The Classic Cocktails

Cocktails

Cocktails: Perhaps over the past year, when going to an actual bar hasn’t always been possible, you’ve filled out your home bar. You may have already mastered a few classic cocktails, but if you’re looking to round out your repertoire, try getting some inspiration from the pros. That way, you can impress guests when it’s safe to have people over again (and you can brand yourself any night of the week).

We spoke with bartenders, bar managers, and chefs about the cocktails they think everyone should have in their repertoire. Here’s a great place to start:

Manhattan

“It is such a great classic with three simple ingredients. However, most people just don’t get it right. Some shake it when it should be stirred, and some others can’t get the specs right. When it comes to making a great cocktail, measuring is very important.” — Roberta Scampoli, Bar Manager at Dirty Habit DC

Daiquiri

I would say you’ve got to learn how to make a classic daiquiri. I like mine with aged Jamaican rum. It’s delicious, easy, refreshing, and still sophisticated. The perfect warm-weather drink for any occasion.” — Gerald Addison, JBF Semifinalist and Co-Owner/Co-Executive Chef of Bammy’s

“For a lot of people, including myself as a kid, a sweet blended daiquiri, usually flavored (virgin strawberry daiquiri was my vacation drink of choice) is what people think of when they hear the name. But a true daiquiri is a balanced and dry cocktail that showcases rum, our favorite spirit at Rolo’s. The world of rum is wide and runs the gamut between dry, funky, and grassy like the Agricole’s of Martinique and the Clairin’s of Haiti, all the way to the super-rich-aged demerara Rums of Guyana that have brown sugar and molasses flavors. They’re also consistently the best value spirits out there. Some of the best Rums cost a fraction of a mid-range whiskey. A daiquiri is just three ingredients: rum, fresh lime, and a touch of sugar to balance the citrus. The key is all in finesse and balance, and that’s why it’s a great one to learn. At Rolo’s, we make our daiquiri with a house rum blend that combines a whole range of rums to create a kaleidoscope of flavors, paired with just enough turbinado sugar syrup to balance the lime flavor. You can play with the styles of rum forever. If you’re using a richer, sweeter rum, cut back on the sugar. If you’re using a dry, grassy rum blend, maybe use a touch more sugar to balance.” — Ben Howell, beverage director and partner at Rolo’s in Queens, NY.

Margarita

Though margarita variations are infinite, the basic tenets of balancing sweet and sour with the alcohol are the foundations of many cocktails even outside the margarita family.” — Darlin Kulla, Beverage Director + Sommelier, KNEAD Hospitality + Design

Daisy

“The Daisy family is an absolute must for anyone who enjoys mixed drinks. Daisies include the Margarita, Sidecar, Champs-Élysées, and 20th Century, and are part of the greater Sour family. While both these groups contain a base, acid, and sweetener, the Daisy uses either a fruit liqueur or an herbal liqueur in place of, or in addition to, a syrup. If we expand on the original structure by removing all syrups, then adding both a fruit and herbal liqueur, and lowering the base amount, we end up with drinks like the Paper Plane, Last Word, Naked and Famous, and Corpse Reviver #2. These templates are timeless, versatile, and provide potential for endless flavor combinations. Daisies can be placed on the rocks, or up in a coup; they can be slow-sipping and intimate, or tall and crushable; and they can be complex and interesting, or straightforward and comfortable.” — Mark Mentzel, Bar Manager, The Elk Room

Negroni

“They’re good in the winter, and they’re good in the summer—plus Negronis taste good in so many different proportions. I personally like one and a half ounces of gin and then three-fourths of an ounce of sweet vermouth and Campari. But it depends on the gin. If I’m using citrusy Plymouth, I might use more of it to bring its flavors to the front.” — Natasha David

Martini

“Just four ingredients, handled properly, mingle together to make one of the perfect cocktails. Our martini is a bit wet by today’s standards; 65mL gin to 25mL French dry vermouth with just a few drops of orange bitters and water. In my experience, the drinkability and longevity of the cocktail both hinge on appropriate dilution, maybe more than you would expect.” — Peder Schweigert, Marvel Bar bar manager

Old-Fashioned

“If you are going to call yourself a bartender, you have to understand how to make and Old Fashioned properly. People commit so many sins against them: Garnishing them with giant orange halves, adding cherries, using a cheap spirit, there are too many to count.” — Chef Casey Lane

Manhattan

“It is such a great classic with three simple ingredients. However, most people just don’t get it right. Some shake it when it should be stirred, and some others can’t get the specs right. When it comes to making a great cocktail, measuring is very important.” — Roberta Scampoli, Bar Manager at Dirty Habit DC

Sazerac

“I enjoy those caramel-y flavors of the whiskey with the punch of the citrus. It’s always just a great, well-balanced drink.” — Chef Bryan Voltaggio

Cuba Libre

“I’m a huge rum drinker, so I like a rum and Coke. It has to be DonQ silver rum—that’s what everybody drinks in Puerto Rico.” — Chef José Mendin