amazing art, music, culture, cuisine, and most importantly, good cocktails. During the early, French years of the Crescent City, Cognac was the prevalent spirit, and later came rye whiskey. In true New Orleans fashion, all things are combined and blended together to make a new, bold, fun, powerful, smooth creation. In this case, Cognac and rye birthed the Vieux Carre. The essence and meaning of this cocktail completely changed for me after I was privileged enough to enjoy a Vieux Carre at the bar where it was created. I was in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail in 2013, and found myself in majestic lobby of The Hotel Monteleone. I took a right, and there it was….The Carousel Bar and Lounge. As soon as I sat down, I was greeted with hospitality you must experience for yourself to truly understand. The bartender took one look at me and said “I got just the thing for you hunny.” There it was, without having to ask, The Vieux Carre. As the bar slowly rotated, I understood that this cocktail was truly a representation of all that is good in the world.
.75 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz cognac
.75 oz sweet vermouth
1 bar spoon Bénédictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir 20-30 times. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with lemon peel and a wink.