They don’t make ’em like they used to. But you can – right now. Return with us to the thrilling cocktail days of yesteryear.

Black Russian

A Cold War special. Reliable sources tell us the black russian was the creation of one Gustave Tops, the man in the short jacket behind the mahogany bar at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels circa 1950. All of which sounds like a remake of The Third Man. Where to have one: the Hotel Metropole in Brussels (duh).

The mix: Build it right in the glass, with equal parts vodka and Kahlúa. Add ice and stir. Variation: Add two shots of cream for a white russian.

Sazerac

The drink that made New Orleans famous. And now that absinthe is back, you can make the original. It began life as medicine, combining Sazerac de Forge et Fils cognac with bitters from Antoine Peychaud’s apothecary. The sazerac has been good for you since 1859. Where to have one: in New Orleans, at Galatoire’s and then at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel.

The mix: Pour two ounces of rye and three dashes of Peychaud’s bitters in a shaker full of ice, and shake. Coat the inside of a chilled old-fashioned glass with absinthe or Herbsaint (the New Orleans pastis that became a traditional absinthe substitute), rolling it around before flinging out the excess liquid. Strain the rye and bitters into the glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Daiquiri

The beverage of choice for JFK and Ernest Hemingway – which means it’s good enough for you. The daiquiri was invented near Daiquiri Beach in Cuba, supposedly by an engineer named Jennings Cox, who was working at a mine on the island and wanted to soften the local rum. Truth is, it was probably invented by natives. Where to have one: the Army and Navy Club in Washington, DC.

The mix: Pour one and a half ounces of light rum, the juice of half a lime and a quarter ounce of sugar into a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a stemmed glass or serve on the rocks. Variations: A Bacardi cocktail calls for its eponymous rum and a splash of grenadine. Variations: Add dashes of maraschino liqueur and grapefruit juice for the Hemingway daiquiri.

Manhattan

When Sam Tilden was elected governor of New York in 1874, Jennie Jerome (later Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston) threw him a party at the Manhattan Club, where an unidentified bartender supposedly stirred up this original. Where to have one: Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle in New York, or an “executive size” at the Drake Hotel in Chicago.

The mix: Build over ice in a rocks glass – or stir over ice and strain into a chilled stemmed glass – two ounces of rye, one ounce of sweet vermouth and two dashes of Angostura bitters. Garnish with a maraschino cherry (that’s mara-SKEE-no, pilgrim). Variations: You can use bourbon instead of rye, but Jennie wouldn’t have. Use scotch and it’s a rob roy.

Bloody Mary

The definitive bloody mary history awaits an energetic scholar. Was it invented by M Fernand “Pete” Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris? Or actor George Jessel in Palm Beach? We may never know for sure. Where to have one: Perry’s on Union Street in San Francisco.

The mix: There are as many bloody mary recipes as there are brunch specials. Here’s one we enjoy. In a pint glass, pour two shots of vodka, four shots of tomato juice, the juice of half a lemon and three dashes each of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces, then add a dollop of horseradish, and salt, pepper and celery salt to taste. Add ice and stir with a celery stick. Variations: Gin. Bacon bits. Tomatillos. A-I sauce. Rattlesnake venom. There are no rules in the bloody game.

Tom Collins

There might have been a Tom Collins, a man with a taste for a little extra in his lemonade. But if there was, he’s extremely dead. People were drinking these cocktails a hundred years ago. Toms are made mostly from mixes these days, and that’s exactly what’s wrong with America.

Make yours the right way: In a tall, thin glass, squeeze the juice of half a lemon (about half an ounce) and add a teaspoon of sugar. Add two ounces of gin and shoot in seltzer until the glass is two thirds full. Fill with ice and stir. Variation: John Collins – identical but with whiskey.

Brandy Alexander

Originally an after-dinner drink simply called an alexander (maybe for the czar of the same name), this one’s nice and sweet. Make it for people who don’t like liquor and they’ll suck ’em down like mocha frappuccinos. Where to have one: the Park Lane Hotel in London.

The mix: Shake very hard with ice equal parts brandy, white or dark crème de cacao and cream. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with freshly shaved nutmeg. Variations: alexander, with gin instead of brandy, or alexander’s sister, with gin, white crème de menthe and cream.

Sidecar

Its history is murky, but here’s the going story: A World War I officer arrived in a motorcycle sidecar at his local pub, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, and ordered this specific concoction. Two parts spirit, one part sweet and one part sour – you can’t go wrong. Where to have one: the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the Hancock in Chicago.

The mix: Shake two ounces of cognac, one ounce of fresh lemon juice and one ounce of Cointreau (or other good orange liqueur) with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass or serve on the rocks. Some folks sugar the rim of the glass. Salvatore Calabrese, London’s well-known bar maven, sugars half the rim “because then people have a choice.” Variations: Use tequila and lime and it’s a margarita. Vodka and lime equal a kamikaze. Gin makes it a white lady.

Old Fashioned

Legend has it the drink originated at Louisville’s Pendennis Club. That could even be true. Where to have one: Milk and Honey in New York.

The mix: In the bottom of a large rocks glass, place a teaspoon of sugar, an orange slice, a maraschino cherry, two dashes of Angostura bitters and a teaspoon (or less) of water or club soda. Muddle. Add two ounces of bourbon and ice. Stir. Variations: If you like brandy, try a brandy old fashioned. If you’re short on vitamin C, add another orange slice and a cherry on a stick.

Whiskey Sour

Versions of the whiskey sour appear in the most ancient cocktail books. Sadly, the drink has been abused for years, served in silly flute-like glasses. Where to have one: the bar at Blythswood Square, a luxury hotel in Glasgow.

The mix: In a shaker full of ice, add two ounces of whatever whiskey you like, one ounce of fresh lemon juice and three quarters of an ounce of superfine sugar. Shake it to death and pour straight up in a cocktail glass with a maraschino cherry. Daring folks can flout tradition and serve it on the rocks. Variations: Scotch sour, brandy sour, gin sour – you get the idea.

Negroni

In the 19th Century Gaspare Campari created a cocktail made with equal parts of his Campari liqueur and sweet vermouth, calling it the Milano-Torino (the homes of the two concoctions). It is said that in the 1920s Count Camillo Negroni ordered this drink with a shot of gin in it – and voilà. Where to have one: any piazza in northern Italy on a sunny afternoon.

The mix: Take one ounce each of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, or build over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist. Variation: Add a splash of soda in lieu of gin and you have an americano.

Margarita

Some say it was created by a woman named Margarita Sames in Acapulco. But the smart money is on a long-forgotten guy behind the bar at the Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana. Some folks think the name is for margarita, the daisy, because the yellow liquid encircled by the white salted rim is reminiscent of the flower. Where to have one: Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco.

The mix: Shake two ounces of blanco tequila, one ounce of Cointreau (or other good orange liqueur) and one ounce of fresh lime juice. Pour into a stemmed glass, or over ice in a rocks glass, with a salted rim – make that half salted, for the choice. Variation: Frozen in a blender? Fine. Just don’t use premade margarita mix.

Cosmopolitan

One of the few creations of the 1970s that will live on for our grandchildren to enjoy, the cosmo has many fathers, including John Caine at Cafe Mars in San Francisco, though all but scoffers will credit the definitive version to Toby Cecchini in New York. Since ladies love them, you should have it in your repertoire. Where to have one: Employees Only in New York.

The mix: Shake one and a half ounces of vodka, three quarters of an ounce of Cointreau, half an ounce of fresh lime juice and a splash of cranberry juice with ice. Strain and serve straight up in a stemmed glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Champagne Cocktail

One of the originals, it appeared in the 1862 first edition of the sainted Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks. Someone later added cognac to the recipe. We don’t know who, but we thank him. Where to have one: the French 75 Bar at Arnaud’s Restaurant in New Orleans.

The mix: Soak a small sugar cube in Angostura bitters, then place it in the bottom of a flute. Pour champagne nearly to the top, leaving room for a splash of cognac. It’s like a continental boilermaker. Variation: the French 75 – named for the kick of the World War I 75-millimetre cannon. Add gin in place of the cognac, along with a dash of lemon juice.

Mojito

Originally hecho en Cuba, the mojito is all about mint. In fact, it’s just a rum collins with mint and lime. Where to have one: La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, where this drink was born and where Hemingway and Pablo Neruda drank them with abandon.

The mix: Put a teaspoon of bar sugar, the juice of one lime, two quarters of the lime itself and a handful of mint leaves in the bottom of a rocks glass. Muddle. Add one and a half ounces of blanco rum and some ice, and top with an ounce of club soda.

Bee’s Knees

The best name in the cocktail pantheon, the bee’s knees is a honey of a drink. Nobody knows where it came from, but it was likely born during Prohibition. Where to have one: Spruce in San Francisco.

The mix: In a shaker with ice, pour two ounces of gin, the juice of half a lemon and three quarters of an ounce of honey syrup (dissolve honey in boiling water – equal parts – then let cool). Shake vigorously and pour into a stemmed glass. Garnish with a curl of lemon peel. Variation: If your honey leaves you, try this one with maple syrup.

Gimlet

Likely invented by the Royal Navy to prevent scurvy, the gimlet came to roost in the US when Terry Lennox, in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1953), said, “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice, and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.” So forget fresh lime and go with the bottled product. Where to have one: any sleazy bar in West Hollywood.

The mix: Stir two ounces gin with two ounces Rose’s lime juice; serve over ice or shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. Variations: Swap vodka for gin if you must. Use less Rose’s if you’re diabetic.

Martini

The queen mother of them all. Some say it’s the drier descendant of a drink Jerry Thomas made in San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel bar in the 19th Century for a guy waiting for a ferry to Martinez, California. Where to have one: the American Bar in the Savoy hotel in London.

The mix: Pour four ounces of excellent gin into a shaker half full of ice. Add anywhere from a half to a full ounce of dry vermouth (we like Noilly Prat). Stir, do not shake, no matter what you’ve heard. Strain into a chilled stemmed glass. Rub a lemon twist along the rim, then drop it in. Variations: Olive brine makes it a dirty martini (popularised, but not named, by Franklin Delano Roosevelt). A cocktail onion makes it a gibson. Using vodka makes it a mistake

by Terry Sullivan
Published by Playboy South Africa April 2012