In 1806, the editor of an upstate New York newspaper, The Balance and Columbian Repository, responded to a reader’s query about the meaning of the word cocktail: “Cocktail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters – it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion.”
These earliest cocktails, vintage cocktails like the Old fashioned, were very simple: just water, sugar, spirit and bitters. Not all classic cocktails share the vintage cocktail flavour profile – a balance of bitter, sweet and herbal, winey flavours, with nary a fresh fruit in sight – yet all the old-time cocktail recipes we drink today share that same simplicity.
Be they Mojito or Cosmo, White lady or Sazerac, martini or Manhattan, all classic cocktails have three main points in common. They are simple: few classic cocktail recipes include more than five ingredients, and many use only three. They are spirited: the taste of the base spirit shines through in almost every drink. Most importantly, the classic cocktail recipes are balanced: the preferred flavour balance varies from era to era, and even from decade to decade. Yet, be it sweet and sour (like the Margarita), bittersweet (like the Negroni), fruity-creamy (like the Pina Colada), or savory-Sour (like the Bloody Mary), the ingredients form a harmony.
The turn of the 21st century saw a cocktail revolution as newly professionalized bartenders turned to old books to discover long-lost gems and reinvent vintage ingredients. And even today newly discovered – yet ancient – recipes continue to delight.
Knob Creek Bourbon, Simple Syrup, Angostura Bitters
Oaxaca Old Fashioned
Tequila Blanco, Mezcal Blanco, Agave Nectar, Angostura Bitters
Banana infused Anejo Rum, Lavander Syrup, Angostura bitters
Rye Bourbon, Bourbon, Calvados, V.S.O.P. Cognac, Demerara Syrup, Angostura Bitters, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Plymouth Gin, St Germain Elderflower liqueur, Orange Bitters
Reposado Tequila, Oaxaca Blanco Mezcal, VO Agricol Rum, Old Rum, Simple syrup, Angostura Bitters, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
The Black Prince
VO Agricol Rum, Punt e Mes Vermouth, Averna Amaro, Orange Bitters
Camomile Infused Rye Bourbon, Martini Dry Vermouth, Aperol, Amaro, Yellow Chartreuse Liqueur
Bushmills Black Bush , St Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Orange Bitters, Talisker 10 Scotch Rinse
VO Agricol Rum, Cane Sugar Syrup, Angostura Bitters, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters, Absinthe Rinse
Dry Gin, Campari Amaro, Punt e Mes & Martini Rosso Vermouth Blend
House of Payne
Dry Gin, Plymouth Sloe Gin, Campari, Raspberries
Anejo Jamaican Rum, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Campari