Having sampled many cocktails recently (as part of my professional curiosity), I know that being a bartender can be extremely fun job. Talking about your passion and making great drinks (mixology) is an art, and every cocktail a good bartender makes should be a masterpiece.
There is also the long history and mythology of the great cocktails and I never forget the role of James Bond in my love of cocktails. In total, Bond orders 19 vodka martinis and 16 gin martinis throughout Fleming’s novels and short stories.
I also like to mix cocktails like the martini at home and do so for many reasons. Firstly, it’s cheaper than drinking out. Secondly, it’s fun to mix your own drinks at home. Thirdly, it’s even more fun to mix drinks for other people at home and see their joy. Throw in some history and knowledge (some call it trivia) and you have the potential for an amazing night. My list below should be your starting point to explore further and learn more.
I know there are hundreds of classic and essential cocktails recipes out there. Research shows that many of them were created in the 1800’s and even more are being thought up today by creative bartenders. If you really wanted to, you could spend years pouring over cocktail books and practicing bartending techniques to master them all. But do you really need to memorise a hundred cocktail recipes to excel as a home bartender?
Of course, you don’t. Most of the time, you will only ever make a few cocktails (again and again), so you should focus on learning how to make the basic (essential) cocktails well. Make them your signature drink and combine them with a great story or few tasty facts and you are there.
In the cutting-edge world of craft cocktails the unique and unusual have become the norm. From bartenders’ self-invented nightly specials to drinks that have taken the nation by storm (from Cosmopolitan to Lynchburg Lemonade) there is no shortage of creative selections to be had.
However, at the core of home bartending are the classics drinks like 007’s favourite Martini (and Vesper), the Manhattan and even the Mai Tai. These drinks not only served as the cornerstone of bars in the past, but many have also served as the basis for the drinks we have come to love and enjoy today.
These are my favourites that I am working on making better through practice and asking better questions of bartenders. Let’s start with my favourite and James Bond’s the Martini and Vesper.
The Magic of the Martini and the Vesper
The Martini is forever my classic and my go to drink at any bar, because of James Bond ordering his all-time favourite, ‘Martini, shaken not stirred.’ The earliest form appears in the first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953). After meeting his CIA contact Felix Leiter for the first time, Bond orders a drink from a barman while at the casino.
A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’
‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’
‘Certainly monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
‘Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter.
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.
— Casino Royale, Chapter 7: Rouge et Noir
This version of the Martini was referred to as a ‘Vesper’, after the original Bond girl, Vesper Lynd. A Vesper differs from Bond’s usual cocktail of choice, the martini, in that it uses both gin and vodka, Kina Lillet instead of vermouth, and lemon peel instead of an olive.
More clues to the perfect Vesper / Martini follow. James tells the same barman that vodka made from grain instead of potatoes makes the drink even better. In fact, Kina Lillet is no longer available, but can be approximated by using the sweeter Lillet Blanc along with a dash of Angostura Bitters.
- 2 oz. Vodka/Gin Dash Dry Vermouth
- Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a martini glass.
- Garnish with a skewer of olives.
- Dry – No vermouth
- Dirty – Dash of olive juice.
- Shaken – Shake vodka/gin with ice instead of stirring.
- On The Rocks – Served in a rocks glass with ice.
One of the oldest cocktails in the U.S. the name is the shortened version of ‘Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.’ To keep it true to the classic Rye Whiskey, it is the base of this drink.
- Cherry and Orange Slice
- 1 tsp sugar or 1 sugar cube
- 1 1/2 oz. American Rye or Bourbon
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Muddle the cherry (without stem), orange slice, bitters and sugar until it has been reduced to mush.
- Add whiskey and ice, stir and serve.
No drink on this list comes close to the controversy behind the origination of this drink. One claim is it was first served at Trader Vic’s in 1944, the other is that it was created at Don the Beachcomber’s in 1933. Regardless, the recipes outnumber the claims to its founding so here is one that is sure to please the pallet of most Mai Tai connoisseurs.
- 3/4 oz. Bacardi Light Rum
- 1/4 oz. Bacardi 151 Rum
- 1/2 oz. Orange Curacao
- 1/2 oz. Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz. Orgeat Syrup
- 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup Build in a highball glass over ice and stir. Garnish with Mint, Cherry, and Pineapple.
Aperol spritz, a cocktail that’s only gained popularity in recent years, despite being created in the 1950s.The main reason for its recent resurgence is because the company behind Campari bought Aperol out and proceeded to market the hell out of it. Now, it’s ordered all over the world, particularly in the summer months. Serve in a White-wine glass
- 2 shots Aperol
- 2 shots prosecco
- 2 shots soda
- Garnish: 1 orange slice
- Build all the ingredients in a white wine glass. Add ice cubes & lightly stir.
- Add the Garnish.
This drink is one of the easiest cocktails to perfect.
- 2 oz. of bourbon/whiskey
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes of bitters
- Build ingredients over ice, stir, strain into martini glass if you’re serving it up or into a rocks glass with ice if it’s being served on the rocks, garnish with a Cherry.
- Make an even more perfect Manhattan by substituting the sweet vermouth with 1/2 oz. of dry and 1/2 oz. of sweet vermouth.
Long Island Ice Tea
Dating back to the 1920s or 1970s, depending on which story you choose to believe, this is one classic that packs a powerful punch.
- 1/2 oz. Vodka
- 1/2 oz.
- Rum 1/2 oz.
- Gin 1/2 oz.
- Triple Sec 1/2 oz.
- Tequila 1/2 oz.
- Sour Mix Cola Build the first four ingredients over ice in a highball glass, add sour mix, top with cola and garnish with a lemon or lime.
Sex on the Beach
The cocktail with a fancy name is very popular in high-end venues and summer clubs near the beach. It’s a must-have during a summer holiday, you can’t leave Ibiza without having tasted one. It’s one of the sweetest cocktails, as it is a mix of 3 different juicy mixers (peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry juice) with some vodka. Since it’s so juicy, it’s the easiest cocktail to drink for people who don’t really like the taste of strong alcoholic drinks, but want to enjoy the benefits of it.
- 1 1/3 oz. Vodka
- 1 1/3 oz. Cranberry juice
- 2/3 oz. Peach schnapps
- 1 1/3 oz. Orange juice
- Build all ingredients in a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with orange slice. On the rocks; poured over ice.
Exactly where and how the margarita was founded has been lost in the history of the cocktail. What is certain is that a margarita is a top pick for taking the edge off those hot summertime afternoons–and once you get the basic recipe down it is one of the easiest to personalise.
- 1 oz. Tequila
- 1 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
- 1 oz. Sour
- Mix Build ingredients over ice and shake, pour into a highball glass with a salted rim, garnish with a lime.
Rumoured to have been created in a bar in Brussels in the 1940’s it’s believed the name is either based on the use of the black coloured coffee liqueur and Russian vodka or is in homage to the beginnings of the cold war. Regardless, this easy-to-make cocktail is both tasty and the basis for two other popular drinks; the White Russian and the Colorado Bulldog.
- 1.5 oz. Vodka
- 1/2 oz. Kahlua or Coffee Liqueur
- Add ingredients to mixing glass with ice and stir, strain into a rocks glass over ice.
- To make a White Russian simply add 1/2 an oz. of cream to the recipe. To make it a Colorado Bulldog add 1 oz. of cream, pour into a highball glass with ice and top with Coke.
The oldest known written example of the Whiskey Sour can be found in a Wisconsin magazine dating back to 1870. Today there are numerous recipes to choose from in addition to the original and below is one of my favourites.
- 1 1/2 oz. Whiskey
- 1 1/2 oz.
- Fresh Lemon Juice (Half a lemon)
- 3/4 oz. simple syrup
- Build in a shaker with ice, shake, strain and serve straight up or over ice (both are acceptable versions), garnish with a cherry.
The official drink of Puerto Rico has a past almost as controversial as the Mai Tai. Some believe the recipe dates as far back as the early 1800’s and others claim it wasn’t created until the 20th century. Despite its vague past, the Pina Colada has become a favourite at backyard BBQ’s and the local Tiki bar.
- 1 1/4 oz. Light Rum
- 2 oz. Pineapple Juice
- 2 oz. Cream of Coconut
- Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker and shake, pour into highball glass and garnish with a slice of pineapple and/or a cherry.
This aperitif served as an appetizer before a meal, originated in Florence Italy in 1919. It is thought that the bitters (historically used as a medicinal) are good for you and the gin isn’t, making it the perfect balanced drink.
- 1.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
- 1.5 oz. Gin 1.5 oz. Campari
- Combine ingredients in a rocks glass over ice and stir. Garnish with an orange twist.
With the new Bond movie due out in 2020, here are your trivia notes for that first martini / Vesper:
- ‘Shaken, not stirred’ first appears in the novel. Diamonds Are Forever (1956), though Bond himself does not actually say it until Dr. No (1958), where his exact words are ‘shaken and not stirred.’
- In the film adaptations of Fleming’s novels, the phrase is first uttered by the villain, Dr. Julius No, when he offers the drink in Dr. No (1962), and it is not uttered by Bond himself (played by Sean Connery) until Goldfinger (1964).
- It is used in numerous Bond films thereafter with the notable exceptions of You Only Live Twice (1967), in which the drink is wrongly offered as ‘stirred, not shaken’, to Bond’s response ‘Perfect’.
I always remember the line from Casino Royale (2006) in which Bond, after losing millions of dollars in a game of poker, is asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred and snaps,
‘Do I look like I give a damn?’