As I was about to write up a different post, it occurred to me that I hadn’t written up a list of cocktails that everyone should know how to make. You know, basic cocktail recipes that one should master before moving on to The Original Mai Tai, The Aviation Cocktail, or the feared Polar Bear.
Before grabbing your shaker and diving in, there are a few rules you should follow, and a few you could abandon in the making of any cocktail.
Rule #1: Ice First
ALWAYS add ice to your shaker before anything else goes in. This also applies to any drink made directly in the glass. Ice goes in FIRST.
Rule #2: Stir Clear Drinks
My grandad told me that any clear beverage should be stirred to mix, never shaken. Personally, I like my Manhattan, Gibsons & Martinis shaken. I like the ice chips floating on top, so I break this rule. But if you’re about to make a drink and your patron says “Don’t bruise the ice”, just swirl the drink to mix. Still, I’ll write up the drinks here with “correct” instructions.
Rule #3: Shake It Til It Hurts, Then Shake More
I’ve said this rule repeatedly: when shaking a drink, shake until your hands hurt from the cold, then shake another 10 seconds. This is often that crucial element, that intangible je ne sais quoi standing between a good drink and a great one.
Rule #4: Use Good/Fresh Ingredients
While this should go without saying, always use good stuff. Cocktails are what you put in them. Put in good stuff, get a good drink. Put in bad booze, get a bad drink.
Rule #5: Don’t Stir or Shake Bubbles
Any mixed beverage that uses fizzy water (Moscow Mule, French 75, Gin & Tonic, etc) should be mixed with care. I’ve listed the steps for these drinks correctly, but:
- If you stir the drink after adding the bubbly, you will lose the bubbles
- If you shake a drink after adding the bubbly, it will explode
You’ve been warned.
Enough of all that. Here are your must-know, basic recipes:
#1: The Sidecar
1.5 ounces Brandy
1 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange wedge or a lemon twist.
1a. The Chapel Hill: Same as The Sidecar, but use Bourbon instead of Brandy.
1b. The White Lady: Same as The Sidecar, but use Gin instead of Brandy.
#2: The Martini
2 ounces Gin
1/2 ounce Dry Vermouth
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Queen Olive.
2a. The Gibson: Same as The Martini, but garnish with two Cocktail Onions.
2b. The Kangaroo (aka, Vodka Martini): Same as The Martini, but use Vodka instead of Gin.
2c. The Dry Martini: Same as The Martini, but don’t add the Vermouth to the shaker. Instead, add the Vermouth to the cocktail glass, swirl, then dump the Vermouth.
#3: Gin & Tonic
2 ounces Gin
Juice of 1/4 of a lime (about 1/2 ounce)
Tonic Water (NOT Club Soda!)
Put enough ice cubes in a lowball glass to nearly fill it. Pour in the Gin and squeeze in the lime juice. Pour in tonic water to fill (at least 2 ounces, but no more than 4). Garnish with a lime wedge.
#4: French 75 the Easy Way
1.5 ounces Gin
1 ounce Sweet & Sour
1 sugar cube
Champagne (Prosecco works very well!)
Shake Gin, Sweet & Sour, and Sugar Cube with ice. Strain into a champagne flute. Fill with Champagne. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a slice of lemon.
#5: The Manhattan
2 ounces Bourbon
1 ounce Sweet Vermouth
1 dash Bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
5a. The Rob Roy: Same as The Manhattan, but use Scotch Whiskey, not Bourbon
5b. The Monte Carlo: Same as The Manhattan, but use Benedictine instead of Sweet Vermouth.
#6: The Daiquiri
2 ounces Light (Silver/Clear) Rum
Juice of 1/2 of a lime (about 1 ounce)
1 teaspoon sugar
Shake all ingredients with crushed ice. Strain into a lowball or a tumbler. (Alternatively, serve over crushed ice.)
#7: Margaritas the Easy Way
3 ounces Silver/Blanco Tequila
2 ounces Rose’s Sweetened Lime
1 ounce Triple Sec
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lime.
#8: Tequila Sunrise
2 ounces Silver/Blanco Tequila
4 ounces Orange Juice
1 ounce Grenadine
Add enough ice cubes to fill a highball glass halfway. Pour in the Tequila. Pour in the Orange Juice. Slowly but steadily pour the grenadine directly down the middle of the glass. Garnish with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.
2 ounces Vodka
4 ounces Orange Juice
Add enough ice cubes to nearly fill a highball glass. Pour in the Vodka. Pour in the Orange Juice. Stir. Garnish with an orange wedge.
#10: Moscow Mule
1.5 ounces Vodka
3 ounces Ginger Beer
1 teaspoon Simple Syrup
1/4 ounce Lime Juice
Fill a lowball glass with ice cubes. Pour in Vodka, Simple Syrup, and Lime Juice. Stir. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with mint sprig and lime wedge.
#11: White Russian
2 ounces Vodka
1 ounce Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua)
Half & Half (or Whole Milk)
Fill a lowball glass with ice cubes. Pour in Vodka. Pour in Coffee Liqueur. Slowly fill the glass with Half & Half so that it floats on top of the Vodka & Coffee Liqueur. Garnish with a maraschino cherry is desired.
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Yes, there are other “basic” cocktails that you should know (Whiskey Sour, Tom Collins, Gin Rickey, Bloody Mary) but these cocktails should give you a good foundation for how to mix a proper drink.
Go check out Home Bar 102 – The Hardware for the glasses, shakers, etc. you’ll need. And, go have a look at Home Bar 101 for my recommendations on 5 Basic Bottles of Booze.