A cocktail course for “night school” students
I know people who are working on advanced degrees in various subjects, and I’m proud of them for their work ethic. I, too, have a work ethic, especially when it comes to cocktails. At this point, I figure I’ve got a graduate degree in cocktails, especially if you take into account my barstool extracurricular activities, some poolside summer classes and perhaps a few correspondence courses.
For those of you working to advance your studies, we’ve got the ultimate cocktail curriculum for you. Choose your course of study below, and work your way through each of the three cocktail levels: basic, intermediate, and geek. Our thought is that if you have tried and liked the basic cocktail in each course, you’re going to love the other two.
Course: Vodka to Gin
Basic: Vodka Martini — This has become the modern-day default when ordering a Martini, though it didn’t overtake the classic Gin Martini in popularity until 1953, when a certain spy started asking for his “shaken, not stirred.”
Intermediate: Vesper — Named after a Bond girl, which is reason enough to drink it. This drink is a combination of vodka and gin, perfect for vodka drinkers who want to transition to gin.
Geek: Gin Martini — “This is a real Martini,” says your father. In a historical sense, he’s right. The Gin Martini has been around since the 1860s. E.B. White famously called it the “elixir of quietude” while Harry and Lloyd (Dumb & Dumber) called them “bowls of loud-mouth soup.”
Course: Gin Studies
Basic: Gin Martini — Gin drinkers know this as the most basic and classic of all gin cocktails. If you’re here, your studies are already progressing nicely.
Intermediate: Clover Club — Originally a “gentlemen’s drink” at the Clover Club in Philadelphia. Despite the egg white in the recipe, more and more drinkers are discovering its crisp, bright flavors. Be bold, and try it.
Geek: Martinez — This cocktail is a mystery, with long-running discussions about its birthplace and its namesake. Many cocktail scholars consider it to be the predecessor of the Gin Martini, but the Martinez is definitely its own animal.
Course: Brown, Bitter, Stirred
Basic: Manhattan — Famous for its taste and its simplicity, and subtle variations abound. Jack Kerouac loves Manhattans and wrote about them in many of his books.
Intermediate: Vieux Carré — This is the drink that made me realize there were so many more delicious cocktails to explore. Born at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter (Old Square) of New Orleans, it’s a complex, overlooked classic.
Geek: Brooklyn — It isn’t the most famous cocktail from the most famous borough of New York City, but it’s a nod to its better-known, ever-hipper cousin across the East River. Think of it as a Manhattan with an amazing soundtrack full of musicians you don’t know…yet.
Course: Sweet and Sour
Basic: Cosmopolitan — Might be the most modern cocktail on this list, but its popularity warrants its spot.
Intermediate: Bee’s Knees — First invented as a way to disguise the flavor of bathtub gin during Prohibition, the lemon and honey flavored the drink so neither the drinker nor the detectives really knew what was in the glass.
Geek: Aviation — This drink has resurfaced after years of obscurity, mainly because it’s essential ingredient, Crème de Violette, was nearly unobtainable until 2007. This will change a gin-hater’s mind.
Course: Light and Refreshing
Basic: Mojito — May have been born at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, but its real Papa was Ernest Hemingway, who drank them whenever he was in Cuba.
Intermediate: Southside Fizz — A vodka-based cousin to the Mojito, this cocktail takes its name from the Southside Gang of Prohibition fame. Known as the unofficial official drink of NYC’s 21 Club, it’s been enjoyed for decades in the restaurant’s secret back rooms.
Geek: Pimm’s Cup — Made with Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based “fruit cup” liquor originally made by James Pimm in 1823 and subsequently bottled for the masses. It’s the perfect cocktail for easing into the evening.
Course: Boozy Classics
Basic: Old Fashioned — Introduced near the beginning of the 1800s, it was simply called a “whiskey cocktail” for a good part of its life. As other drinks began to surpass it in popularity, fans of the drink took to ordering it as an “old fashioned whiskey cocktail” to get what they wanted in the glass.
Intermediate: Boulevardier — This is sometimes described as a bourbon-based Negroni. The Campari gives it a bitter bite, but the bourbon and sweet vermouth smooth it over.
Geek: Sazerac — Named for Sazerac Cognac, this is considered by many to be the original American cocktail. It’s also the official drink of the City of New Orleans, so you know it’s strong. Made today with rye whiskey and an absinthe rinse, it’s a cocktail-lover’s cocktail.
Course: South of the Border
Basic: Margarita — This tequila standard is a delicious product of two countries having a drink together. Meaning “daisy” in Spanish, the Margarita is an altered version of the classic Daisy cocktail, with tequila as its base spirit.
Intermediate: Paloma — The Paloma actually outsells the Margarita in Mexico. It’s a simple mix of tequila and Squirt or Fresca, but you can fancy it up with real grapefruit juice instead of soda.
Geek: El Diablo — Made with “rested” or slightly aged reposado tequila, along with crème de Cassis and Ginger Beer, this is the sophisticated, complex cousin to more traditional tequila cocktails.
Basic: Mimosa — Few drinks are so widely acceptable in the morning as a Mimosa. With booze and vitamins, it’s a perfect way to start the day.
Intermediate: Champagne Cocktail — Your grandmother was on to something when she ordered these. First poured in its modern form at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York in 1935, its recipe hasn’t changed a whit. The sugar and bitters take sparkling wine to a whole new level.
Geek: French 75 — This cocktail was named after a French gun and is said to have been invented in WWI by Allied servicemen toasting their fallen comrades. Some credit the French and Americans with adding Cognac to this recipe, while the British preferred theirs with gin.