The best drinks, like the most satisfying meals, are simple and well executed. These three-ingredient cocktails are classics for a reason - they've weathered the years but haven't aged a day. You don't need a truckload of ingredients or ninja skills to pull these off at home, just a few bottles and basic tools.
Few cocktails boast a cult following as fanatical as the Negroni's. Your first might be hard to swallow, but by the second you're intrigued, verging on infatuated, and by the third you're hooked. The secret to the Negroni's charms is its complexity and balance - bitter, sweet and strong, it hits all flavour fixes.
1 oz London Dry gin (like Beefeater or Tanqueray)
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Stir well with ice and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass with a king cube. Garnish with a thick orange twist.
The Sidecar supposedly became famous at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, a European contribution (like the Negroni) to the mostly American classic cocktail bible. It's a cold-weather classic, but far too delicious to confine to a single season. I dig the proportions from The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), but add some simple syrup if you prefer it on the sweeter side.
1½ oz Cognac
¾ oz Cointreau (or orange-flavoured liqueur)
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
Shake and fine-strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Despite its mythic status in cocktail history, the origins of the Manhattan are murky at best. Some say it was fixed for Lady Randolph (Churchill's mama) at the Manhattan Club, while others insist it was created on a yachting trip from New Orleans to New York where booze provisions were limited to whisky and sweet vermouth. Whatever its origins, we do know this: it's tasted amazing for the past 150 years. Manhattans are easily adjusted to please more arid palates by splitting sweet and dry vermouth to make them "perfect."
2 oz rye or bourbon
1 oz sweet vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or an old-fashioned glass with a large cube (on the rocks). Garnish with a Luxardo maraschino cherry, or try an orange twist.
A cocktail in the most minimalist sense (spirit, sugar, bitters plus water), the old-fashioned is so well loved, it even has its own glass. In the 1800s, drinks like this were popular in the morning as "eye-openers," and I'll refrain from judgment if you choose to partake in this tradition at home.
At some dark point in history, it became de rigueur to smash a cornucopia of fruit, an additive that the purists of yesteryear referred to as "garbage," into whisky and call it an old-fashioned. Thankfully, we're getting back to basics.
2 oz rye or bourbon
1 sugar cube (or 1 teaspoon simple syrup)
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
In an old-fashioned glass, soak sugar cube with bitters and a splash of soda water to help it dissolve. Crush sugar, add whisky and ice and stir well. (Dilution is key to a good old-fashioned.) Garnish with a thick orange twist.
The daiquiri is so much more (or rather less) than the blended slop seasoned with powdered lime and corn syrup and pumped out by all-inclusive resorts and chain restaurants. The Cuban classic, belonging to the Daisy family of cocktails (spirit, citrus, sugar), is one of the simplest and most sublime drinks. Ernest Hemingway sure thought so - he soaked up daily daiquiris during his Havana years, preferring them without sugar and twice the rum.
1½ oz Havana Club 3 year old
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz simple syrup (add more if you like it sweet)
Best served shaken to shit and strained into a chilled cocktail glass over ice.
NOW weekly drinks columnist Sarah Parniak is a bartender with a (healthy) whiskey obsession. A former teacher and consultant at the Toronto Institute of Bartending, she's represented Canada in international bartending competitions. You can find her behind the stick at Kensington Market's Cold Tea, where she cracks a mean tallboy and likes to engage in booze sport. Follow her on Twitter @s_parns
All photos by David Hawe