Thomas will best be remembered, however, as the author of the first authoritative guide on making drinks. First published in the 1860s, The Bon Vivant’s Companion described in detail a rarefied group of 600 cocktails spanning the entire breadth of mixology. More significantly, he used the book to circumscribe the new world of mixology, the substance and intricacies of which had not previously been committed to print.
Thomas was a sensation, a national personage sought out by dignitaries and captains of industry. What’s interesting is that while Jerry Thomas was a master showman behind the bar, it was his total and
absolute command of the cocktail that attracted a steady stream of distinguished and well-heeled clientele. His repertoire made every bar he tended a destination venue.
These drinks have timeless themes and rely on formulations that are every bit as relevant today as they were when first conceived. If you learn to appreciate these basic relationships, then there’s no limit on what they can create behind the bar.
Perhaps the best working definition of these cocktails comes from The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (Doubleday 1948), written by the professor emeritus of mixology, David Embury. A cocktail, he explained, “must whet the appetite and stimulate the mind. It must always be constructed of the highest quality ingredients, be pleasing to the palate, and yet not so sour, bitter or aromatic as to be unpalatable.” Solid advice.
Emburys further specified that “cocktails must delight the eye…have sufficient alcohol to be readily identifiable from papaya juice…and be served thoroughly chilled. The spirit base of a cocktail must consist 50% or more of the volume of the cocktail, never less. The spirit used is the distinguishing ingredient in the drink.”
According to Embury, a cocktail must also include two other elements. The first is a modifier, which transforms the base spirit into a homogenized cocktail. These modifiers are typically aperitif wines, bitters, syrups, or a combination of fruit juices. Lastly, a classic cocktail must include a special flavoring agent, which most frequently means the addition of a liqueur or cordial.
All of these cocktail lessons are ably demonstrated by five classic drinks born and raised in the 20th century.
From Main Street to Wall Street, people are rediscovering the unsurpassed character of brandy. Not surprisingly, this renaissance was not born with a snifter in its hand. Instead, the birth of this megatrend came about from people exploring brandy’s creative range and limitless mixability.
Brandy is unique within the spirit world. While most types of liquors — vodka, gin and whiskeys — are distilled using cereal grains, brandy is made from grapes. It is essentially wine that is distilled rather than going through the winemaking process. In fact, brandy is a derivative of the German word meaning “burnt wine.” As a result, brandy has an incomparably fresh and vibrant flavor. Its personality and character is so universally appealing that it has the rare ability to complement a huge range of other flavors.
When it comes to mixability, brandy is a top performer behind the bar. It creates a foundation with an alluring bouquet and exuberant, fruit-induced flavor. Add a modifier or two and you’ve got the makings of something truly spectacular. The epitome of all brandy drinks is the venerable Sidecar.
This sophisticated cocktail originated in Paris at Harry’s New York Bar during the First World War purportedly by an American Army captain. Stories vary regarding the exact circumstances, but all include references to a motorcycle sidecar. In one such account, the captain actually drove his motorcycle into the bar.
The one constant between all of the versions is the principal recipe, which is two parts brandy, one part Cointreau and three parts lemon juice. The drink is shaken with ice and served in a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with sugar.
Smooth and delicious, the Sidecar is a classic cocktail of the 20th century. While an uncomplicated concoction, the drink has many creative possibilities.
- Brandy Selection — Brandies come in a wide variety of styles. They are made in every wine-producing nation and have as many different looks and personalities as the United Nations. One thing is for certain, the better the brandy, the better the Sidecar.
The upper echelon of the category is reserved for the brandies of Cognac. Their lineage and uncompromised quality have earned them their lofty status among the community of spirits. It is also a highly mixable spirit, and no better cocktail exists for promoting the incomparable characteristics of cognac than the Sidecar.
Cognac houses produce a variety of different grades of cognac, many with the accepted designations — e.g. VS, VSOP, XO Cognac labels bear no age statements. Typically, however, brandies carrying a VS designation have been aged between 4 and 7 years. VSOP cognacs usually have been aged for 5 to 13 years, while XO, Extra, Napoleon, Vielle Reserve or Hors d’Age cognacs range in age from 7 to 40 years. These enormous age spreads account for much of the individuality and distinctions between cognac houses.
For making cocktails, selecting a VS cognac is more than adequate. They typically possess vibrant personalities that are tempered when mixed. As you progress higher up the cognac designations, the more aging the brandy has received the more mellow and refined the cognac. The Bentley Sidecar is prepared with the ultra-luxurious Hennessy X.O. As might be expected, the resulting cocktail is sensational.
Many a Sidecar, however, is prepared with a premium brandy other than cognac. Options include Armagnac and Calvados, an alembic distilled apple brandy produced in Normandy. Eaux de vie, such as Poire William and Kirsch, are clear distillates of fruit or grape wine. These brandies are typically rested in glass vessels, which preserve the clarity of the brandy and leave it dry and flavorful.
American brandies are made in every wine-producing region of the United States, most notably New York, Washington, Oregon and California. Particularly noteworthy are the critically acclaimed brandies of Germain-Robin and Jepson Winery in Ukiah, California. Equipped with copper alembic stills, they are handcrafting brandies from premium grape varietals, such as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and French Columbard. These Californian artisan brandies are ideally suited for use in an ultra-premium Sidecar.
- Premium Spirits — As great as this cocktail is, the creative urge to tweak and tinker should not be suppressed. A brilliant variation of the Sidecar is obtained substituting brandy with Metaxa 7-Star. It’s an elegant Greek spirit made from double-distilled brandy that’s infused with aged Muscat wine and a secret botanical mix. The Metaxa melds seamlessly with the Cointreau and fresh lemon sour mix.
Another direction to steer a Sidecar is making the drink with whiskey instead of brandy. Bourbon, Rye, Irish, Scotch and Canadian are completely comfortable paired with Cointreau and mixed with a fresh lemon sour mix. Thus the universal appeal of the Whiskey Stone Sour. No worries if a particular whiskey is
finished in port pipes, sherry butts, bourbon barrels, or even Madeira casks, the major components of a Sidecar adapts to them all.
One would be remiss if an aged rum wasn’t seriously considered for the leading role in a Sidecar. It’s a dynamic way to introduce people to the refined character and lavish flavors of such heavyweights as Mount Gay Extra Old, Rhum Barbancourt Estate Réserve, Rhum Clément VSOP, Pyrat XO, or Zaya Gran Reserva.
- Liqueur Modifiers — Many a Sidecar is made using triple sec instead of premium Cointreau. The obvious explanation is that triple sec is relatively inexpensive. There is a wide range in quality between the various brands of triple sec, so use the best quality available. The difference will be appreciated in the resulting Sidecar. A side by side comparison of the body, bouquet and palate between a quality triple sec and Cointreau is a mismatch. The same holds true for Sidecars made with one versus the other.
Relying on the creative talents of Grand Marnier and Italian GranGala in a specialty Sidecar is a strong creative move however. Both add the robust and complementary flavors of aged brandy and orange citrus to the cocktail.
- Scratch Mixes — As is often done, it is a misnomer to call the Sidecar a “brandy Margarita.” While true that both cocktails are made with Cointreau or triple sec, the underlying foundation of the Margarita is lime juice, the Sidecar is lemon. On the other hand, one significant similarity between the two cocktails is that they both taste better when concocted with a fresh sour mix.
The ultimate objective behind creating scratch sweet ‘n’ sour is to attain a proportion of fresh lemon juice to simple syrup such that it is just slightly tart. Most scratch recipes call for 3 parts lemon juice to 1 part of simple syrup (3:1). If early attempts are too tart, add a higher proportion of simple syrup. If the mix is moderately sweet, like lemonade, increase the proportion of lemon juice.
- Sugar Rims — The Sidecar is traditionally presented in a sugar-rimmed glass. There are a number of different ways to adhere the sugar, the most frequent of which is to wet the rim of the glass with water and gently dip it into a saucer of granulated sugar. Substitute grenadine for the water and the sugar rim will turn red. Dipping the glass into any variety of juices to produce sugar rims with different flavors and color. A number of purveyors also market sugars (and salts) in a wide array of colors and flavors just for this very purpose.
One final thought regarding adding sugar to the rim of a cocktail glass. Often the wisest course of action is coating only half of the rim instead of its entirety. That offers the recipient the choice of whether to sip the Sidecar with or without an added blast of sugar.
About White Russians
The White Russian is a combination of vodka, cream, Kahlúa and ice. Born in the early 1970s, the largely unheralded rocks drink has spawned an amazing number of highly successful progeny, and as such, it now represents a substantial branch of American mixology.
The White Russian’s appeal is timeless. Vodka over ice is clean and versatile. Add in the coffee liqueur and cream, it’s like drinking an iced coffee with a wee bit more gusto. The caffeinated treat is just as tempting at the start of ones night as it is at the end. There is beauty and grace in simplicity and the most beautiful and graceful of all simple concoctions is the White Russian.
As is the case with most legendary figures, the White Russian comes from noble stock. The drink is the product of the marriage of two equally successful drinks. The Sombrero is simply Kahlúa and cream, which is as natural a combination as adding cream to your morning cup of coffee. It’s even a pleasure watching the two ingredients swirl together and slowly transform into one unbeatable taste experience. The other parent is the Black Russian, one of the basic building blocks in mixology. While only vodka with an added dose of Kahlúa, the drink is delectable in its simplicity. Combine the two drinks and you’ve created a legend. The White Russian is indeed one of the classic drinks to come out of the 20th century. Its ability to creatively inspire is prodigious.
- Premium Spirits — When it comes to Black and White Russians, almost every type of spirit works. For example, substituting the vodka in a Black Russian with tequila creates a Brave Bull. Add cream to a Brave Bull to make a White Bull. The combination of brandy and Kahlúa is called a Dirty Mother and splashing in a spot of cream changes it into a Dirty White Mother. Both of the Russians can also be made with light, dark or spiced rum, as well as Irish, Canadian, Bourbon and many types of Scotch whiskeys.
With the finest flavored vodkas at your beck and call, consider making a specialty White Russian using a flavored vodka as the base. Popular examples are Stoli Razberi, Absolut Vanilia, or chocolate flavored vodkas, coffee, espresso, pineapple, pomegranate, coconut, mango and orange vodkas to name but a few. Essentially, any flavor that complements the taste of coffee and cream will work in a Russian.
- Coffee Liqueurs — Most White Russians contain Kahlúa, which is by far the bestselling coffee liqueur in the world. The liqueur is produced in Mexico from a base of distilled sugar cane that is steeped with vanilla beans and mountain-grown coffee.
There are however, other coffee liqueur options available with which to construct fabulous Russians. One such welcome addition to the backbar is super-premium Patrón XO Café Coffee. Imported by the same folks who make Patrón Tequila, XO Café is made in Mexico from aged añejo tequila and the pure, natural essence of coffee. The liqueur is crafted with a minimal amount of sweetener, which makes it drier and more of a coffee-flavored tequila than a typical liqueur. The marriage of tequila and coffee works beautifully, making Patrón XO Café a superb ingredient for use in White Russians.
Tia Maria is a delicious coffee liqueur from Jamaica. It’s made from a blend of premium, aged rums that have been steeped with chocolate and Blue Mountain coffee beans, which are the most expensive and highly sought after coffee beans in the world. The somewhat dry, robust palate of coffee, rum and chocolate flavors make it ideally suited for any Russian-based assignment.
- Cream — The final act in a White Russian is the splash of cream. Some bartenders use whatever creamer is readily available, such as half & half. In fact, the last ingredient can be milk, chocolate milk, half & half, or heavy cream. The decision which to use is an individual one. For the record, a White Russian finished off with skim milk is referred to as a Skinny Russian. On the other end of the spectrum, you can use melted ice cream in lieu of the milk for a calorie-laden quaff.
Other options do exist, beginning with using a cream liqueur instead of half & half cream. There are numerous brands from which to choose, including Baileys, Carolans, Amarula and Tequila Rose Java. Each will enhance the drink in its own singular way.
- Liqueur Modifiers — The White Russian is a marvelously versatile drink to experiment with. It adapts especially well to being modified with liqueurs. Imagine splashing in some Chambord atop a White Russian. Chambord’s luxurious raspberry flavor is a near perfect complement to the Russian’s coffee and cream taste profile. The same is true for Frangelico, Disaronno Amaretto, Agavero and Irish Mist. For an added dose of vim and vigor consider adding Jägermeister, Goldschläger or Yukon Jack into the mix.
Another option is to change how the drink is formulated. For example, serve the White Russian in a tall glass and add some cola to make the Colorado Bulldog. Back off the vodka and you’ve created a Smith & Wesson, or if you’d prefer, substitute club soda for the cola and the drink becomes a Smith & Kerns.
It’s hard to conceive of a drink with as many creative permutations as the White Russian.
About Long Islands
On a space-time continuum, the Long Island Iced Tea falls somewhere between the Harvey Wallbanger and Silk Panties. The tall, sublime concoction originated in the late 1970s at the Oak Beach Inn in Babylon, Long Island. The drink’s creator is bartender Robert Bott.
In addition to having one of the longest drink names in the business, the Long Island Iced Tea is an inexplicably brilliant creation. The drink is concocted with half an ounce of gin, vodka, light rum, tequila and triple sec, two ounces of sweet ‘n’ sour and roughly the same amount of cola. The ingredients are then shaken, which thoroughly mixes the ingredients and dissipates the carbonation from the cola. The drink is served in a tall iced glass with a lemon wedge garnish.
When made properly, the Long Island Iced Tea should taste nearly identical to its brewed, alcohol-free counterpart, with one, not so minor exception; it packs a bona fide wallop. The drink in all of its guises is a tailor-made heat buster, a perfect elixir for the dog days of summer. One note of caution, these drinks are potent. Their effect is markedly increased in the summer heat with the sun pounding down. Long Island Iced Teas and UV rays, they’re great when taken in moderation.
Potency notwithstanding, the Long Island Iced Tea is one of the great mixed drinks to emerge from the 20th century.
- Premium Spirits — Because of the large number of ingredients used, many a bar serves their guests Long Islands prepared with inexpensive brands of liquor. While it might make sense from a cost standpoint, it’s a mistake from a mixology perspective. As stated, no one really understands why the recipe works, no less works well. Clearly keeping all of the liquor in balance is crucial. The best course of action therefore is to make the drink with quality brands and eliminate the chances of an inferior product disturbing the drink’s inner workings.
There are always an adventurous few who don’t accept boundaries, or the status quo. In their pursuit of the perfect Long Island, an impressive number of creative variations have slipped into the mainstream that call for a different blend of spirits. The possibilities are staggering.
- Liqueur Modifiers — While its unusual assortment of spirits tends to grab most of the attention, let’s not lose sight of the role triple sec has played in the drink’s phenomenal success. The liqueur adds body, flavor and sweetness, all things that contribute to the overall effect.
The admonition about only using quality brands in Long Islands also holds true for the triple sec. That having been said, there is no finer Curaçao liqueur than Cointreau. Not surprisingly, the most immediate improvement one can make to their Long Islands is to reach for the top-shelf and make the drink with the good stuff.
A variation on the theme is to craft specialty Long Islands with Grand Marnier, or GranGala as the modifier. They bring a great deal of character to the equation, namely a vibrant palate of orange and brandy flavors. Blue Curaçao makes an excellent substitute for the triple sec as well.
- Modifying the Mix — Long Islands are made with a base of sweetened lemon juice and cola. Change the composition of that base mix and you’ll alter the flavor of the finished drink.
The last piece of advice about Long Islands is to use a quality sweet ‘n’ sour, or better yet, use fresh lemon juice and sweeten it with simple syrup. The natural presumption is that with all of the ingredients in the drink, one won’t be able to discern the quality of the base mix. Not so. Rely solely on quality products and you won’t be disappointed in the results.
About Lemon Drops
The Lemon Drop purportedly originated at a Henry Africa’s in San Francisco in the early 1990s. In a time when drinks leaned toward the sweet end of the spectrum, this exceptionally light and refreshingly tart cocktail bucked the trend.
The Lemon Drop is a cocktail made with citrus-infused vodka, simple syrup and fresh lemon juice. The ingredients are shaken vigorously and served in a chilled cocktail glass. The interactive nature of the original garnish likely fueled the Lemon Drop’s tremendous popularity. It was a sugarcoated lemon wedge and the ritual was after each sip to take a lick of sugar and suck on the lemon. Slowly that gave way to the drink being presented with a sugared rim.
In its earliest incarnation, the Lemon Drop was little more than a well-presented Vodka Sour. To this day, many reputable drink guides still list the drink’s ingredients as citrus-infused vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. But the cocktail’s big break came when mixologists began using Cointreau as the sweetener, instead of simple syrup. The addition catapulted the cocktail into a more elite status. The classic liqueur imbued the drink with better balance, more body and contributed considerably to its depth of character.
The Lemon Drop’s appeal is nearly as universal as that of lemonade. There’s something especially tantalizing about a cocktail that can deftly deliver so much lip-smacking, mouth-puckering flavor and do it with class. It’s a cocktail with great creative potential as well. Here are the best kept secrets behind America’s greatest Lemon Drops.
- Premium Spirits — The Lemon Drop is a clean and uncomplicated cocktail, qualities that make it ideal for presenting top-shelf vodka brands, citrus-infused or otherwise. The better the vodka, the better the Lemon Drop.
For more than a decade, however, the nation’s mixologists have refused to leave well enough alone. As it turns out, the cocktail adapts beautifully to a wide array of flavored vodkas.
- Liqueur Modifiers — Substituting Cointreau for simple syrup in the Lemon Drop elevated it into stardom. Liqueurs are capable of doing that to cocktails. Staying within the orange taste profile, Grand Marnier is marvelous in Lemon Drops. Another potential leap in evolution is possibly modifying with the cocktail with a handful of brands, such as Midori, ZEN, PAMA, limoncello or Chambord.
- Scratch Mixes — Making lemon sour mix (a.k.a. sweet ‘n’ sour, sweetened lemon juice) from scratch is uncomplicated and often yields the finest results. In a classically uncomplicated cocktail like the Lemon Drop, using the freshest ingredients possible makes a perceptible difference.
Finishing a specialty Lemon Drop with a splash of Perrier or San Pellegrino will add effervescence without altering the flavor of the cocktail. In some cases, however, especially when the drink is on the tart side, a splash of lemon-lime soda is just the thing to balance it out.
Lastly, there are mixologists extraordinaire who advocate adding a dash of Angostura Bitters to Lemon Drops. It may initially give you pause, that is until you actually taste a Lemon Drop concocted with bitters. The additional burst of flavor is much appreciated.
About Old Fashioneds
Credit for originating the Old Fashioned goes to the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Kentucky. In the mid-1880s, the Old Fashioned was popular with the members, one of whom was bourbon distiller Colonel James Pepper. It is said that he introduced it to the bar staff at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. That proved to be its gateway to the world.
The Old Fashioned of that era differed from its present incarnation in one significant way. Constructed in a whiskey glass, the recipe called for a small lump of sugar, two dashes of Angostura Bitters and a little amount of water, ostensibly to hasten the sugar dissolving. It further instructed the barman to add a jigger of bourbon, a piece of lemon peel and to mix the ingredients with a spoon. The spoon was to be left with the guest. So where’s the muddled cherry and orange that so defines today’s Old Fashioned?
The now accepted version can trace its lineage back to Prohibition. Times were rough and bootlegged whiskey was even rougher. The muddled cherry and orange slice were no doubt a necessary response to the inferior liquor. With the Repeal, the Old Fashioned sported a new look and loads of fresh fruit character. Along the way, the water in the original recipe was replaced with a splash of seltzer, charged water, and the Old Fashioned was on its way.
The drink’s timeless appeal lies in the interplay of the whiskey and murky, muddled base. The cocktail once again proves the adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
- Premium Spirits — The drink was born and bred to showcase whiskeys and with few exceptions, the Old Fashioned is an ideal vehicle for serving whiskey of all nationalities. Bourbons, ryes, Canadians, Irish and the malts of Scotland are at home in the cocktail. Brandies are also well adapted to the muddled fruit mélange of the Old Fashioned. In Wisconsin, the drink is typically prepared with brandy. Applejack and Calvados are excellent substitutes as well.
And then there’s Southern Comfort. For generations the classic American liqueur has been popularly featured in Old Fashioneds. The liqueur’s semisweet character and bourbon and peaches flavor melds seamlessly with the muddled fruit and bitters.
- Muddling — For many a bartender the Old Fashioned was a groundbreaking cocktail. It was the drink that needed to be muddled. While now an increasingly frequent tactic for introducing the flavor of fresh ingredients into a cocktail, for decades the Old Fashioned was the only such example in contemporary mixology. Few drinks more perfectly align with what people are looking for from the cocktail experience, namely brilliant fresh flavors in an easy to drink style.