We have always advocated that the modern man should have a firm handle over a few things – grilling a steak to perfect pinkness, for example, or being able to scramble yours eggs to little over runny, and knowing the right occasion to wear a peak lapel rather than its notch counterpart.
With the upcoming party months in mind, we’d add knowing how to fix up a small selection cocktails to that list – and we’re not talking about faddish mixology trends or fashions. Rather, we think that the classics – a negroni, an old fashioned, et al. – are a fine foundation to begin with, because, after all, they are exactly that: timeless libations that should get you, your guests and their guests into mellow, headier spirits, whatever the tastes or dispositions at play.
So, with black-tie and awards seasons around the corner, we’ve compiled our shortlist of the failsafe cocktails that you should be able to conjure up with minimal notice, whether you’re fixing an aperitivo, a nightcap, or just enjoying a post-work reward. As the great F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “Here’s to alcohol, the rose-coloured glasses of life.”
The crowd-pleaser: Negroni
According to legend, this fine libation was invented over a century ago, in Florence, when Count Camillo Negroni, who was sat at his usual spot in Caffé Casoni, wanted something with a bit more bite than his usual americano – since then, it’s been favoured by Ernest Hemingway and Stanley Tucci. This all-time great is universally popular owing to its complex balance of bitter and herbal flavours, with a little sweet, and is a suave, sophisticated drink appropriate for fine-dining dinners, black-tie events, or weekend parties.
- Dry gin
- Sweet vermouth
- Orange peel (for garnish)
- Soda (optional)
- Add equal parts Campari, gin and vermouth into a shaker, with a bit of ice
- Strain into a glass over a large ice cube
- Add a twist of orange peel
- Add a splash of soda, if you want to lighten things up
The slow-sipper: Old Fashioned
A failsafe. A banker. The one that can never fail. The navy suit of the cocktail cabinet. Don Draper’s go-to. The old fashioned, despite still being a frequently made and requested cocktail today, had its moniker coined for the first time in the 1880s. Like the negroni, it hits several palate points – it’s a wonderful medley of sweet, spice and bitter, and, better still, if you don’t have a shaker, don’t fret – it’s all concocted in the glass that it’s drank from.
- 1 sugar cube
- 2–3 dashes Angostura bitters
- Club soda
- Rye whiskey
- Orange peel (for garnish)
- Place the sugar cube in a glass and wet with 2–3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of club soda
- Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler and rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining
- Add a large ice cube, pour in the rye, stir for a couple of minutes, and serve with an orange twist
The original mashup: Manhattan
Rye-based cocktails have witnessed a revival in recent years, as evidenced by the old fashioned, but this American-Italian blend has never really gone out of the public eye. First poured in the latter part of the 1800s, the Manhattan is bracing and punchy – and it’s said that J.P. Morgan used to have one at the end of each trading day, so it makes for a good wind-down companion. Whether taken in the Big Apple, the Big Smoke, or the Big Sur, the Manhattan is a creation that’s popular across the globe.
- 2 parts whiskey
- 1 part sweet vermouth
- 1–2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Orange peel and maraschino cherries (for garnish)
- Grab a chilled cocktail glass
- Combine whiskey, vermouth, and bitters in a cocktail shaker
- Add ice and stir until chilled (20 seconds)
- Strain into at the chilled cocktail glass
- Serve with orange peel and a maraschino cherry
Neither shaken nor stirred: Martini
Mr Bond’s choice of poison is, of course, an essential for lists such as this. Yet, because of its popularity and renown – even the vessel in which it’s held in has become a staple in cabinets and kitchens worldwide – the martini is often tweaked according to tastes and preferences, with the decision between vodka and gin being the main debate at hand. To keep things simple, we’ve got the recipe that 007 tended to favour.
- Martini glass
- Potocki vodka
- No.3 London Dry Gin
- Angostura bitters
- Amber vermouth
- Orange peel (for garnish)
- Freeze the glass, vodka and gin
- Once frozen, add three dashes of the Angostura bitters into the glass and swirl around the bottom
- Add one-part vermouth.
- Add one-part vodka
- Top with gin
- Don’t shake or stir: let the layers sit
- Fold the orange peel lengthways in your hands and squeeze the oils over the top of the glass, twist it, then drop into the martini
Less is more: Gin and Tonic
When associates, friends or family turn up without warning, it’s good to have the bare-bone basics in your locker so you can create something foolproof, using minimal effort. It’s no-frills, stripped-back nature, however, means that you can’t skimp on spending a little extra on the two key ingredients.
- Plymouth Gin
- Fever-Tree Indian Tonic
- Grapefruit zest (to garnish)
- Grated tonka bean (to garnish)
- Parsley (to garnish)
- Cinnamon stick (to garnish)
- Add a healthy amount of ice into your glass
- Mix one-part gin with two-parts tonic
- Garnish with grapefruit zest, grated tonka bean, parsley, and a cinnamon stick
Want more drink content? See our cocktail of the week: St James’ Bar ‘The Passenger’…
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