Classic cocktails are called that, not because they're old, but because they are delicious. Most of them can be ordered at any well-stocked bar, and some of them--such as a Negroni, Sazerac, or Martini--can be ordered with swagger.
However, there's some classic cocktails that should be left unordered, or better, made at home.
5. Brandy Milk Punch This is a common brunch drink in New Orleans, a sweet hair-of-the-dog alternative to a Bloody Mary. In Houston, you can find one at Brennan's, but in other places it would look like you're an adult ordering a glass of milk.
- 2 ounces brandy (Cognac, to be exact, because American brandy is inferior)
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1½ ounces milk
- Freshly-grated nutmeg
--Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a light dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.
4. Mojito I've tried to appreciate spearmint mojitos, but I quit. Only mojitos made with hierba buena will do. The Richards brothers have hierba buena mojitos, but if you go to Pico's Mex-Mex for one, you may end up wanting one of their impressive margaritas instead. If not, you'll have to send away for the Cuban mint, which is entirely geeky, but worth it in the long run.
- 1½ ounces silver rum
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- ¼ ounce lime juice (1 key lime is best)
- 2 sprigs hierba buena
- 2 ounces mineral water (Topo Chico)
- 2 or 3 cubes of ice
--Macerate sugar, lime juice, and hierba buena stems with a splash of mineral water. Add rest of mineral water, then ice, then rum. Serve with a cut-off straw.
3. Cosmopolitan It's a Cosmo. Guys can't order it in a bar, and even women have to flinch slightly, as the cocktail is hopelessly associated with a turn-of-the-millennium HBO show I won't mention. Too bad, because as J.R., my liquor store consultant, said, "It's a damn good drink. Can you find a way to make it more macho?"
No, but I found a way to make it without keeping a relic Absolut Citron bottle on the shelf.
- 1 ounce your favorite vodka
- 1 ounce Cointreau
- 1 ounce Ocean Spray 100% Juice Cranberry
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
--Shake with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, peel a strip of the outside of a lemon, squeeze over glass, drop in. If it helps, hopelessly associate the Cosmo with something else from 2000.
2. Irish Coffee There's a reason liquors are called spirits, and the spirit of Irish whiskey is "brooding." It's never cold enough in Houston to order Irish coffee in a bar, but if you pour one on a rainy Sunday night at home, the caffeine shot will keep you awake through a late-night episode of Breaking Bad.
- 1½ ounces Irish whiskey
- 4 ounces coffee
- 1 teaspoon sugar or turbinado
- heavy cream (whipping)
--Stir whiskey, coffee, and sugar together. Put some cream in a small jar and shake it lightly. Instant whip cream! Drop a large dollop on surface of coffee.
1. Old-Fashioned Even the name conjures up a geezer drink, but an Old-Fashioned will always be in fashion. It's perfect for a place like Warren's, and there's newer takes on this classic, but the reason to make it at home is because this cocktail's all about the ritual of concocting it yourself, after a hard day of work.
- 1 teaspoon sugar or 1 sugar cube
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- Splash of water or soda
- Orange slice
- Maraschino cherry
- 2 ounces bourbon
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SHOW ME HOW
--Soak sugar with bitters, add water and fruit, then muddle lightly. Add bourbon. This is one of the few drinks to add ice at the end. Stir.
Some people--such as myself--don't muddle the fruit, preferring to drop it in just before the ice. A twist of lemon is optional.