For a while there, it seemed like bartenders spent a whole lot of time educating drinkers on basic classic cocktail lingo: rye, flip, sour. And while there's still a lot of space between what your bartender knows and your depth of understanding classic cocktails, there's never been a better time to learn what's in your glass, one sip at a time. For Classics Week, Eater rounded up a few of the best takes on old classics, obscure concoctions, and new interpretations of history-rich drinks.
Old Classic, Reinterpreted: Andy McClellan at Westward put together a Negroni that's not exactly a twist, but more a throwback to what the super popular Italian cocktail might have tasted like. As it was conceived in Italy, before the invention of dry gin, McClellan says they likely would have barrel aged the gin or used an Old Tom style. For the Negroni at Westward, he mixes Captive Spirit's Bourbon Barreled Big Gin, Cappelletti, and Cocchi Americano di Turino. The barrel-aged gin is flavorful and rich; the Cappelletti is a revival of an old-style bitter from Trebbiano grapes similar to Campari, but a bit softer; the Cocchi Americano is herbaceous, and the whole thing "cuts the edges off" the classic Negroni. It's a true classic, modernized with updated cocktail making technology, and it happens to be one of Chef Zoi Antonitsas' favorite drinks, so he made it to honor her.
Obscure Concoction, Authenticated: Westward's Admiral Vernon's Lime Grog is a true classic that predates cocktails, which McClellan calls is the "grandfather of the daiquiri." For the drink, he uses Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, brown sugar syrup, and lime juice, then shakes it and serves it over crushed ice with a big mint sprig. The Smith & Cross has a funk and big nose to it, like what rum would've tasted like in the 1700s, which is when the drink originated. Legend is, Admiral Vernon made it to water down his sailors' rum rations because they were getting too hammered, and that he added the lime to fight scurvy. Because there wouldn't have been super refined white sugar back in the day, McClellan makes a brown sugar syrup to try and equate the flavor. The cocktail is refreshing, richly textured, and ties in easily to Westward's nautical theme.
Old Classic, Reimagined: One cocktail on the menu with plenty of history is the Sanctuary, which nods to the history of The Savoy, in London. The American Bar cocktail's name is rumored to come from the Savoy's status as one of the few places one could find sanctuary from the law, as well as from wives, as women weren't allowed into the famous drinking spot. However, because Amer Picon (which bar director Adam Fream calls "a bartender's wet dream") isn't available in the United States anymore, Fream applied Dubbonet as the base of the cocktail, which also features China China, Giffard Triple Sec, and lemon. "It's an apertif starter or maintenance drink, with low proof ingredients rather than being so spirit driven," Fream says of the cocktail.
Obscure Concoction, Authenticated: Fream also recommends The Pendennis Club, calling it a drink F. Scott Fitzgerald would've been drinking at the Louisville gentlemen's social club in his day. Featuring gin, apricot brandy, lime, and Peychaud's bitters, it's a stone cold stunner. "Everyone loves the drink: It's pretty, light, and clean. You could give it to a girl who drinks lemon drops or a guy who drinks headier beverages. It's balanced, but accessible to all."
Old Classic, Accented Richly: Beverage director Myles Burroughs calls the Black Manhattan his favorite variation of the ever-popular classic cocktail. In the Tallulah's version, Curaçao is added to brighten up the finish and accent the caramel and orange flavors in the drink, which subs in Averna for sweet vermouth. "The bitter orange peel notes of the Averna mingle with the slightly spicier flavor of rye whiskey, and we finish it with a dash of chocolate bitters for depth of flavor and a bit of extra acidity," the barman explains.
Old Classic, Reimagined: Barkeep Michael Cadden has created drinks for outstanding bar menus around the city, but one of his favorite creations is on the menu at Tavern Law: the Pickle Me Elmo, his take on a classic gin sour. Predating Prohibition, it consists traditionally of gin, lemon juice, and sugar. The new imagination features Ballard Liquor Co. citron and dill aquavits, Mathilde pear liqueur, lemon juice, and dashes of mustard seed and rosemary tinctures. Says Cadden, "It's something unexpected but familiar. It has a nice balance between the sour and sweet, but with these nice, subtle herbal mustard notes.
Old Classic, Reimagined: Beverage director Myles Burroughs gives the classic daiquiri a cold weather makeover with the Winter Break. "At it's base, it's a simple drink with only three ingredients, so it's hard to believe how many different interpretations it's spawned. Depending on the type of rum and sweetener you use, you can do almost anything with a daiquiri," he explains. In this case, they used a pot still Jamaican rum with high esters, softened with an aged Venezuelan rum to show vanilla and citrus notes, and then made their own grenadine and pomegranate molasses to help showcase the dark molasses flavors. "This drink was so simple, but turned out to be greater than the sum of it's parts... and who doesn't want to feel like they're on a tropical beach vacation right about now?"
Old Classic, with Swagger: GM Gavin DeCantillon has a long-standing love affair with the Manhattan, which he sees as the essence of brown, bitter, and stirred cocktails. While the Rasputin's Beard may not immediately bring that drink to mind, DeCantillon says it's the culmination of his exploration into the beverage. Featuring Bourbon, Nux Alpina nocino, Amaro CioCiaro, Elisir Novasalus, and housemade leather bitters, the cocktail is far removed from the original recipe but still has a similar balance and nods to its lineage.
Old Classic, Slightly Shifted: The Robert Burns has quite the storied history, but it depends on who you ask. Some say it is a pre-Prohibition cocktail created at the Waldorf Astoria and named for Scotland's favorite son. Others say it was named after a cigar salesman. The Savoy Cocktail Book reimagined it slightly, and bar manager John Nugent has does so again. A truly accessible Scotch cocktail, the Bobby Burns is one bar manager John Nugent points to as a favorite he shifted just slightly. Featuring Bank Note Scotch, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, orange bitters, and an orange twist, Nugent says the orange connotation "rounds the drink" better than a lemon accent.
Old Classic, Reimagined: Bar manager Shattuck Wildaner doesn't stray too far philosophically from the classic drink that inspired his Negroni Nouveau, but his adjustments give the bitter cocktail a fortified flavor. Made with gin, Madeira, and Zucca Amaro, Wildaner likes the richer, deeper flavor profile the changes give the classic Negroni.
Porkchop & Co.
Old Classic, Adapted: With zero space for a bar and a tiny staff, this Ballard newbie fills the cocktail quota with bottled drinks. Their Bottled Negroni with Big Gin, Cappelletti Rosso, and Dolin Vermouth stays pretty true to the original drink and its proportions, but with a few extra ounces of booze than you'll get at your average bar.
Old Classic, Bonded: The Vieux Carré has gained a new wave of popularity thanks to its boozy backbone with just the right balance of sweetness. The cocktail was created in the 1930s and named for the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans: the French Quarter. At Oliver's Twist, bar manager Robert Rowland gives it a bit of a twist when asked, thanks to a recipe he tried elsewhere. Rather than the normal Cognac, Carpano Antica Formula, Rye, and Benedictine, he substitutes out the normal brandy for Lairds Bottled in Bond Straight Apple Brandy, which gives it a little more crisp with the caramel.
Obscure Cocktail, Lightly Updated: Bar Operations Manager Erik Carlson is a fan of the Bijou Cocktail, which originated in around 1890. Named the French word for "jewel" because it combined diamonds (gin), rubies (sweet vermouth), and emeralds (Chartreuse), Carlson adds a bit of his own tastes to the mix to perfect it. The cocktail is made with gin, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Dolin dry vermouth ("I just like drier drinks," he explains of the addition), and green Chartreuse, it's a richly textured, herbaceous cocktail.
Damn the Weather
Obscure Classic, Customized: Conceptualized in the 1920s and included in The Savoy Cocktail Book, the Damn the Weather cocktail is classically made with gin, sweet vermouth, orange juice, and sweetener (Triple Sec or Curaçao, depending on the recipe). The bar/restaurant of the same name borrows the title but takes liberties with the ingredients to achieve a rather more complex flavor in their Despite the Weather cocktail. The drink is made with shochu, pisco, orange juice, lemon, passion fruit, and ginger syrup, and is really more of a riff on the Hurricane, says bar owner Bryn Lumsden. That cocktail, created in New Orleans, is surrounded by folklore about speakeasies and weather-related passwords, and somewhere in between those drinks lies the Pioneer Square menu favorite.