Everything comes back into style. Bell bottoms, horn rim glasses, mustaches – if it was popular once, it'll be popular again. In the last few years, thanks to a resurgence of interest in mixology and good old-fashioned bartending, not to mention the well-sauced characters on “Mad Men,” classic cocktails are making the same sort of comeback.
Drinks like the Old Fashioned or Manhattan were hugely popular throughout the 1960s and even into the 70s, but when the 80s rolled around the most of the classics were out while the martini and a variety of day-glo concoctions reigned supreme. Of course, these cocktails didn't suddenly stop being delicious. No, two other factors were at play here.
First, vodka became hugely popular. There are comparatively few cocktails from the early days of mixology involving vodka, so they were put aside in favor of this miracle spirit from beyond the Berlin Wall. Second, with the rise of the nightclub, it was more important for bartenders to be fun to look at than to mix a great drink. The classics are simple drinks, usually consisting of just a few ingredients, but that simplicity makes them tricky. If you're off in your measurements just a shade in any direction you might as well be serving 91 octane gasoline. It was far easier to serve up juice-laden sugar bombs that buried the alcohol under layers of sweet pineapple, orange or grenadine.
But now, along with old-timey facial hair more powerful than any worn by Tom Selleck, the classics have returned in full force. Even more interesting, bartenders aren't content to just mix up a great Sazerac or Clover Club. They're mixing up classics with a twist – and you can too.
The Manhattan – It doesn't get much more classic than the Manhattan. Supposedly developed at The Manhattan Club in New York City in the late 1800s, the drink became extremely popular. The spicy sweetness of the rye cocktail with vermouth and bitters proving to be all sorts of appealing to drinkers used to the bite of straight-up whiskey. This slight twist on the formula brings in some tropical spice, lightening the mixture for late summer and early fall with Falernum – a syrup with Caribbean origins and a rich warmth that makes this classic new again.
-2 ounces rye (a spicy rye like Whistle Pig will stand up to the complex Falernum)
-1/2 ounces Falernum (many Falernums have rum in them – finding one of these will add a deeper molasses flavor to the mix, well worth the hunt)
-2-4 dashes of Angostura bitters
Add all the ingredients to a shaker full of ice and stir until well-chilled. Do not shake this cocktail! Doing so will aerate the ingredients and throw off the balance by melting too much of the ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and add an orange or lemon twist to splash some citrus oils into the glass and add another layer of complex flavor. Then, kick back and wish you looked as good as Don Draper with a cocktail in your hand.
The Gin Fizz – One of the most refreshing cocktails of all time, the Gin Fizz is cooling, tangy, bracingly herbal and shows off just enough sweetness to please most palates, even those who don't ordinarily like gin. But sometimes those flavors aren't quite enough. Maybe you've got a crowd of food snobs headed over for a barbecue. Or maybe you just want to get your mad scientist on in the kitchen. Either way, infusing the gin with your favorite flavors is easy, not to mention crazy impressive when done right. We've used cherries and ginger, since cherries are still in season and ginger is all sorts of delicious with the herbal notes of the gin.
-2 ounces cherry ginger infused gin (a punchier herbal gin like Plymouth stands up well to the flavors and adds a layer of complexity to the glass)
-1/4 ounce simple syrup
-Splash of fresh lime juice
Fill a tall glass with ice and pour simple syrup, gin and lime in and stir to combine. Top it off with the club soda and give it another stir. It should be a rich red color and just about the tastiest thing imaginable at the tail end of summer.
To infuse the gin, place a half pound of pitted cherries and a 1” long peeled piece of ginger, sliced, in an air-tight container along with approximately 2 cups of gin. Let it steep for a day or two and then strain through cheesecloth into a jar. Then, use as needed to make the cocktail. Or just pour it over ice. No one will judge you.
The Monkey Gland – Named for a surgical technique pioneered by Dr. Serge Voronoff that involved grafting tissue from monkey testicles onto people to increase longevity, the drink has about as much chance of working to lengthen lives as the surgery did, perhaps slightly higher if you're the monkey. Created in the 1920s, the Monkey Gland hasn't quite made the comeback that its cocktail contemporaries have. Not surprisingly, the name may be putting some people off – go figure. Regardless, it's a complex cocktail that takes full advantage of the new absinthe options available on the market. Paired with orange juice and gin, the anise-flavored absinthe makes for a solidly tasty counterpoint to the juniper punch of the gin and sweetly tangy orange juice. Plus, stories involving cocktails and monkey testicles make for excellent icebreakers at the bar.
-1 1/2 ounces gin
-1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice
-Splash simple syrup
-1/4 ounce absinthe
Mix all the ingredients in a shaker full of ice and give it a vigorous shake to chill and combine the ingredients. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and revel in your newfound longevity, or at least your baboon-like constitution.