I’ve been making drinks for myself, my wife, and our friends for several years now. I even run a nightly cocktail blog. So you’d think I’d have a bunch of recipes memorized, and I do, but I still look the majority up in my collection of cocktail books, just to be sure.
There’s something to be said for expediency, though, and if you’re bringing someone special home for a drink, the last thing you need to be doing is pulling out reference books. It’s nice to have a few go-to drinks memorized, and it looks pretty cool when you can whip one up quickly, with assurance, without checking your measurements.
When it comes to cocktails, whiskey and gin rule, making up by far the bulk of drink recipes, both classic and modern. There’s good reason for this: whiskey and gin are incredibly versatile while also having enough character of their own to add a certain je ne sais quoi to any cocktail that contains them. So I’ve picked one drink each for these two spirits. In addition, I’ve added a vodka cocktail, because there are an awful lot of people out there who either don’t like gin and whiskey, or just aren’t very adventurous. You may be surprised by my choice, but keep reading and I’ll explain (there’s also a fourth cocktail quietly hidden in the following recipes).
All of these cocktails are fast and easy to make, and exclusively use inexpensive ingredients that you should always have on hand. Onward!
Your Go-to Whiskey Cocktail
The Old-Fashioned would also be a fine choice, here, and it’s certainly easy enough to memorize that I recommend doing so. But it’s also a pretty aggressive blast of whiskey. The Manhattan is a little smoother. A little more subtle. And since it’s arguably even easier to make, we’re using it here.
The key is the vermouth. I like to go fifty-fifty with a light, non-aggressive sweet vermouth like Martini, and something strong and bitter, like Punt e Mes or Cocchi de Torino. But if you’re not looking to store multiple bottles of sweet vermouth (in the fridge, please!) then my strong recommendation is a hefty dose of Dolin and an extra shake of bitters.
- 2.5 oz. Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (Check out the Great Bourbon Roundup for ideas)
- .5 oz. Sweet Vermouth (see above)
- Heavy Dash Aromatic Bitters (Angostura is traditional and excellent)
Combine all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe or ice-filled rocks glass (I prefer the former). Garnish with a maraschino cherry – Luxardo makes the best by far, though they’re a little pricy.
Your Go-To Gin Cocktail
Here’s where we squeeze two cocktails into one: you can make this drink with vodka, if you want (and if you’re some kind of barbarian!), but a true Martini is made with gin, and is better for it. The way the liquor’s juniper-heavy botanicals mix with the light, sweet, aromatic vermouth is perfect. The first sip of a well-made martini, using fresh ingredients, is heaven.
Easy to Remember:
Both the Manhattan and the Martini have 2.5 oz of liquor and .5 oz of vermouth.
Again: work with fresh, chilled vermouth. If your bottle’s been open for more than a month, especially at room temperature, toss it. Old vermouth oxidizes and tastes … well, gross, which is why so many people think they don’t like it.
I like a 5:1 gin to vermouth mix. You should experiment to determine your preference (and it doesn’t hurt to ask your date – they might be a ‘just wave the bottle by it’ person).
- 2.5 oz. Gin (see our Great Gin Roundup for ideas)
- .5 oz. Dry Vermouth (again I recommend Dolin)
- Dash Orange Bitters (Regans’ are great here)
Combine all ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. If you prefer olives as a garnish, I recommend swapping the orange bitters for herbal bitters like Urban Moonshine or Bitters Old Men Great in ’28.
Your Go-To Vodka Cocktail
OK, there are a few caveats with this drink: first, it requires you to stock lemon vodka. Second, it requires cranberry juice. Third, it’s a Cosmo … that dreaded and much-maligned pink-drink from Sex and the City. Why would you want to make one of those?
Well, here’s the deal: there’s a strong argument to be made that the Cosmopolitan is the best vodka cocktail ever created. The only other real contenders are the Moscow Mule, which is just a Dark and Stormy with less flavor (and requires you to stock ginger beer), and the Lemon Drop, which is very one-note (and requires you to spend time frosting the rim of the glass). You could also argue for the Bloody Mary, but that’s a breakfast drink.
When it comes to lemon vodka, there are many solutions. First, you can grab a bottle of lemon bitters and effectively use them to simulate lemon vodka on command. Second, you can infuse regular vodka with lemon slices for a day or two, and it’ll keep forever (literally: you could open it up and drink it 300 years from now). Third, you can just use regular vodka, perhaps with a few drops of lemon juice. Finally, you can buy an inexpensive bottle of lemon vodka at any liquor store in the country.
For cranberry juice, I like to buy a 16 oz. bottle (or smaller if I can find it). Kept unopened, you can store it for literally years in a cupboard, and even after opening it’ll last a solid month in the fridge because the juice is so acidic. Just keep one on hand and replace it as needed.
- 1.5 oz. Citrus Vodka (Svedka is tasty and inexpensive)
- 1 oz. Orange Liqueur, aka Curacao (Cointreau is traditional, Bols is cheap and fine)
- .5 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
- .25 oz. Cranberry Juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
There you have it: three (or four) delicious and classic cocktail recipes that can be easily memorized and quickly whipped up when company comes home. Cheers!