The bestselling classic cocktails at the world's best bars

17 May, 2023

10. Penicillin

Born in the mid-2000s, this whippersnapper of a modern classic effortlessly rubs shoulders on this list with drinks dating back to the mid-1800s. Its earned its place with a timeless combination of scotch whisky, lemon juice and sugar, the latter taking the form of a ginger and honey syrup. The final flourish by the drinks creator, Sam Ross, is a float of peaty Islay single malt, adding a smoky, almost-medicinal element to the cocktails aroma. 

While this is quite clearly a Whiskey Sour riff, Ross, who was working at New Yorks Milk & Honey at the time, based his creation on one of that bars well-known cocktails, the Gold Rush. Itself a Sour twist, the Gold Rush combined bourbon with lemon and honey. Its evolution, the Penicillin, quickly spread beyond the bar in which it was invented, finding itself on cocktail lists far and wide.

9. Aperol Spritz

Synonymous with the Italian institution that is aperitivo hour, the distinctively-coloured Aperol Spritz has been enjoying more than a moment over the past decade or so, no longer only in its native Italy, but seemingly in every corner of the globe. The perfect low-abv accompaniment to a light bite to eat as the sun sets, the Aperol Spritz couldnt be more early-2000s if it tried, with moderation trends and a move towards lighter flavours and away from high-energy drinking occasions. 

The Spritz, as a style of drink, pre-dates the creation of Aperol. It was in 1919 that brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri presented their new creation to the world, at the Padua International Fair. According to the brand, the Aperol Spritz itself came into being in the 1950s, soon becoming popular throughout the country. The official ratio, immortalised in advertising campaigns, is three parts prosecco, two parts Aperol and one part soda.

8. Manhattan

Not only the most famous cocktail to be named after a New York borough, the Manhattan also has some of the most colourful origin stories of the classics. One unlikely tale involves Winston Churchills mother, Jennie Jerome, who is said to have held a party in 1874 at New Yorks Manhattan Club for presidential candidate Samuel J Tilden. A certain Dr Iain Marshall reportedly created the drink for the event, which may be true, but Lady Randolph Churchill was almost certainly in Europe at the time, pregnant with Winston.

Another story attributes the drinks creation in the 1860s to a man named Black, who ran a bar on Broadway.  Regardless of who invented it, were fortunate to still have this transcendent combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters today, along with some of its more capable evolutions, such as the Rob Roy, or more recent Black Manhattan by US bartender Todd Smith.

7. Whiskey Sour

As a category of cocktail, the Sour is a venerable one, and its whiskey-based incarnation is the most prevailing. Countless citrus-and-spirit classics have followed, but the Whiskey Sour stands relatively unchanged, aside from a few details. The egg white thats near-essential nowadays wasnt always so, for example, but the core elements of whiskey, sugar and lemon juice come to us directly from the mid-1800s. The earliest written references to the Whisky Sour date back to around 1870, following the first mentions of the Sour in the 1850s.

Like all the best classics, theres an interplay between the ingredients that transforms the entirety of the drink into so much more, and also lends itself well to variation. Liqueurs such as amaretto have formed the base of popular twists, but its the original Whiskey Sour that continues to earn its spot in the top 10 of this list.

6.Dry Martini

Enduringly elegant and sophisticated, and a masterclass in minimalism, the Dry Martini is many things, but a cocktail with a neat origin story it is not. What people once knew as a Martini, or a Martinez or Martine, was a far cry from the Dry Martini of today, made with Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth and bitters. Some give credit, at least for the name, to New York resident Franklin Martine, who was mixing these ingredients together in the late 1800s.

It took some time for dry vermouth to enter the picture, and dry gin too, evolving the drink into something more closely resembling what we know today. That evolution continued, sometimes too far, such as the Anything Martinis of the 80s. But the timeless Dry Martini remains, with a range of gin-to-vermouth ratios in use, all simply garnished with an olive or lemon twist.

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