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.
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.
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.
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)
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.