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The Test of Time

10 Contemporary cocktails on the path to becoming future classics.

 

Photo by Lara Ferroni

Everything changes—but even in this impermanent world, some things still endure.Today’s cocktail movement has resulted in countless memorable mixtures—but generations from now, which ones will still be around? We took a long look at some of our favorite drinks from recent decades and settled on 10 that seem to shine with the luster of longevity. Will these drinks still be in circulation when our great-grandchildren go out for a night on the town? Only time will tell—but in the meantime, grab your cocktail shaker and taste along.

 

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What makes a classic?

 

What qualities make a cocktail a classic? That’s the question we wrestled with while revisiting some of our favorite drinks from recent years. There’s no silver-bullet formula for creating a drink that’ll last the ages, but several common characteristics became apparent among our top candidates:

 

Deliciousness. Obviously, to withstand the tug-of-war of changing tastes, a drink needs to have a flavor that makes it special, whether a drinker is trying it for the first time or mixing it for the 100th.
 

Simplicity. We love the creativity of many of today’s bartenders, but there are no guarantees that future generations will be as enamored with labor-intensive preparations or complicated DIY ingredients. When in doubt, simple wins out.

 

Accessibility. A classic needs to appeal to a broad swath of the sipping public. A drink can be delicious, but if its audience is limited to a small band of devotees, it’s unlikely to last in the long run.


Tradition. Certain ingredient combinations and drink styles become classics for a good reason. Variations on old favorites that still bring something new and notable to the shaker have a head start on the competition.


History. New flavors and styles of spirits, bitters or liqueurs need to prove their long-term utility before a classic cocktail can be built upon them. Drinks made with ingredients that already have an established history—and, by extension, a promising future—are better bets for the long game.

 

 

 

Bramble
This blackberry-accented riff on a classic Gin Sour from pioneering British bartender Dick Bradsell established London early on as a global capital of the cocktail renaissance.

 

1½ oz. gin
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup (1:1)
¾ oz. crème de mure (blackberry liqueur)

Tools: barspoon
Glass: rocks
Garnish: lemon slice, blackberries

 

Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice and add first three ingredients; stir to combine. Add more crushed ice if needed and carefully drizzle crème de mure on top. Garnish.

 


Ritz Cocktail
Dale DeGroff raised the cocktail flag over New York during his tenure at the Rainbow Room in the 1980s and ’90s. His Ritz Cocktail, created while working at Aurora in 1985, bears the DNA of traditional classics, and it helped usher in a new wave of talented bartenders.

 

¾ oz. Cognac
½ oz. Cointreau
¼ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. maraschino liqueur
2-3 oz. chilled Champagne (or other sparkling wine)

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: orange zest

 

Combine all ingredients except Champagne in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake well to chill; strain into a chilled glass. Top with Champagne and garnish.

 

 

Penicillin
Australian bartender Sam Ross honed his
mixing talents in Melbourne before heading to New York City, where at Milk & Honey, Little Branch and Pegu Club (and now at Attaboy) he’s created several cocktails that may qualify as contemporary classics, among them this smoky, spicy mix of Scotch, honey and ginger.

 

2 oz. blended Scotch whisky
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¾ oz. honey syrup (1:1)
¼ oz. smoky Islay single-malt Scotch whisky
2-3 quarter-size slices fresh ginger

Tools: muddler, shaker, strainer, fine-mesh strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: candied ginger

 

Muddle fresh ginger in a shaker and add the remaining ingredients except for Islay whisky. Fill the shaker with ice and shake to chill; double-strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Float the Islay whisky on top and garnish.

 

 

Jasmine
This early-1990s cocktail from California bartender Paul Harrington (now at Clover in Spokane, Wash.) taps an Italian bitter liqueur for depth and complexity, and it was a precursor to the flood of similarly bright and bitter drinks that have flowed in recent years.

 

1½ oz. gin
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. Campari
¼ oz. Cointreau

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: lemon peel

 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake until chilled, strain into a chilled glass and garnish.

 

 

Gin Basil Smash
In the mid-2000s, Germany established its presence on the cocktail map with simple yet deliciously considered drinks, such as the Gin Basil Smash from Hamburg bartender and Le Lion proprietor Jörg Meyer.

 

2 oz. gin
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¾ oz. simple syrup (1:1)
2-3 sprigs fresh basil

Tools: muddler, shaker, strainer, fine-mesh strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: basil leaf

 

Muddle the basil in a shaker and add the remaining ingredients. Fill the shaker with ice and shake to chill. Fine-strain into ice-filled glass and garnish.

 


Breakfast Martini
Italian bartender Salvatore Calabrese has presided over some of London’s most elegant cocktail bars, but this bright and alluring drink is perfectly suited to a casual brunch.

 

1¾ oz. gin
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. Cointreau
1 tsp. orange marmalade

Tools: shaker, barspoon, strainer
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: quarter-size circle of orange peel

 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and stir to dissolve the marmalade. Fill the shaker with ice, shake to chill and strain into a chilled glass. Squeeze the orange peel over the drink and then use as garnish.

 

 

Chartreuse Swizzle
San Francisco has long struck a delicate balance between Old World sophistication and casual California creativity, and this drink from bartender Marcovaldo Dionysos (now at tiki haven Smuggler’s Cove) takes a complex and venerable French liqueur and transforms it into the perfect hammock drink.

 

1½ oz. green Chartreuse
1 oz. pineapple juice
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. falernum

Tools: barspoon
Glass: Collins
Garnish: mint sprig, fresh-grated nutmeg

 

Add all ingredients to a Collins glass and fill with crushed ice. Insert a barspoon into the drink, and swizzle the mixture by spinning the spoon’s handle between the palms of your hands, until the drink is well combined and frost appears on the outside of the glass. Top with more crushed ice and garnish.

 

 

Tommy's Margarita
Creativity sometimes takes a step toward simplicity. This riff on the classic Margarita—from Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco—removes orange liqueur from the equation, putting the focus of flavor almost entirely on Bermejo’s beloved tequila.

 

2 oz. tequila (either blanco or reposado, but definitely 100% agave)
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
¾ oz. agave syrup (agave nectar dissolved in an equal amount of warm water)
Kosher salt (optional)

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: rocks
Garnish: lime wedge

 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake to chill, strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish. (Optional: Before preparing drink, moisten the lip of the glass with a lime wedge and dip in kosher salt.).

 

 

Old Cuban
Pegu Club owner Audrey Saunders has crafted plenty of cocktails that have the potential to be classics, but this irresistible hybrid between a Mojito and a French 75 has quickly become an enduring favorite.

 

1½ oz. aged rum (a gentle, mellow rum like Bacardi 8 is recommended)
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup (1:1)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6-8 mint leaves
2 oz. chilled brut Champagne or dry sparkling wine

Tools: muddler, shaker, strainer, fine-mesh strainer
Glass: coupe
Garnish: mint leaf

 

Combine all ingredients except Champagne in a shaker and fill with ice. Shake to chill. Double-strain into a chilled glass, top with Champagne and garnish.

 

 

Kentucky Buck
A seemingly minor flourish can sometimes make all the difference. That’s the case with this twist on a classic Whiskey Buck, designed as a seasonal cocktail at San Francisco's Bourbon & Branch by then-manager Erick Castro, now an owner of Polite Provisions in San Diego.

 

2 oz. bourbon
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup (1:1)
1 medium strawberry
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Chilled ginger beer

Tools: muddler, shaker, strainer, fine-mesh strainer
Glass: Collins
Garnish: lemon wheel

 

Place the strawberry in a shaker and muddle. Add the remaining ingredients (except ginger beer) and fill the shaker with ice. Shake to chill, double-strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, top with ginger beer and garnish.

 

 

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