The bestselling classic cocktails at the world's best bars

17 May, 2023

5. Daiquiri

The very essence of simplicity, and a study in perfect balance, the Daiquiri elevates its three humble ingredients into something far greater than their sum. It also might be the most bastardised of cocktails, suffering one lurid, sickly-sweet transformation after the next, over the course of its long history. It has spawned its fair share of worthwhile variations too, at least everything from the Hemingway Daiquiri of Havanas El Floridita, to Gregor De Gruythers Nuclear Daiquiri.

Meanwhile, the original simply combining rum, lime and sugar endures. Origin stories abound, with a number featuring American engineer Jennings Stockton Cox, stationed near the village of Daiquiri in Cuba from the late 1800s. Some say that Cox reached for the local spirit when he ran out of gin while entertaining some American guests, others that he was inspired by his workers and their practice of mixing their rum ration with coffee. Likely, the combination of rum, lime and sugar predated him.

4. Espresso Martini

Equal parts functional and flavourful, this caffeinated classic has been on the rise in recent years. It was at some point in the 80s, at the Soho Brasserie on Old Compton Street in London, that legendary bartender Dick Bradsell received a request from a young lady for something thats gonna wake me up, then fuck me up. The resulting Vodka Espresso had all the ingredients of todays version vodka, sugar syrup, coffee liqueur and espresso but was served on the rocks.

Later, when Bradsell was working at Match on Clerkenwell Road, the drink evolved into the Espresso Martini, complete with three coffee beans as garnish. At times going by the name Pharmaceutical Stimulant, this is the version that continues to perform its original function for drinkers today, but it wasnt until a few years ago that it really took off, no doubt benefiting from coffees recent rise in popularity.

3. Margarita

Nothing says good times quite like tequilas flagship cocktail, the Margarita. Its most classic incarnation, in which tequila is shaken with lime juice and orange liqueur, most likely has its origins in the pre-Prohibition drink the Daisy. More of a template than a specific cocktail, the Daisy combined a spirit with lime juice and either orange liqueur or grenadine. The tequila version eventually came to be known by the Spanish word for daisy, and it went on to conquer the globe.

The Margarita has endured countless takes and variations in its time, many of them ignoble, to say the least, and the less said of those the better. But one version that unquestionably elevates the original is the Tommys Margarita, created by Julio Bermejo of Tommys Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco. His version, which replaces the orange liqueur with agave syrup, puts tequila centre stage, where it belongs.

2. Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned recalls a simpler time of no-nonsense, spirit-forward cocktail drinking. The essence of the earliest definition of the word cocktail’ – comprising spirit, sugar, water and bitters this classic emerged in the mid-to-late 1800s in opposition to new-fangled cocktail additions such as maraschino or absinthe. Gimme an old-fashioned Whisky Cocktail,a patron would say, curbing the enthusiasm of an eager barkeep.

For all its simplicity, theres no shortage of nuance and customisation here. Theres the spirit, of course, with bourbon and rye at the forefront, but variations using other aged spirits too. Sugar comes in syrup or cube form, with demerara and the like to choose from, and theres a vast array of bitters to incorporate, singly or in combination. Then theres the garnish, mercifully limited to orange or lemon zest nowadays. Gone, mostly, are the dark days of muddled fruit Old Fashioneds too fancy for this humble drink.

1. Negroni

This quintessentially Italian aperitivo has become ubiquitous in recent times, and justifiably so. The Negroni is punchy and complex, yet bright and lifted, with a gorgeous colour. And its difficult to make badly, thanks to an easy, equal-parts ratio of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.

Like any self-respecting classic, the Negronis origins are contested, and will likely ever remain so. Perhaps the best tale of its creation involves an Italian cowboy with a cheeky request for more booze in his aperitivo. The former cattle farmer a count, no less was Camillo Negroni, who returned to his native Florence after his travels in the US. The beverage in need of more kick was the Americano, an approachable mix of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda. Count Negroni, the story goes, moseyed up to the bar at the Caffé Casoni somewhere around the year 1919, and instructed bartender Fosco Scarselli to spruce up his drink with some gin. Scarselli is said to have added a twist of his own, replacing the customary lemon garnish with orange, and a legend was born.

A word on the cocktail genealogy here, as the Americano is itself a twist on the Milano-Torino, a deceptively simple combination of Campari and sweet vermouth. The addition of soda water made it more palatable to American tourists, likely giving the drink its name. The Count Negroni followed, with his hard-drinking ways, but thats not where the family tree ends, of course. Theres the recently TikTok-famous Negroni Sbagliato, for example, created in the 1970s through yet another ingredient swap. According to legend, Milan bartender Mirko Stocchetto, making a standard Negroni, accidentally picked up a bottle of prosecco instead of gin. And so the wheel turns. Nowadays youll find bartenders switching any and all of the Negronis components – the next enduring variation may already be out there.




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