Anatomy of a Dish: Classic Cocktails
Whether you prefer yours shaken or stirred, classic cocktails – such as the Martini, the Negroni and the Sazerac – are very much in vogue.
Mixing and shaking for a big party is a tall order. Unless you're willing to employ a bartender or two, it's a much safer bet to either prepare something that can be made on scale (jugs of Negronis, say) or something that's designed for a crowd (time to break out the punch bowl).
But for a small group, for a short, sweet period of time (it's called the cocktail hour for good reason), cocktails can be a very beautiful thing. They are 90% booze and ice, so taking the trouble to track down quality spirits and make up plenty of fresh ice cubes of a decent size ahead of your party lays the foundation for good times.
There's much to be said for the classics here: they have stood the test of time. Pick two, or perhaps three, get to know them inside out, and they'll serve you as well as you serve them.
Classic Cocktails: The Essentials
Once an insiders' drink, the Negroni has in the last decade or two become a party staple. It's easy to make, and very forgiving. Even if you don't follow the classic ratio of equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth carefully, it still makes a great drink.
On the rocks with a twist of orange peel is the standard, but it tolerates plenty of experimentation: try it straight up for a stiffer aperitif.
Cuba introduced the Daiquiri to Hemingway, but Hemingway introduced the world to the Papa Doble, an invigorating cocktail made with white rum and Maraschino liqueur, shaken with grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup.
It has more alcohol and is sharper than the classic, which may or may not be a reflection of the fact that Papa was a diabetic who enjoyed a strong drink. The Maraschino liqueur can take some finding, but is worth it, as is squeezing the grapefruit fresh.
This 19th century New Orleans classic is the rare cocktail that's served without ice. Originally made with Cognac, but nowadays typically built with rye, it's in essence a twist on the Old Fashioned.
The whiskey is stirred down with ice, sugar and a splash of Peychaud's and/or Angostura bitters in one glass, then strained into another glass that has been rinsed with absinthe and garnished with a swatch of orange peel.
A 50/50 Sazerac, one made with a mixture of rye and Cognac, is a delicious variation, as is the entirely untraditional choice of dark rum.
We're not going to tell anyone how to drink their Martinis. You like it wet made with vodka and 10 olives, or bone dry with two kinds of gin and a twist of grapefruit peel in a tumbler — find your joy.
But it’s a fine idea to only serve as much Martini at a time as your guests can comfortably enjoy while it's still cold. Smaller glasses (or smaller pours) and more of them are the trend. Chilled glassware is worth the extra effort.
Shaking and stirring, if they're done with care and vigour, both produce great results. And fresh vermouth and olives are a help, as is a dash of orange bitters.
ALSO READ: Recipe: Bourbon Hot Toddy
Classic Cocktails: Where To Order Them
When we want to benchmark classic cocktails, our go-to establishments include The Gin Bar and Planet Bar in Cape Town, The Charlatan in Durban, and the Main Bar at the Rand Club and Alice & Fifth in Joburg.
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