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In a world of endless cocktail choices, the classics are often the easiest to make. The key is to use high quality spirits and ingredients, know whether to shake or stir, and have the right barware to serve the drink in.
“The classics are so important in cocktail culture, now more than ever,” says Michael Vacheresse, co-owner and beverage director at Brooklyn’s Travel Bar. “Understanding the foundations of how cocktails are built, being able to taste ingredients working together… these are necessary for bartenders and customers to understand before you start building signature cocktails.” The base spirit can be whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, or tequila, so it’s best to have a good bottle of all of these on hand. You’ll also need some bitters, vermouth, amaro, and a few other easily obtainable ingredients like fresh fruit, simple syrup, and good maraschino cherries. Once you have what you need, making a decent drink shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.
Here are ten classic cocktail recipes from bar industry experts.
Old Fashioned (recipe by Michael Vacheresse, Travel Bar)
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1 Luxardo cherry
Quarter of an orange wheel
3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
1/8 oz (1 barspoon) simple syrup
Combine the fruit, simple syrup and bitters in a double Old Fashioned glass. Muddle the ingredients, top with the rye, fill glass with cracked ice, stir with the back of the bar spoon.
The Old Fashioned is one of the original cocktails, made from just three basic ingredients—whiskey, sugar, and bitters. Add a cherry and maybe some orange (as in this version), and the result is a spirit-forward drink that is just sweet enough with some citrus notes to balance out the whiskey’s flavor.
Manhattan (recipe by Michael Vacheresse, Travel Bar)
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
I Luxardo cherry
Combine all Ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice. Stir 30 times, strain into chilled coupe glass and garnish with the cherry.
The Manhattan is another classic three ingredient cocktail, served up instead of on the rocks. In this recipe, Vacheresse suggests using Rittenhouse Rye, which at 100 proof will hold its own when matched with the sweetness of the Carpano Antica vermouth. And don’t skimp on the stirring—30 stirs will ensure that the drink comes out icy cold.
Negroni (recipe by Liana Oster, Dante)
1 oz Bombay Sapphire
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Martini & Rossi Rosso Vermouth
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until cold, strain into tumbler filled with ice.
The Negroni is a classic, bright red cocktail that’s a little bit sweet, a little bit bitter, and a little bit aromatic. "I always recommend that people use frozen glassware for their cocktails wherever they can,” says Dante’s head bartender Liana Oster, “as it [ensures] the drinks are super cold and as refreshing as possible.” She also recommends batching a bunch of Negronis to store in the freezer so they are cold and ready for your next party.
Martini (recipe by Meaghan Dorman, Dear Irving on Hudson)
1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
2 oz Tanqueray 10 Gin
Build in mixing glass filled with ice. Stir and strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with lemon twist or olives. Add dash of olive brine if preferred.
The martini is one of the simplest cocktails, but also one of the most divisive. Gin or vodka? Shaken or stirred? Dry or dirty? And so on. However you like it, this is one drink you should know how to make at home. “Having a martini before a meal is a timeless tradition, and such an elegant start to an evening,” says Meaghan Dorman, bar director and partner at Dear Irving on Hudson. “While home bars don't need to be expansive, having the ability to make a martini is essential.”
Daiquiri (recipe by Will Pasternak, BlackTail)
2.5 oz white rum
1 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker, shake until cold, and strain.
When you think of a daiquiri, an image of slowly churning, frozen, bright yellow mush squeezing out of a machine might come to mind. But the real cocktail is simple and bright. “The Daiquiri is one of the first classic cocktails developed outside the United States,” says BlackTail head bartender Will Pasternak. “It has developed countless variations over the years. When making at home, make sure you are using fresh lime juice, and a nice quality white rum.” And he has one more tip: “If you don't want to make a simple syrup, you can just mix the fresh lime juice and sugar until they are incorporated, add the rum ice and shake.”
Boulevardier (Recipe by Ryan Chetiyawardana, Lyaness)
1 oz bourbon (preferably high rye)
1 oz rosso vermouth
1 oz Campari
Stir over ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.
The Boulevardier is often considered to be sort of the whiskey version of a Negroni. According to Ryan Chetiyawardana, owner of London’s Lyaness, there differences are significant. “Although this might seem simply like a bourbon version of a Negroni, the harmony is very different,” he says. “Serving them straight up as a twist on the classic gives it an even more sophisticated feel that suits when you need a palate livener (or stomach settler) that has the richness of whiskey.”
Margarita (Recipe by Patrick Henry, The Palm’s Beverage Partner)
1.5 oz Sauza Hornitos Reposado Tequila
.5 oz Cointreau
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz agave nectar
1 orange wedge squeezed
Prep your serving glass. If you would like salt, rub lime juice from a lime slice onto the lip or edge of the glass. Then roll that edge onto a bed or plate of salt to apply salt to the glass. Add all above listed ingredients into a pint glass (Hawthorne shaker) or into a cobbler shaker.
Top shaker with ice, seal, and shake vigorously for 5-10 seconds. Remove top of shaker and strain over fresh ice into your serving glass. Add a slice of lime as a garnish.
The most important thing to know about making a margarita is there is no need to use a premade mixer; it’s overly sweet, and it’s really easy to make this drink the right way yourself. Patrick Henry, The Palm’s beverage partner, has some helpful tips. “Always use fresh ingredients. Grab two limes and squeeze fresh juice to reach a full ounce for your cocktail.” Also, go easy on the tequila. “Stronger does not always mean better. Avoid making your drink too stiff so you can truly enjoy how all the flavors blend together.”
Vieux Carre (recipe by Marshall Altier, MGM Resorts Corporate Mixologist)
1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon Bénédictine D.O.M.
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Build and stir with ice in a mixing glass. Strain over fresh ice and pour into double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon peel after expressing oils into drink.
The Vieux Carre is synonymous with cocktail culture in New Orleans, according to Marshall Altier of MGM Resorts. “It was created in the 1930s at the Monteleone Hotel, where you can still go and sip one today at the world-famous Carousel Bar,” he says. “[It has] a beautifully complex flavor profile that is easy to make at home with its equal measures.” Altier suggests using a high proof rye like Old Overholt, and a good cognac like Hardy’s Organic VSOP. “Quality ingredients are the hallmark of a good [cocktail], so it’s crucial to select good spirits. Rye whiskey and cognac are the quintessential spirits of New Orleans, so they deserve to be considered carefully.”
Sidecar (recipe by Matt Tocco, beverage director for Strategic Hospitality in Tennessee)
2 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
.75 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
.75 oz lemon
1 tsp demerara syrup
2 dashes Regan's orange bitters
Shake hard with large pieces of ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
The Sidecar is a classic cocktail that is often overlooked, but when made well it combines bright citrus flavors with the richness of cognac. “[This is a] great cocktail to make at home,” says Matt Tocco of Strategic Hospitality, which operates a few Nashville bars. “[It doesn’t] require a tremendous amount of different ingredients or prepped items. It's just three or four bottles of booze, bitters, a syrup and some citrus. The key are the small little tricks to make the drinks really shine.”
Sazerac (Recipe by Matt Tocco, beverage director for Strategic Hospitality in Tennessee)
1 oz Wild Turkey 101 Rye
1 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
.25 oz demerara syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Dash of absinthe
2 lemon peels expressed into mixing glass
Chill a rocks glass with crushed ice and lace with St. George Absinthe. Dump crushed ice from chilled glass and strain cocktail into glass.
The Sazerac is another classic that has its roots in New Orleans. Tocco’s version uses both cognac and rye whiskey to balance out the licorice flavor of the absinthe rinse. ”Lemon oil gives the drink a bright complexity, but oftentimes kills the herbal aroma from the absinthe,” he says. “I like to express the lemon oils into the drink to give it the brightness without taking away from the herbaceousness.”