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You Asked for It: The 12 Months of Cocktails, pt 1 | Manolo for the Big Girl

You Asked for It: The 12 Months of Cocktails, pt 1

Several readers have contacted me over the years with questions about cocktails, and I try to oblige. When, a few weeks ago, there were several comments about my 12 Months of Cocktails email, I decided to do a mini-tutorial on the wonderful world of cocktailing.

A few notes before we begin:

Traditionally a cocktail is –at bare minimum– a base spirit plus a liqueur.  There are some folks who believe it isn’t a cocktail unless it has a base spirit, a sweetener (usually in the form of a liqueur) and a sour balance (lemon, bitters, whatever) but that’s a little fiddly for our purposes.

I don’t subscribe to the “something AND something” as being a proper cocktail. Which isn’t to say they aren’t glorious, just they don’t really need recipes.  My grandmother’s recipe for a Cape Cod was a glass of vodka and just enough cranberry juice to make it red enough to drink before breakfast.
About the Equipment:

You will need a jigger, a strainer, a muddler and a cocktail shaker. You can fudge on most of those things except the strainer, which you really do need, but seriously, you’re a grown-up: Buy a proper bar set.

Having a Mexican-style lime squeezer is also dead handy but a word to the wise: Avoid plastic. Get the heaviest one you can find, mine is cast iron and enamel and probably set me back eight bucks.

lime squeezer
This one is aluminum and enamel and should do the trick nicely

About the Booze:

You get out of it what you put in, so use top shelf if you can.  For reference, my preferred spirits for cocktails are:

Vodka: Tito’s. If unavailable: Chopin

Bourbon: Basil Hayden’s. If unavailable: Maker’s Mark

Gin: Hendrick’s. If unavailable: Move

Dark Rum: Pusser’s British Navy Dark

Light Rum: use Cachaça instead, I prefer Leblon

Blended Whisky: Cutty Sark

Cognac: Hennessy VSOP

You’ll also need: Dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, bitters, a few selected liqueurs –make one of them  orange-flavored: I prefer Cointreau– and a few lemons on hand.

The Only Gin I'll Ever Really Love

About the Terminology:

Most cocktail patois is pretty self-explanatory. Here are a few words that aren’t.

Rocks Glass: also known as an old fashioned glass, it’s a low, heavy-based tumbler used for most cocktails.

Neat: A drink –usually shaken with ice– strained into a glass, as opposed to “on the rocks” which is with ice, though not the ice you used in the shaker.

Up: The same as neat, but served in a stemmed glass.

Perfect: A “perfect” cocktail is generally one where there is equal measures of two main ingredients. For example, while THE perfect martini depends on how you prefer your drink, A perfect martini is equal parts gin and dry vermouth.

Shake: Lots of recipes call for shaking a cocktail, but for how long? Until a frost forms on the outside of the metal shaker. Always.

a rocks or Old-Fashioned glass, sometimes called a lowball

On to the recipes!

I’ve selected each cocktail for a month where the weather generally suits it, or for a particular holiday when it is traditionally enjoyed.  There’s nothing saying you can’t drink a Rusty Nail in August and a Caipirinha in mid-December.

January – The “Perfect” Rusty Nail

Celebrate the birth of Robert Burns –one of Scotland’s great products– with two of its other top-notch exports: Scotch whisky and Drambuie, a heather honey liqueur, a deceptively vile sounding name for a smooth, comfort cocktail.

“Perfect” Rusty Nail

1 1/2 oz blended Scotch
1 1/2 oz Drambuie

Combine in a shaker full of ice and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon. For something a little less sweet, play with the proportions of Scotch and Drambuie. A popular modern recipe is 3 parts Scotch to 1 part Drambuie.

February – Manhattan

2 oz  bourbon
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (that’s the red stuff)
dash bitters

Prepare as for a Rusty Nail. If you missed honoring the Scots back in January, replace the bourbon with Scotch whisky and you’ve got a Rob Roy. For my Ruby Manhattan recipe, click here.

March – Old-Fashioned
Ever wanted to know why those short tumblers are called “old-fashioned glasses”? It’s because of this cocktail, so really, you must serve it in one.

In an old fashioned glass, douse a single sugar cube in bitters. Add a splash of soda water and muddle until the cube is nicely broken up. Not too much soda, mind you, just enough to get things sloppy. Fill glass with ice, top off with whiskey, preferably rye. Garnish with an orange wedge and a maraschino cherry. Note: Some folks prefer more club soda, these people are probably Communists and beat their mothers.

14 Responses to “You Asked for It: The 12 Months of Cocktails, pt 1”

  1. evilsciencechick January 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    From what I understand, there is a worldwide shortage of bitters, due to a factory shutdown. However, I found this fun article which shows you how to make your own:


    Looks darned easy, and a fun way to keep this staple in your liquor cabinet!

  2. Violet January 28, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    Plymouth gin is highly acceptable.

    There is a temporary shortage of Angostura brand bitters but there is a gracious plenty of all sorts of other kinds and this is a great time to explore them. Regan’s has a nice line for starters.

  3. Cedar January 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Any list whose first three cocktails are whiskey/bourbon/rye based is so gonna get printed and framed in my place.

  4. Mrs. Hendricks January 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Love it, love it, love it! I raise my Hendricks martini to you, dear Plumcake!

  5. Plumcake January 28, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Violet, I don’t love Plymouth as much as I think I ought. Perhaps I got a bad bottle? I love Fee’s for bitters, particularly their orange. I go through bitters like nobody’s business.

  6. Plumcake January 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Cool Evil SC! I probably go through a bottle of bitters a month –not all in cocktails– what a fun thing to make for all my cocktailing friends!

  7. Plumcake January 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    Cedar I’m so glad you approve! There aren’t ANY vodka drinks in my year of cocktails since these are (almost) all Prohibition-era cocktails, so stay tuned.

  8. Plumcake January 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    I thought I might get your support Mrs. H!

  9. Toby Wollin January 28, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    Well, now I know what to do for Xmas gifts!

  10. Lisa January 29, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    I need the reading comprehension award because I had a moment of unwellness going BUT WHERE ARE ALL THE OTHER MONTH’S COCKTAILS…and then I saw it’s Part 1.


    Gin. Yum.

  11. Lisa January 30, 2010 at 4:20 am #

    I asked for my martini to be made with Hendrick’s and I am converted!!!

  12. raincoaster January 31, 2010 at 1:06 am #

    Two quibbles, darling Plumcake:

    Cutty Sark? Really? No wonder you go through so much bitters; you should be using J&B, of course.

    Neat means never touched ice or water. Straight up (“up” for short) means shaken or stirred over ice and strained into a glass. As co-admin of the Whiskey and Scotch meetup, I could not stand idly by and let this pass.

  13. raincoaster January 31, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Oh, and there’s some kind of imporation crisis with Plymouth Gin; don’t remember the details, but if you like a neutral (as opposed to floral or vegetal) gin, it’s worth stockpiling if you see it. There are only about a half-dozen bottles left on the shelves in the entire province of BC, so if you’re up to your ears in it I may have to take a trip over the border and become a reverse-rumrunner.

  14. teteatete November 12, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    MONTHS late, but I wanted you to know, Plummy, that I finally located a bottle of Hendrick’s and it is sublime. Thank you!!