Back to Basics

Since we are teaching a bitters class this week, we thought we would go back to basics and revisit the original cocktail recipe – base liquor plus sugar, water, and bitters.

The Whiskey Cocktail is the original Old Fashioned, before Don Draper ever thought of ordering the drink that now goes by that name. This cocktail is as simple as it sounds. Start with whiskey, add sugar (we prefer simple syrup because it dissolves better), add bitters, and stir with ice (the water in the equation).

In the late 1800s, it became fashionable to fill cocktail glasses with a variety of fruits, but true believers would go into a bar and ask for “one the old fashioned way,” meaning NO FRUIT, just a basic cocktail. Over time, this understanding became muddled like the hunks of cherry and orange you see at the bottom of an Old Fashioned today.

Whiskey Cocktail 3Whiskey Cocktail

  • 2 ounces of good whiskey (bourbon, rye, Irish, whatever you prefer – but not Scotch)
  • 1/2 ounce of simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of bitters – if you can find them, use Jerry Thomas bitters or Boker’s. Angostura will do in a pinch. Peychaud’s is good for variety.

Stir in a mixing glass full of ice until about 25% of the ice melts, then strain into a small rocks glass. Garnish with a piece of fresh lemon peel.

Another drink that is beautiful in its simplicity is the Champagne Cocktail, which is just about as old as the cocktail itself, but it became more popular than ever during the roaring ’20s.

Champagne Cocktail 2Champagne Cocktail

  • Put a sugar cube in a champagne flute or coupe glass
  • Soak the sugar cube with bitters – again Angostura will do fine, but be adventurous
  • Fill the glass with champagne, preferable a very dry one, but it needn’t be expensive

We do like to use an actual sugar cube ¬†for this one because of the visual effect. As the bitters-soaked sugar cube slowly dissolves, the bittersweet combination begins to cascade up from the bottom of the glass. It’s not a crime to stir a little bit to help it along though.

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Valentine’s Day Cocktails

Here are a couple of suggestions for a special night with a special someone. Our first selection reminds us of a furtive romp in the barn that results in a shotgun wedding.

Moonshiners DaughterThe Moonshiner’s Daughter

  • 2 ounces Stills Crossroads Alabama ‘Shine
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce Pama
  • 1/4 ounce passion fruit syrup
  • white of one egg
  • three drops pear bitters

Add all ingredients except the bitters to a mixing glass. As with any egg white cocktail, shake first without ice. Then add ice and shake again. Strain into a coupe and carefully drop pear bitters into the foam.

Use a stirrer to draw the bitters into a heart shape, or a puppy, or whatever.

Our second selection is more of a dessert drink with just a little nip of a bitter bite on the back end. Because, you know, that’s how love really is. This one is frisky.

Chocolate Cherry 2It Happened One Night

  • 2 ounces xo brandy
  • 1/2 ounce Campari
  • 1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
  • 1/2 ounce creme de cacao

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a brandy snifter. Add a Luxardo maraschino cherry for extra fancy decadence.

While enjoying, listen to the 1997 hit song “Valentines Day” by my old band PopCanon.