If I’m not drinking beer, I’m usually drinking something amber in a shot glass or tumbler–sure, sometimes I’ll suddenly realize that my drinking habits are acceptable for neither the company nor the venue, and I’ll have what he’s having, but my heart’s not in it. I realize though, that this is an irrational fear, and that I need to get over it if I want to become an elegant and savvy woman who occasionally says witty things over sophisticated drinks.Well, never let it be said that Pappy Darwin left a damsel in distress when she was seeking cocktail advice. Luckily, the "girlie drinks" fad is fairly new. When men were men, women were drinking, and everyone was black and white, ladies with class drank many of the same drinks that men with class did. Just consult Nora Charles, in the wonderful Thin Man movies, whose capacity for martinis was nearly as great as that of her husband:
And here, I think, we find the answer. If you are seeking the sophisticated drink to say witty things over, you need to stick to classic cocktails. Let's start at the top and work down.
This is the classic of classics. Get a quality gin and a if possible a quality vermouth. I'd recommend Plymouth gin, but Citadel or Bombay (London Dry or Sapphire) will do just as well, depending on your taste. Some of the more unusual gins like Hendrick's can create a someone unusual martini taste, and are perhaps better straight. Sadly, it's got harder to be exclusive about one's vermouth. Noilly Prat used to be, to me, the gold standard. But they changed their formula a few years back and the new, sweeter dry vermouth (designed for Europeans who drink the stuff straight -- which just shows they don't know any more about cocktails than they do about maintaining a currency zone) just doesn't cut it in the dry martini. So go with the standard Martini & Rossi if that's what you can find, or branch out into something unusual (say, the California-made Vya) if you can find it.
The making is simple, though a shocking number of bartenders manage to slip it up anyway. Here's my stab at the classic:
1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters (NOT Angostura bitters -- if you can't find orange bitters, don't use any)
Pour ingredients over ice is a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. (If you're a true purist like Nick Charles in the above clips, shake it to a waltz tempo.) Strain into a cocktail class and garnish with an olive.
Yes, you can substitute vodka for gin, but really, do you want to be that kind of person? (Admittedly, I've been known to engage in such perversity at times, but don't say I didn't warn you.)
Just as classic as the Martini is the Manhattan. The ratio here depends on the type of ingredients you have. Here's one I love, though it's a double (don't drink before driving):
4oz (rī)1 rye whiskey
2oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
Like a Martini, this drink is best shaken vigorously over ice and then strained. (Yes, shaking actually does give a different taste than stirring, though the difference dissipates after the first sip or two.) The Manhattan is traditionally garnished with a maraschino cherry, but I never do. My excuse is that it's not canonically required the way that the olive in the martini is.
You can make a very good Manhattan with Bourbon instead of Rye. The Rye is more traditional, but make sure it's a good Rye. (No, Jim Beam will not do.) However, Bourbon is canonical in a Manhattan in a way that Vodka is not in the Martini. Again, quality matters. Use your favorite Bourbon. (I go for Eagle Rare.) The vermouth is also important. If Martini & Rossi or some other cheap sweet vermouth is all you can get, cut the ratio down to 1 part vermouth to 4 parts whiskey, as cheaper sweet vermouths tend to be sweeter.
If a drink features prominently in Raymond Chandler novels, I think it counts as classic.
Actually, what I drink is slightly heretical when it comes to the Gimlet, but reprobate that I am I recommend that you follow me into my heresy by adding a dash or two of bitters to your Gimlet. Here's my recipe:
0.5oz Rose's Lime Juice
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Rose's is pretty sweet and dominates the drink with its sweet/bitter mix, so this can be a bottom shelf gin. I use Burnett's.
The Old Fashioned
In the classic comedy It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a character leaves the controls of his small plane to mix an old fashioned. "What if something goes wrong?" he's asked. "What can go wrong with an Old Fashioned?" he responds. The crash follows inevitably.
However, crashes do not necessarily follow an Old Fashioned, so fear not.
In the bottom of an Old Fashioned glass, mix 1 teaspoon sugar with 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
Add ice and 2oz Bourbon, then stir.
Yes, you can garnish it with fruit (a cherry, lemon peel and an orange slice, to be exact) but it's not required, and it's certainly not a "girlie drink". What indeed can go wrong with an Old Fashioned?
For wisdom on these and many other classic cocktails, there's no better guide than Eric Felten, the former WSJ drinks columnist, in his charming book How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well. Not only does he provide outstanding classic cocktail recipes, but he serves them up with all the appropriate history, book and movie references.