10 Classic Cocktails Every Home Bartender Should Know

Cocktails are a science and an art form. They are what make or break a good bar, and define a bartender based on their knowledge and skill of pairing flavours and spirits. But, a good cocktail doesn’t need to be complex; in fact, true classic cocktails tend to be as simple as they come with regards to ingredients. This is good news for those home cocktail lovers, as a few bottles can go a long way. In order to be a true cocktail master, there are a few classics that are absolutely necessary to master.

The Daiquiri

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Depending on who you ask a daiquiri is either a cheap frozen drink found at an all-inclusive resort, or the absolute measure of a good bartender. Truth is, the daiquiri is one of the simplest cocktails imaginable, but can also be one of the greatest; it all comes down to preparation.

  • 2 oz of WHITE rum (a true daiquiri uses white rum and nothing else)
  • 3/4 oz of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp of organic cane sugar

Add lime juice and sugar to a cocktail shaker and stir to dissolve. Add rum and ice, shake vigorously and pour into a chilled coupe glass, you want the daiquiri to be cold.

The Martini

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Yes, we all know about the martini thanks to good old James Bond. However, there’s a reason this cocktail has endured for as long as it has; it’s clean drinking, easy to remember and can be adapted to a huge number of different drinks. Let’s start with the basics.

  • 2 oz of high quality vodka/gin (think Chopin vodka or Hayman’s Gin)
  • 1 oz of dry vermouth
  • Optional garnish (lemon, olive, cocktail onion, etc.)

Pour vodka/gin and vermouth into a mixing glass, add ice and stir for about 15-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass and add garnish of choice. For lemon, run the lemon twist around the rim of the glass before adding to the cocktail, green olives are the preferred olive choice, or for a gibson add the cocktail onion.

The Old Fashioned

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The classic “man’s” drink, the old fashioned saw a resurgence in popularity thanks to its prominence in shows like Mad Men. But, it’s well deserved; this is a fantastic classic cocktail that once again showcases the ingredients through its simplicity.

  • 2oz of quality bourbon/rye
  • One organic brown cane sugar cube
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • Orange peel

Place the sugar cube in a rocks glass and add bitters. Crush the sugar with the bitters and add bourbon/rye. Stir until the sugars are completely dissolved and add one large ice cube. Stir for about 60 seconds to let the cocktail really settle in. Twist an orange peel directly over the glass to allow for the oils to fall into the cocktail, then add the peel. Please, do not add a cocktail cherry.

The Negroni

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The negroni is a bartender favourite, and one that is a perfect balance of sweet, sour and bitter. Fortunately, a basic negroni is easy to remember as well, as it is the sum of all it’s equal parts.

  • 1oz campari
  • 1oz sweet vermouth
  • 1oz gin

Mix all ingredients together in a rocks glass, add ice and stir. Simple, yet effective. For some variation, play with the balance of spirits to suit your particular taste, or pre-mix and toss into a cocktail barrel for some extra wood/smoke notes to the drink.

The Margarita

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Like the daiquiri, there are some terrible versions of the margarita out in the world. Best to avoid the ‘slushy’ margarita and go for the original version. The key in making a good margarita is the quality of the tequila, a cheaper variety will make your drink harsh, so don’t skimp on the brand.

  • 2oz blanco tequila (Casamigos is a good option)
  • 1oz triple sec
  • 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • Salt

Combine tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a cocktail shaker and shake for around 15-20 seconds. Rim half of the glass with salt (giving the option of salt or no salt while sipping) and strain mixture into glass. Can optionally garnish with lime wheel for additional lime notes.

The Gin and Tonic

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The ingredients are right there in the name so it should be easy right? Wrong. It is far too easy to mess this us, either by adding too much of one component, or by simply using cheap ingredients. Do yourself a favour and drink a superior version of this classic.

  • 2oz dry gin (yes, make it dry gin)
  • 4oz tonic water (use a quality tonic like Fentimans or Fever Tree)
  • 2 lime wedges

Add gin to a highball glass filled with ice, squeeze in lime wedges and add to glass. Pour in tonic water and give it a quick stir to combine. Once mastered, you can get creative with other additions like sprigs of rosemary, cranberry, sea salt, etc. The gin and tonic has endless possibilities.

The Caesar 

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What brunch would be complete without a Caesar? These can be the perfect hangover pick-me-up, unfortunately they are also the most complex cocktail on this list. Buckle up, this one takes some time, oh and please note that the order of ingredients is very important.

  • 1oz vodka
  • 3oz clamato juice
  • 3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 dashes of hot sauce
  • Salt & pepper
  • Creative garnishes

Start by rimming a glass with salt and pepper. Add a generous amount of ice and begin pouring in the Worcestershire sauce. Next add the clamato juice, hot sauce, vodka and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, and of course add in any garnish of your choice like the classic celery stick, pickled bean, pepperoni stick, bacon, whatever.

The Mojito

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Another hugely popular drink that is very easy to get wrong. The secret is in the preparation of both the limes and the mint. By muddling the limes first with the sugar, and then ‘clapping’ the mint, you open up the flavours and give the mojito a real refreshing taste.

  • 2oz white rum (Cuban rum is the preference)
  • 1/2oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 3 mint leaves
  • Club soda

Muddle lime juice with the sugars in a highball glass. Clap, or smack, the mint leaves and place them in the glass. Add rum, and crushed ice (must be crushed) and stir vigorously ; top with club soda and garnish with spent lime wedges and sprigs of mint.

The Mai Tai

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The perfect embodiment of tropical paradise in a glass, but if done poorly can be overly sweet and nearly undrinkable. Stick to the basics with this one, it doesn’t need any variations on the classic. The hardest part of a Mai Tai will be finding the Orgeat.

  • 2oz aged dark rum
  • 3/4oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2oz orange curacao
  • 1/4oz rich simple syrup (easy to make at home, 2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
  • 1/4oz Orgeat
  • Mint sprig for garnish

Mix all ingredients except for the mint into a cocktail shaker and top with crushed ice. Shake vigorously and pour the entire contents (ice included) into a double old fashioned glass. Top with mint sprig as a garnish, as with the mojito ‘clap’ the mint to release more flavour.

The Whiskey Sour

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Finally we have the Whiskey Sour, one of the most popular sour cocktails in the world. There are two ways of doing a Whiskey Sour: one with egg whites, and one without. The egg white helps mellow out the sourness of the cocktail, but some prefer not to have it, and some are even allergic.

  • 1 1/2oz bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 1/2oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4oz simple syrup
  • 1 egg white (optional)

Mix all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Here’s where it varies slightly; if using egg whites, add now and shake, really shake hard, for a good 30 seconds, this is critical to the froth from the egg. Add ice and shake (shake again with ice, if egg white version). Strain into a chilled glass. For this you can add a garnish maraschino cherry as an option.

There you have it, ten cocktails that any home bartender should not only know how to do, but can easily master.

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