Cocktails


  1. The basics at home
    1. Tools
    2. Upgrades and alternatives
    3. Maybe you just want a damned shopping list
  2. Spirits at home (and at bars)
    1. Must-have spirits for mixing
    2. Must-have mixers, bitters, and garnishes
    3. Rum, Tequila & Mezcal
    4. Rounding out the collection
    5. Bonus round
  3. Building and serving cocktails
    1. Technique
    2. Glossary
    3. Balance
    4. Notes on the recipes
  4. The cocktails you must know (and build well)
    1. Manhattan (8:3 - 4:1)
    2. Martini (4:1 - 8:1)
    3. Daiquiri (4:2:1)
    4. Negroni (2:1:1)
    5. Old-Fashioned
  5. Cocktails that are not as essential but still great
    1. Boulevardier (2:1:1)
    2. Old Pal (8:3:3)
    3. Sazerac
    4. Vieux carré
    5. Vesper
  6. Even more cocktails
    1. Margarita
    2. Whiskey sour
    3. Sidecar
    4. Penicillin
    5. Rusty Nail (4:1)
    6. Toronto
  7. “Daytime” cocktails
    1. Corpse Reviver No. 2
    2. French 75
    3. Champagne cocktail
    4. The Bloody Maria
    5. The Americano (1:1)
    6. Bitters & Soda
  8. J’adore: rarities and oddities
    1. Red Hook & Meat Hook
    2. Black Diamond flip
    3. Last Word and Final Ward
    4. Fitty-Fitty
    5. Trinidad sour
    6. Philadelphia Fish House Punch
    7. Hernando’s Got Moxie

The basics at home

Tools

Don’t buy an n-piece bar set, they’re all overpriced, have things you don’t need at home (speed pours, shallow jiggers, another damned wine key) and are missing things you do need (juicers, peelers).

Ice, preferably party ice
Ice is key. You truly do want to both chill and dilute the ingredients. And no, we’re not fucking with you: you have to use more ice than you think, and clean, clear party ice will handily beat the half-sublimated cubes that have absorbed the flavor of every other item in your freezer. We dump it out into a few airtight 2qt deli containers to keep it from developing off-taste. Also keeps sublimation/refreezing from turning it into one massive brick. (No matter what ice you use, make sure it is tempered before you start.)
Jiggers
Get the steel 2 oz. OXO graduated jigger and a deep conical jigger. The latter is not strictly necessary, but the former lacks a ¾ oz. measure.
Cocktail strainer and mesh strainer
More OXO: Hawthorne strainer. The Cocktail Kingdom fine strainer is, remarkably, cheaper, but can be unwieldy compared to the OXO.
Boston shaker
Ditch the expensive, cobbler shaker chocola‘tini’ Sandra Lee shit. A $6, 30 oz. tin shaker will be all you need when paired with
Pint glasses

No Amazon link here; go to your local restaurant supply store and ask for rim-tempered 16 oz. pint glasses. Do not buy the 14 oz. “cheater pints”, but take a look at the difference so you know which bars would rather treat you like an idiot than charge a little bit more for a beer.

You now also have a shitload of great, everyday beer and cider glasses. Keep a few in the fridge. Give some away. Change the world.

Rubber bar mats
Cheap, catches spills, easily cleaned in the sink or dishwasher.
Miscellanea
Barspoon. ‘Y’ peeler. Channel knife. Citrus juicer. Double rocks glasses. 5″ and 7″ coffee straws. Coupes. Classic champagne flutes. Conical Martini glasses are optional. Get a muddler if you must. If you want crushed ice for drinks, get a canvas (Lewis) bag, to go along with.

Upgrades and alternatives

Private Preserve™
A “wine preservation system” that will allow you to stretch vermouth over longer periods. Also useful for preserving high-end spirits, if you have a big collection. Not like vac-savers; instead, nonreactive compressed gasses displace oxygen in the bottle.
Presentation ice (“big rocks”)
If you want fancy, clear ice cubes, don’t bother with silicone trays or expensive kits. You only need a cooler and AMAC boxes.
Tin-on-tin shaker
Should be your first pick if you don’t want or need pint glasses; lighter and easier to separate. Get the Koriko tins. When storing, the large one stacks inside the small one.
Koriko hawthorne strainer
While big and heavy and a bit more annoying to clean than the OXO, the flexible spring on the strainer acts as a fine strainer, trapping ice shards and pulp, and allows you to have just one device between the drink and glass.
Ice scoop
We slum it with an extra tin shaker, but a legit ice scoop is a nice thing to have.
Ice bucket and tongs
We often temper ice in a mixing bowl and use our hands, but again, that is slumming it.
Mixing glass, julep strainer
Pretty, and expensive, but easier stirring and straining. Hey pal, it’s your money. A cheap, if less sexy, alternative: Pyrex low form Griffin beaker, 600ml. The julep strainer works in a normal pint glass or tin though.
Speed pours
Get these if you want, just realize you (yes you) are bad at counting and eyeballing, and still have to measure. You also have to account for fruit flies having easy access to your booze now. Cap or plug them when not in use, and clean them regularly.
High-precision kitchen scale
Necessary for making simple syrup, amongst other things. Typical ones for baking aren’t nearly precise enough, but tenth-gram scales are relatively inexpensive.

Maybe you just want a damned shopping list

Most of the Cocktail Kingdom stuff also comes in more expensive, copper-, silver-, or gold-plated/rimmed versions, if you really want to show off, but be warned: they will develop scratches no matter what you do, and can only by hand-washed.



Basic Price Alternatives/upgrades Price
Metal graduated jigger$7 Deep conical jiggers$8 + $9
Boston shaker$6 Koriko tin shaker set$17
Pint glasses (2 doz.)$18.50 (@77¢ ea.) Wide mixing glassAbout $40 (or $8)
Julep strainer$11
OXO Hawthorne strainer$7 ♔ Hawthorne strainer$15
Fine strain$7
12″ barspoon$5-$10
Citrus press$20
7.5 oz. coupe glasses (6)$42 (@$7 ea.)6 oz. coupe glasses (6)$34 (@$5.66 ea.)
15 oz. double rocks (4)$24 (@$6 ea.)
Rubber bar mats~$15 ea.
Badass muddler$13
Lewis bag$7
.1g precision scale$18

Spirits, at home (and at bars)

Keep it basic. You are probably way too enthusiastic about craft cocktails right now and want to buy some akvavit. Big problem: you are not used to akvavit. You probably aren’t even all that acclimated to caraway, and none of your friends will want to try that akvavit bloody mary you saw on the internet.

You also don’t want to throw money away on an expensive spirit in a cocktail, since at about drink number two or three discernment goes right out the window anyway. (If this is not the case for you and are not very large individual, consider toning down your drinking.)

You should have both clear and aged spirits, at the least vodka, gin, bourbon, and rye. If you’re balking at the vodka requirement, consider:

A few rules of thumb:

Must-have spirits for mixing

Bourbon: Maker’s (90 proof) or Bulleit (95 proof)

Both are widely available and inexpensive, great-tasting, with distinctive, attractive bottles.

Alternatives: A slight step down are the bar well staples Evan Williams black label (86 proof) and white label (100 proof). Also try the high-rye Old Grand-Dad bonded (100 proof), and Elijah Craig Small Batch (94 proof).

Avoid: Jim Beam, Old Crow (literally the stuff that’s not good enough to be Jim Beam), Jack Daniel’s (not a bourbon, but close enough). You may recall that the bastards at Brown–Forman watered it down. Don’t drink Woodford Reserve, either. Refer to the “and Coke” rule.

Rye: Rittenhouse (100 proof)

Rye whiskey is a working man’s whiskey. The subject of Appalachian folk music telling of ruin and degradation. It is not supposed to be expensive. It is not supposed to be subtle.

Rittenhouse is inexpensive, It used to be cheap. Sigh. spicy, clove-y, and bottled in bond. It stands up to strong flavors of mixers like Campari, and makes itself known in the middling Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds assembled by apathetic bartenders. It’s the backbone of thousands of trite, seven-ingredient house cocktails. It will not be the best whiskey you ever drink, but it is the best whiskey for mixing drinks.

Alternatives: Bulleit Rye (95 proof) or Old Overholt (80 proof) are workhorses, less bold than Rittenhouse and accessible to a wider range of palates. In the other direction, the new Pikesville (110 proof) is Rittenhouse Plus: same distiller and mash bill, higher proof and aged longer.

Avoid: any rye from a “craft” distillery that doesn’t readily disclose its origins (which will be MGP). Templeton, e.g., is made from the same MGP rye as Bulleit (but is 50% more expensive).

Gin: Tanqueray (94 proof), Beefeater (94 proof)

Easy picks: they are the right proof, the right flavor profile (a classic gin cocktail should taste of juniper, goddamn it!), and the right price.

Alternatives: American tonic is way too sweet; pair Bruichladdich Botanist (92 proof) with Fever Tree Naturally Light tonic for the only G&T worth drinking. Also try Plymouth Gin (82 proof).

Avoid: Bombay Sapphire, which is so lightly flavored it should be considered bad vodka.

Vodka: Belvedere (80 proof) or Belvedere Intense (80 or 100 proof), + any mid-grade neutral vodka

Yes, yes, vodka is flavorless, it’s all marketing, there are all those dumb flavors, cosmos suck, Sex & the City sucked, okay, whatever. Get it out of your system. Besides, Belvedere is not completely neutral. We (poorly) conducted an informal, N=2, single-blind study; Belvedere was the only vodka the subjects could identify. Taste losers: Ketel, Smirnoff.

You should also have a 80 or 100-proof neutral vodka sitting around for other purposes (your basic-ass friends that only drink vodka sodas, making Vespers, and the odd pie crust or pasta sauce).

Must-have mixers, bitters, and garnishes

Campari
If you do not have Campari, you do not have a functional bar, full stop. Not only for Negronis, either; this sweet, grapefruity liqueur bittered with wormwood Yes, wormwood; see absinthe, below. Jeppson’s Malört (70 proof), a Chicago staple, is bittered with it to an extreme. It too is grapefruity and sweet—Campari on hard mode. has shocking versatility.
Luxardo Maraschino
A liqueur made with sour cherries. Worth it alone for the Hemingway Daiquiri. With green Chartreuse, the vital complement to the spirit + citrus in Last Words and Final Wards.
Dry vermouth, sweet vermouth (Dolin)
Like any wine, oxygen is the enemy with vermouth: it starts going bad as soon as you open it. A standard 750ml bottle is also a lot of vermouth. You can stick it in the fridge to slow down the process, but you’re better off buying the 375ml bottles of Dolin till you know how fast you can go through it.
Simple syrup or sugar cubes

When you make simple syrup, do it by weight, not by volume: 1g (or mL) water for every 1g of sugar. You can easily make a small amount in a couple minutes with warm water and agitation (and you have a shaker now, don’t you?). Be careful, cf. dry shake, below. You won’t ever need anything other than 1:1 simple. Put it in a cheap squirt bottle. It will last about a month in the fridge.

Standard 4g sugar cubes are fine in a pinch, though, and are roughly equivalent to ¼ oz. 1:1 simple. (Our bar napkin math shows that the latter is about 4.5g sugar.)

Angostura
Peychaud’s
Orange bitters (Ango or Regan’s)

These few bitters will get you through almost the whole gamut of cocktails.

Cherries (Luxardo), green olives, cocktail onions
Get the Luxardo maraschino cherries; Or put pitted cherries in a clean jar, cover with aged liquor, and wait the Red #40 kind belong only in pies. The olives and onions are left to your discretion, but we encourage you to get cracked olives instead of pitted/stuffed (warn your guests).

Rum, Tequila & Mezcal

Silver rum: Barbancourt Rhum Blanc (80 proof), Mount Gay Eclipse Silver (80 proof)

The Barbancourt is Haitian agricole rum, made with sugarcane juice instead of molasses, and has a fresh, grassy flavor. The Mount Gay is always good for a couple blue jokes.

Alternatives: Wray & Nephew Overproof (126 proof) for making punches and lighting things on fire.

Aged rum: Appleton Estate 12 year (86 proof)

Delicious, slightly funky, and inexpensive aged Jamaican rum.

Alternatives: Smith & Cross Navy Strength (114 proof, tastes like bananas), and the relatively pricey Ron Zacapa Sistema Solera 23 (80 proof). soleras are blends; the age statement reflects only the oldest component.

Blackstrap rum: Gosling’s or Cruzan (80 proof)

You can’t really win with a blackstrap rum. It’s for mixing ginger beer into. Gosling’s is the default.

As for ginger beer, we can recommend nothing other than Cock & Bull, with Bundaberg as a runner-up.

Silver tequila: Sauza Blue Silver (80 proof)

Alternatives: the Brown-Forman-owned (sigh) El Jimador Blanco (80 proof). Both are 100% agave and great for tequila cocktails. If you want to go upmarket, any blanco you like should be fine if it has a NOM identifier.

Avoid: Sauza Blanco, Cuervo, anything else not 100% agave.

Mixing mezcal: Del Maguey Vida (84 proof)

Alternatives: Wahaka Espadin (80 proof). If you want a sipping mezcal, try El Jolgorio Nuestra Soledad (90.6 proof).

Rounding out the collection

Cognac: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula (90 proof)

We struggle to think of anything nice to say about everyday cognacs. Pierre Ferrand 1840 is (supposedly) close to the style of higher-proof brandy used in the original Sazerac, in the 1800s. We happen to like the flavor, too.

Triple sec: Cointreau (80 proof)

Often paired with acidic juice (in drinks like the Margarita, Sidecar, and, yes, the Cosmo).

Alternatives: the less pricey Combier (80 proof) is as good as Cointreau, but harder to find.

Avoid: DeKuyper, Bols, &c; you know, trashy, low-proof ones used for Long Island Iced Teas. Also, the cognac-based Grand Marnier is used as a triple sec substitute, but its flavor more often than not clashes with whatever else is in the glass.

Brut sparkling wines
For a dollar or two more than Californian pretenders like André or Cook’s, you can get Spanish Cavas such as those by Vega Medien and Segura Viudas. They’re similar to Champagne, including manufacturing method, but are made with different grape varietals. Go to your local wine warehouse and stock up.
Fernet-Branca

The San Francisco Treat. Bartender’s Mouthwash. &c. A bracing, bitter mint liqueur almost as strong as most as liquor (78 proof). Try it by itself as a digestif. Some crazy people mix this 1:1 with Campari and sip it. We’re still trying to figure that one out.

Absinthe

All right. You want absinthe. We like the St. George Absinthe (120 proof), not only for its flavor, but for its status (first post-“thujone-free” American absinthe) and the manifest passion of the man who made it. Thujone has never been present in absinthe at clinically significant concentrations; bohemians were, unsurprisingly, getting drunk. What cleared absinthe for sale was defining “thujone-free” as <10ppm. Available in 200ml bottles if you just want to use it for Sazeracs. Other absinthes and substitutes (Herbsaint, but not Pernod) can work. To be honest we’re not all that big on anise, you should seek out true fans.

Scotch
Malt snobbery connoisseurship knows no bounds. Get a blended Scotch (Famous Grouse or even Dewar’s white label), a blended peaty Scotch (Johnnie Walker Black) and a single malt peaty Scotch (Ardbeg 10 or Laphroaig 10). For fun, buy a bottle of Macallan 18 and refill it with diluted Macallan Cask Strength; see if anyone notices.
Green Chartreuse

110 proof, herbal as fuck, drinks like a scratchy wool scarf that has cough syrup spilled on it

Andrew Bohrer
It’s also expensive and not frequently used. Génépy des Alpes works as a cheaper substitute in a pinch. Its cousin Yellow Chartreuse (80 proof) is much less intense and sweeter still. Both also come in VEP versions, oak-aged and doubly expensive.
St. Germain
Sweet, tart, and pleasantly herbal, like an obscure confection. Above all, it’s compatible with just about anything, which is why this 40 proof liqueur is half-derisively, half-lovingly called “bartender’s ketchup.” The basic template of not-too-junipery gin or vodka + St. Germain + any citrus juice + wildcard (usu. bitters) will help deceive your friends into thinking you’re some sort of cocktail wunderkind.
Carpano Antica Formula
Sweet vermouth upgrade. Sweeter than Dolin, so adjust accordingly. Mostly available in 1L bottles (good luck finishing that before it oxidizes), but you should be able to find tolerably expensive 375 mils.

Bonus round

Obscure or rarely used booze and other ingredients that will either become standbys or become white elephant gifts. Be careful.

Ancho Reyes (80 proof)
Spicy chile liqueur.
Bénédictine (80 proof)
Honey-sweet and orangey herbal liqueur. The cheaper B & B (literally Bénédictine and brandy) can substitute if needed.
Cynar (35 or 70 proof)
Artichoke-based and bittersweet, this amaro substitutes well for Campari (and is owned by Campari Group). The recently-introduced 70 proof version is positioned as a chilled-shot competitor to Jäger, but is otherwise the same (and being higher proof, preferred).
Domaine de Canton (56 proof)
Cognac-based spicy ginger liqueur.
Midori (40 proof)
Hahahahah no. Just checking if you were still paying attention.
Underberg
Comes only in 20ml (⅔ oz) bottles that force you to savor the bitter but anise-forward flavor instead of shooting. Good if you want to be turned off from drinking for a while.
Bittermens Hellfire Habanero shrub
Add it to margaritas.
Cocchi Americano
Spiritual successor to the defunct Kina Lillet; today’s Lillet Blanc has only a trace of quinine. See discussion at Vesper. Be sure to get the bianco, Cocchi Americano Rosa is quite different.
Japanese whisky
Patterned after Scotch whisky, and typically very pricey. For a complete run-down on Japanese whisky, loudly call it “Japanese Scotch” in earshot of a drunk white man at a high-end bar. Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu 12 are all quite good. Nikka’s Coffey Grain Whisky is good if hard to parse (a grain whisky, as opposed to a malt, distilled in a Coffey still).
Orgeat, falernum
Both almond-based, found exclusively in tiki drinks. The former is a syrup flavored with orange flower water, the latter a rum liqueur with ginger, clove and lime. Cheater orgeat can easily be made with commercial almond milk, sugar, and orange flower water.
Random amari and liqueurs
Ones you’re likely to actually consume include Becherovka, less abrasive Fernets such as the Mexican Fernet-Vallet that’s an Italian pronunciation on “Fernet” and a French on “Vallet”. Truly cosmopolitan. and the American Letherbee Fernet, and Génépy des Alpes. Gran Classico amaro is often substituted as a less harsh Campari-alike. Crèmes de Peche, Violette, &c are good to have on hand if you like, avoid the bottom shelf.
Random cocktail bitters
Don’t get these unless you’re adventurous, make a lot of wacky Old-Fashioneds, or are copying a favorite cocktail from a bar. Bittermens makes a handful of neat bitters in addition to the shrubs, particularly the Mole and Grapefruit. Scrappy’s Bitters come in useful (but un-dashable) micro-bottle gift packs so you’re not committed to a large amount of bitters. Fee Brothers is common, and the Black Walnut is nice, but they’re non-alcoholic so are not true bitters.

Building and serving cocktails

Technique

The glossary below has all the info you need. Things to keep in mind, though:

Glossary

scooping ice
Shove the tin shaker in there. You dingus.
tempering ice
Allow your ice some time to come up to 32°F from your much colder freezer; it will look wet and glossy instead of dry. This comes straight from Liquid Intelligence, which helped us debug several cocktailing issues. Drain excess water off the ice with your Hawthorne strainer in the big tin before using.
taste testing
Think of it like cooking: taste as you go, because you will end up forgetting or mismeasuring things. Dip a straw in, stir, and cap it with your finger to grab a sample, then draw the sample end in your mouth and lift your finger. We feel silly writing this out but most everyone we’ve presented a straw and shaker to as a “hey, try this” gesture inevitably tries to drink from it normally. Do this often, as well as before and after dilution to get a feel for what it will taste like and how the drink changes.
stir or shake?
In general, you shake citrus juice and/or egg white, and stir everything else. It’s a one-way street: you can shake a Martini, and you might even get away with a shaken Manhattan, It’s gauche and we would never do that, but it only dilutes things a bit more. The ice slivers and aeration aren’t that bothersome but stirred Daiquiri or Margarita is lifeless.
juicing citrus in a press

Cut in half. Place cut side down in the press, and, well, press. It will come out the holes and eventually the sides, hold it at an angle and let the juice run down at that point. Repeat.

Most every cocktail with citrus will be fine strained after shaking. If you are opting not to fine strain after the shake or are juicing a batch of fruit, you can fine strain pulp before use.

“stir”
Assemble ingredients with tempered ice in mixing glass or tin; stir with barspoon (or whatever you have) for fifteen to twenty seconds to ensure ingredients are mixed and diluted. The liquid and ice reach equal temperature quickly, don’t panic about it getting “watered down” after stirring.
“shake”

Assemble ingredients with tempered ice in mixing glass or tin; push the other component on it at an angle, and give it a solid bump with your fist or palm to seal it. The assembled shaker should be flush on one side. Pick up and shake vigorously, glass (or small tin) side toward you, keeping people out of the line of shaking. This shatters the ice, and will chill the drink faster, so eight to ten seconds are enough.

Disassembly can be tricky, especially with glass-on-tin, since only one component can flex. The large tin should be pointing down, flush side toward you. If squeezing the large tin doesn’t break the seal, hold it in one hand, thumb pressing on the upper tin or glass, and open palm slam the gap just to the left or right of the flush section to let air in. This is hard to express in text. Watch a video, or better yet, ask a bartender to demo. (You can practice this maneuver with an empty shaker first, and then by shaking with ice and a few ounces of water.) If you do it quickly, some of the drink will still be clinging to the upper tin. Let it run down into the larger vessel.

“dry shake”

Actually a shake without ice, used mostly with raw egg white. Be careful, since without chilling you will have the opposite of a separation problem; use both hands. Remember middle school physics? With constant volume, the pressure of a gas is proportional to temperature. Shaking the ice lowers the temperature in the shaker, thus the pressure, so atmospheric pressure helps hold it together.

You can pop the spring off of the cocktail strainer and drop it in to speed up integration, but stopping to rinse off raw egg goop and reassemble isn’t great. Best to shake quite hard for twenty seconds.

“muddle”
You don’t need a muddler to crush sugar cubes; the back of a spoon will do. Herbs should be treated gently. Otherwise, make smashy smashy.
“strain…”
Place cocktail strainer over shaker or glass (the spring is so it fits both). Pour.
“fine strain…”
Use the cocktail strainer, but also pour through a mesh strainer to the glass to remove fine matter (like pulp or shattered ice) from the final product. Return shaker to vertical for a few beats and pour again to get the last of the drink out. Tapping the mesh strainer with the bottom of the shaker will help it flow faster by dislodging material settled into the mesh.
“…into cocktail glass”
Confession: we don’t have the traditional conical cocktail (‘martini’) glasses at home. Most younger drinkers have never seen the original cocktail glass, a modest 4 oz. vessel that holds half of a modern cocktail and only one olive. Hence Bond demanding his Vesper in a champagne coupe—no way a cocktail glass in his day could hold that much booze. (It also doesn’t slosh as wildly when carried about.) You can make do with pouring drinks up into double rocks glasses, but you ought to read this as ‘coupe’.
chilled glass
You are probably not blessed with a cavernous refrigerator. Speed chill glassware by filling with ice and then water, it will be ready in about a minute.
“float”
The goal here is aromatic, using a small amount that would otherwise be lost if mixed into the drink. Pour ¼-⅓ oz. onto the back of a spoon that's just piercing the surface of the drink.
“rinse”
Pour a small amount and swirl (in a coupe) or roll (in a rocks glass) until the inside is coated. Excess liquor should be consumed, not discarded. The commercial solution for reducing overpour waste on floats and rinses is a $9 olive oil sprayer.
“peel”
Use a paring knife or ‘Y’ peeler to slice a strip of peel off; squeeze the peel (pith side in) to express oils. Optionally rub the peel on the rim of the glass as if that affects a goddamned thing about how the product tastes, or flame the peel to burn away oil because, uh, you’re intent on wasting fruit. The glass and drink will be covered in the aromatic oil, so adding the peel to the drink is purely visual.
“twist”
Use your channel knife to pull a decent length of peel off of the citrus; oils will spray off the peel, make sure they land on the drink. Manually twist into a tight coil. Anything short of three loops to the twist looks weird.
“rim”
“Rim” as transitive verb should only happen between consenting adults after performing ablutions.

Balance

The interplay between all the ingredients you put in a cocktail is not rocket science. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but something to keep in mind as you make drinks for yourself and others.

Notes on the recipes

The stated measures and ratios are to our preference, not yours. Try building the cocktails at various ratios (2:1, 8:3, 3:1, 4:1…) and note the differences. Finding your preference is key, but be sure to play with it often (a foolish consistency &c).

Measurements are in God-fearing, flag-waving, coal-rolling U.S. fluid ounces. For those of you blessed by the metric system, one fluid ounce is very nearly 30mL. Egg sizing varies by country so go check Wikipedia for that shit.

Finally, stated measures in the recipes are geared toward an average, healthy, U.S. adult male consuming two or maybe three cocktails in an evening.

The cocktails you must know (and build well)

Manhattan (8:3 - 4:1)

You think a drink with a mere three ingredients and a garnish would be hard to fuck up. At bars we often clarify our order with “very little vermouth.” (“Like what, a half ounce?”)

Anyone who cares about cocktails has a “bad Manhattan” story: you go to an unfamiliar restaurant, order a bourbon or rye Manhattan, and get back a sickly-red sugar bomb with a heavy hit of maraschino cherry syrup and a faint aftertaste of whiskey. You switch to beer for the remainder of your stay, and hope that the food, at least, is not stuck in 1985.

Stir; strain into chilled cocktail glass; add cherry.

Variations: ¼ oz. dry ¼ oz. sweet vermouth (Manhattan Perfect); ½ oz. dry vermouth (Manhattan Dry; best with bourbon). Use orange twist instead of cherry with both.

This is a place where you should play with the ratios and amount of bitters. Our preferences land here; 5:1 and beyond seem like chilled whiskey in a glass, 2:1 like chilled vermouth. People also like to throw a shitton of bitters in the thing, but we think it should blush, not bleed.

Martini (4:1 - 8:1)

A martini without vermouth is not a martini. A martini with too much vermouth is not a martini. A martini with olive brine is just gross.

Stir, or shake; strain into chilled cocktail glass (use fine strain if shaken); add olive or two.

Variations: all in the garnish: lemon twist, lemon peel, cocktail onion (the Gibson). You can throw a pinch of salt in and shake for someone that wants a dirty martini. Also interesting, the Coudal ‘Perfect’ ‘martini’, linked above, goes for a slush effect with extensive shaking, though their vermouth aversion is silly. If you are also averse to vermouth, go straight to the Fitty-Fitty.

Daiquiri (4:2:1)

A cocktail so nearly obliterated by the end of the 20th century that some bartenders still respond to an order of it with “we don’t have a blender”. A shame.

Shake, fine strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with lime wedge.

Variations: the Hemingway Daiquiri subs grapefruit juice and Maraschino for the simple syrup and is exquisite. Use a half ounce of each instead of the simple, and drop the lime to ¾ oz. (8:3:2:2).

A Gimlet is made with gin or vodka instead of rum. (And Rose’s sweetened lime juice, not fresh juice and simple, but, ugh.)

You can push the lime and sugar down further if you want, but not much.

Negroni (2:1:1)

Amari can be unsubtle. A traditional equal-parts negroni mostly tastes like Campari to us, increasing the proportion of base spirit rounds out the drink. You’re also replacing sugar-calories with alcohol-calories, always a win.

Stir, strain into chilled cocktail glass or rocks glass (with one big rock, if you have ’em). Garnish with orange twist or peel.

Variations: blanc vermouth or dry vermouth work well. The Boulevardier and Old Pal, below, are taxonomically similar to it, with whiskey instead of gin. If at a well-equipped bar, try a white negroni (gin, Suze, Lillet). The only thing a bottle of Suze will do at your house is collect dust.

Old-Fashioned

Some insist on the bitters/sugar cube/water routine. We say: if you have the simple, use it. Sugar water is sugar water. Besides, a cube is a fixed amount of sugar. Simple gives you better control. If it’s not clear from the rest of this guide, we prefer drier cocktails. Depending on your preference, age, or the age of the person you learned to drink from, you may use soda water. Not our bag. By all means, do it, but please use restraint. Muddling the fruit, though, is verboten.

Soak sugar cube with bitters in double rocks or mixing glass. Tweedy types may start with the cube on a bar napkin to soak away excess bitters. You’re not tweedy. Add just enough water and break up cube with muddler. Add whiskey, then ice to fill (or pour over big rock, if you have it). Express citrus twist or peel (bourbon: orange, rye: lemon) over glass and drop in. Add cherry if desired.

Variations: enough to start holy wars. Some muddle the peel before adding the whiskey (not the same as smashing an orange slice) but that doesn’t seem to bring much of an effect to the final product. Angostura may be substituted with any bitters on hand. Demerara sugar is a common sub, particularly in the form of twee, overpriced “rough” sugar lumps.

We have been known to dump whiskey over rocks, add a few dashes of bitters, stir with a finger, and stare for a second at an orange before deciding: fuck it, it’s close enough.

Cocktails that are not as essential but still great

Boulevardier (2:1:1)

Like a Negroni, but with bourbon. That’s it.

Old Pal (8:3:3)

Delicious, powerful, and somewhat dry, the Old Pal is a great preprandial (and if you’re like we are, also mid- and postprandial) drink.

Stir; strain over rocks or up, to your preference. Add lemon twist or peel.

Variations: though heresy for a negroni-like drink, we always go without the citrus. We also love this drink at ratios from 8:3:3 to 1:1:1. (We may like Rittenhouse too much.)

Sazerac

“The Reason to Have Peychaud’s and Absinthe” would be too long a name.

Assemble bitters and sugar (refer to the Old-Fashioned recipe for the sugar cube routine) and whiskey in a mixing glass; add ice, stir. Rinse chilled double rocks glass with absinthe. A lot of recipes say “discard excess”. Don’t. If you overpour, you could put it back in the bottle; or, you know, into a small glass with ice and let it louche, to be served as a back to the sazerac. Just a suggestion. Strain drink into prepared glass, express lemon twist/peel over drink and drop in.

Variations: please don’t. Don’t serve on the rocks, don’t substitute bitters.

Vieux carré

The French Quarter (lit.: ‘old square’). A good way to annoy your bartender as they rack up eight items at their station while tickets pile up.

Stir, strain into chilled double rocks glass. Add lemon peel.

Vesper

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

Would if we could, Ian, but those ingredients are either reformulated or extinct. Cocchi Americano is widely available (the same importer also brings in Dolin) so that’s our go-to for replacing the Kina Lillet. Problem is, one bottle of it makes fifty Vespers and only lasts a couple weeks. It is both quite sweet and quinine-bitter so you can hardly put more of it in the drink. Corpse Revivers require a full ounce, but that still won’t get you through it. We’ve taken to making spritzers with it.

Remember, Ian Fleming was a lush. Drink but one of these.

Shake, fine strain into chilled coupe, add lemon peel or twist.

Variations: shake longer and skip the fine strain if you want the totally-to-spec version, but Fleming was just trying to make Bond, well, Bond.

Even more cocktails

Margarita

Fuck. Okay. (Deep breaths. We can do this.)

Most margaritas in America are execrable. (Some of them are merely very bad.) A trend of “correcting” saccharine margaritas with light lager beer apparently led to InBev creating some unholy beverage-like product that we try not to think about.

Use good triple sec and fresh lime juice, nothing else. The standard proportions are insane, and you want to make that expensive liqueur last, so think twice before increasing it. (Psst: if you want it to be sweeter, add simple syrup.)

Rimming is still the enemy! Put a pinch of kosher salt in the shaker, it’s more consistent. In bit of excess inspired by Liquid Intelligence, we use 5 or 6 drops from a dropper bottle containing 20w/w% saline.

Shake, fine strain into double rocks glass filled with ice.

Variations: replace Some of the tequila with mezcal, or a small amount of the lime juice with lemon juice. In general, tequila and lime pair with capsaicin, so you can easily add jalapeño or habanero; you don’t need a lot of heat for an improvement.

Whiskey sour

Use the egg white unless you need to avoid raw foods; it also gives you a chance to shake a whiskey-based drink. You can optionally doodle a design with bitters on the resulting foam. Just like a real craft bartender.

If you don’t have great white/yolk separation skills, strain the yolk away with your fingers and wash your hands.

Assemble ingredients and dry shake vigorously, then add ice and shake normally. Fine strain into cocktail glass.

Variations: some people like their ‘sours’ quite sweet; e.g. Dave Arnold’s Rittenhouse sour uses only ½ oz. lemon juice and a whopping ¾ oz. of simple. Best to ask both how tart and how sweet someone wants the drink to be.

Sidecar

Shake, strain into cocktail glass (fine strain if preferred). Lemon twist garnish.

Variations: there’s a reason we put this next to the whiskey sour: you can use egg white (hint, hint). You can also use lime juice instead of lemon juice, w/w/o the egg white.

Penicillin

One of the early (and still one of the best) cocktails of the “craft” movement. As conceived it is a batch-preperation cocktail, but with a little patience, a kitchen scale, and a little ginger root, you can make a great one-shot version with no prep.

The goals are to reduce waste, equipment needed, and cleaning time, and to avoid the annoyance of measuring a volume of honey.

Add water to mixing tin, place on kitchen scale, tare. Squeeze in desired amount of honey and stir until dissolved. Add ginger, lemon juice and blended Scotch, then stir again and taste test (it should have a nice kick). Shake and fine strain into rocks glass with ice. Add float of peaty single malt and lemon peel.

Variations: too much effort? Try the Debonaire cocktail: 2½ oz. moderately peaty Scotch (think Highland Park 12, or Johnnie Black), ¾ oz. Domaine de Canton. Stir, strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Rusty Nail (4:1)

Scotch is sweet, Drambuie is sweeter, which is why the traditional Nail (2:1 or even 1:1) is a sugar-bomb you associate with your grandmother. It took much coaxing (and a few Penicillins) before we were willing to even try this.

Stir; strain into double rocks glass over ice; add lemon peel.

Variations: there’s little sugar in the drink, but nothing to offset it, either. For improved balance, float a heavily-peated single malt or build with a peated blended Scotch. A dash or so of bitters helps too.

Toronto

This is just a weird one, and we’re saying that as lovers of both rye and Fernet-Branca. Against the laws of nature or something. But the combination works.

Stir, strain into chilled cocktail glass, add orange peel.

“Daytime” cocktails

Truly anytime cocktails, but traditionally associated with hair-of-the-dog or brunch drinking. Both of those are bad ideas, but hey, it’s your liver and your headache.

Corpse Reviver No. 2

Again, the original formulation used Kina Lillet (cf. Vesper), and again, we use Cocchi Americano.

Rinse chilled cocktail glass with absinthe. Shake, fine strain into prepared glass. Add cherry.

French 75

There are two versions of this cocktail floating around: one with gin, one with cognac. The former is the superior one. Try the slightly sweet and less junipery Plymouth Gin over a London dry.

Stir the first three ingredients (a mini-Tom Collins base), fine strain into flute, fill with champagne. Add long lemon twist.

Variations: grapefruit juice works well; it’s less acidic and sweeter than lemon, so omit the simple.

Champagne cocktail

The sugar cube is not so much to sweeten (which it will, slowly, as the drink sits) as for effect: it provides a rough surface for cavitation to continuously occur. The bitters will cause immediate foaming, so err on the side of less.

You can batch-prep by putting cubes in flutes, but do not allow the bitters or bubbly to sit idle, even for a minute. The transition is from dry to sweet, not sweet to flat.

Place cube in champagne flute. A coupe may lose carbonation faster, but the real problem here is it doesn’t look as good. Hit with a dash of bitters, fill slowly with champagne and serve immediately.

Variations: instead of the sugar and bitters, use a barspoon or so of liqueur (St. Germain; crème de cassis for a Kir royale; or try crème de pêche for a cheater Bellini). Avoid Death in the Afternoon, a waste of good absinthe and even not-so-good bubbly.

The Bloody Maria

You can use vodka here, but why? A common way to punch up the flavor is liquid smoke, so to cut the middleman out we just use mezcal.

This is one of the few drinks where eyeballing and winging it will work out fine, so feel free to change out or even omit anything but the tomato juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire. Avoid going too hard on the capsaicin.

The Lea & Perrins contains anchovy, which we bolster with anchovy paste. There is no such thing as a vegan Bloody Mary. That doesn’t mean it is not delicious: it’s just not a Bloody Mary. We also assume that you do not consume tomato juice on the regular, so the thin but extremely convenient canned Campbell’s is backed up with double-concentrated tomato paste, a tube of which is handy to keep around anyway.

Hangover sufferers should omit the alcohol. Your liver took enough damage.

Put the citrus juice, tomato paste, anchovy paste, and Worcestershire in a pint glass. Break up the anchovy and tomato paste (an actual use for a muddler). Add rest of ingredients, cover with ice. Either roll the ingredients between two glasses or gently shake in an Boston shaker (rinse the tin promptly) to chill and mix without cracking the ice. Serve in situ with appropriate garnish.

Variations: endless. Some that spring to mind: Colman’s mustard instead of the horseradish; Frank’s Red Hot, Secret Aardvark, or whatever hot sauces; cayenne pepper, soy sauce.

The Americano

Refreshing and bittersweet, the americano cocktail should be a brunchtime staple. Instead you get pitchers of Mimosas (which are awful no matter the format) and are left hoping that the French 75 will be on the menu because you know that trying to get an order of this through your server to the bartender will be hopeless.

Assemble in a larger double rocks glass or pint glass (or Collins, if you have it) with ice. Add the soda first, otherwise it will just float at the top. Garnish with orange twist.

Variations: the basic Campari & soda, or Cynar & soda.

Bitters & Soda

Ah, yes. The alcoholic’s Crystal Light.

We’re not mad; this is sorely neglected as a restorative. You don’t want to consume more alcohol, and the amount is negligible in ¼ oz. of Angostura. You want something flavorful, and even diluted 50 times by soda, that much Ango is still powerful.

The deep ruby color is essential, and we recommend at least a dash per ounce, but you can go lighter.

Put ice in a large glass (16 oz. or more), pour soda (leave room at the top), dash bitters (it will foam, which is why you left room), stir with straw (up-and-down round-and-round), and top it off. cf. Champagne cocktail: if you add the bitters first, it will foam even more Lime garnish.

J’adore: rarities and oddities

You don’t need to run out and buy all the ingredients: all you need to do is visit a well-equipped bar with a knowledgable bartender on a slower weekday.

Red Hook & Meat Hook

The Red Hook is named for a Brooklyn neighborhood, so it should be no surprise that it’s a variant. Punt e Mes (a sweet vermouth with bitters) is used instead of Amer Picon (huh? what? exactly.) and dry vermouth. The playful label is a normal Carpano vermouth label with a jaunty, chunky white-on-red PUNT e MES serif applied.

The Red Hook is fairly sweet. The Meat Hook corrects this, but not in the usual way with bitters or acidic juice. We’ve described it to bartenders dozens of times: “A Red Hook, with a float of Ardbeg.”

Stir; strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Variations: float a peaty single malt on top for a Meat Hook.

Black Diamond flip

A bittersweet, peaty, wintery cocktail. It’s also dead-simple, with no make-ahead time investment and no cream. Unusual for using the yolk. Not recommended unless you like both Cynar (pronounced CHEE-nahr) and heavily peated Scotch.

Dry shake ingredients until completely incorporated, then add ice and shake normally. Fine strain into cocktail glass, top with grated nutmeg.

Last Word and Final Ward

Revived by cocktail luminary Murray Stenson, the Last Word seems simple on paper but is far greater than the sum of its parts. Sweet, tart, herbal, strong, and is flavorful from the first, frigid sip to the last, slightly cool one.

The Final Ward almost feels like a cheat: it swaps out two ingredients, and the creator named it after himself. If you try it, though, you’ll be in love.

Shake, strain into cocktail glass (fine strain if you prefer).

Variations: the Final Ward replaces gin with rye and lime with lemon.

Fitty-Fitty

Developed to highlight vermouth and counter the perception that it’s nonessential to the martini. It also, ahem, helps you go through dry vermouth that’s about to go off.

Stir with wet ice in mixing tin longer than usual, about 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with lemon peel.

Trinidad sour

The primary ingredient for this is Angostura bitters. Most recipes call for a full ounce of orgeat, which we find too cloying. Dropping it down a quarter ounce and increasing the rye by same also makes the ratios easier to remember (4:3:3:3). Fun to mess with. Equal parts is more agreeable. The bold may want to try a full ounce of rye and ½ oz. ea. orgeat and lemon (2:2:1:1).

It is hard for a home bartender to go through orgeat unless you tiki the fuck out for a while. You can pick up the smaller bottles of B. G. Reynold’s and/or make a lot of orgeat lemonade.

Shake, fine strain into cocktail glass, stand back.

Philadelphia Fish House Punch (beta)

We are admittedly not fans of tiki drinks; in general they are sugar papering over a disconcerting quantity of alcohol in a single glass. But the Trinidad sour is not for everyone.

Shake, strain into double rocks glass, fill with ice.

Hernando’s Got Moxie

Are we allowed to put our own cocktail here? Sure.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the bossman, Hernando, had a bottle of Suze on his desk we kept trying to find a use for. As for the ‘Moxie’, it is a now-rare cola flavored with gentian.

Shake, strain into collins glass with ice, fill with soda. Lime wedge garnish.


When friends started poking for cocktail and spirits recommendations, we went to look at The Sweethome—and promptly recoiled at the three-piece shaker recommendation. The first draft was about three things: buy a tin shaker and pint glasses, your ice at home is shit, and the only whiskey you need is Rittenhouse. Everything else has grown from that.

Omissions? Errors? Hate how dry everything is? Royal/editorial we sends you into a blind rage? Feel free to send @-abuse on Twitter, 132 characters at a time. Be sure to type in ALL CAPS so we know to pay attention to you.