You don't have to be a mixologist to create delicious classic cocktails that your guests will love. From the iconic martini to the the effervescent mojito, only a few drinks have stood the test of time to be considered classics. With a bit of practice and some expert advice, anyone can master these staple libations, says Dale DeGroff, author of "The Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Master Bartender."
The Manhattan has been around since the late 1800s and it's a cinch to make. Take 2 oz. of whiskey, 1 oz. of imported sweet vermouth and a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters. Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. To finish, garnish with a cherry that you've marinated in bourbon and sugar, or use gourmet maraschino cherries. Try to avoid the cheaper maraschino cherries that have artificial flavoring and coloring, DeGroff says.
There are lots of ways to make a martini based on your guests' tastes. Early recipes in the late 1800s called for half gin and half dry vermouth and orange bitters, but over the years the amount of gin has increased while the amount of vermouth as diminished, DeGroff says. He prefers seven parts gin to one part dry vermouth and omits the bitters. Stir with ice, strain and serve in a chilled cocktail glass. Add a lemon peel or a pitted Spanish olive, but omit the pimento. The martini can also be made with vodka.
The Margarita is the fastest-growing drink in the last 30 years, thanks to the popularity of tequila, DeGroff says. Add 2 oz. of tequila, 1 oz. of orange liqueur such as Cointreau and 3/4 oz. of fresh lime juice to a mixing glass with ice. You can also add some simple syrup or agave nectar to sweeten the drink. Shake, strain and serve in a chilled margarita glass with or without a salt. Make sure the lime juice is fresh and stay away from store-bought mixes, DeGroff says.
This New York City favorite from the 1950s has seen a comeback in the last decade. Take a small bunch of mint leaves and bruise them in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add 3/4 oz. of simple syrup, 3/4 oz. of fresh lime juice and 1 1/2 oz. of white rum and shake over ice. Strain the mixture and pour it into a highball glass with ice. Top with a small amount of club soda (no more than 1 1/2 oz.) and add a fresh sprig of mint on top, DeGroff says.
Though "Sex and the City" made the cosmo a household name, the drink has actually been around since 1979, DeGroff says. Mix 1 1/2 oz. of Citron vodka, 3/4 oz. of Cointreau, 1/2 oz. of fresh lime juice and 1 oz. of cranberry juice and shake over ice. Strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass and add a citrus peel or zest.
Gin and Tonic
The key to the perfect g & t is using a high-end tonic water such as the kind made by Fever-Tree, Schweppes or Canada Dry, DeGroff says. Tonic water is drier than regular soda water and has a slight bitter note. Pour 1 1/2 oz. of gin and 1 oz. of tonic water into a highball glass over ice and garnish with a lime wedge.
The whiskey sour has been refreshing drinkers since the 19th Century, DeGroff says. Pour 1 1/2 oz. of whiskey, 3/4 oz. of simple syrup, 3/4 oz. of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 oz. of beaten egg white into a mixing glass. Shake the glass very hard with ice to get the egg whites to emulsify and create foam. Pour the drink into a cocktail or old-fashioned glass. Don't worry about salmonella, in a mixture of alcohol and acid, bacteria won't be able to grow, DeGroff says.
This decadent drink dates to the time of prohibition and is perfect for the holidays, DeGroff says. Take 1 oz. of brandy, 1 oz. of creme de cacao and 1 1/2 oz. of cream and shake it with ice. Strain the mixture and pour it into a cocktail glass and grate some nutmeg on top.
This simple drink calls for 1 1/2 oz. of gin, 3/4 oz. of simple syrup and 3/4 oz. of lemon juice. Shake the mixture over ice, strain and pour it into a tall glass with ice cubes. Top the drink with 1 1/2 oz. of club soda and garnish with a slice of orange and a cherry.
This Italian classic has been around for more than 100 years and is witnessing a rebirth. In a mixing glass, pour three equal parts of gin, sweet Italian vermouth and Campari, add ice and stir. Strain the mixture and pour it into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel or slice. If you want to be truly authentic and serve it as they do in Europe, just add the ingredients into an old-fashioned glass with ice and stir, DeGroff says.