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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Classic cocktails, with variations, for summer entertaining

    The arrival of spring means summer entertaining season isn’t far behind, which is an excellent excuse for a home bartending refresher. Because like changing a tire and ironing a shirt, crafting a cocktail is one of those skills adults should have at least a passing familiarity with.

    Equipping yourself is simple. Mid-shelf bottles of the basics — vodka, bourbon, rye, gin, white and aged rums, and blanco tequila — will get you on your way. Add some inexpensive dry and sweet vermouths, maybe an orange liqueur and a bottle of Angostura bitters, and you’ll be set.

    The gear is minimal and affordable. A shaker, a stirring glass, a long-necked spoon, a strainer and a 2-ounce measuring cup are all you need. The whole lot can be had for under $50.

    As for the recipes? Try a two-for-one approach that iterates on the classics. This means learning a few classic cocktails as they traditionally are made, but also mastering an easy twist on each, a simple way to show some creative chops without having to learn a new recipe.

    Where to start? A gin martini, bourbon old fashioned, rum daiquiri, tequila margarita and rye Manhattan are popular classics that also readily lend themselves to innovation.

    Once you’re comfortable with the basics, it’s easy to experiment and craft ideas of your own.

    OLD FASHIONED

    The Old Fashioned began life at least 150 years ago as little more than whiskey with a sugar cube and cocktail bitters, sometimes a splash of water. Things went sideways during Prohibition, when the poor-quality liquor Americans were able to drink no longer could be appreciated in such simple form. Cue the addition of fruit to the Old Fashioned. Luckily, in recent years there has been a renewed reverence for the pre-Prohibition-style Old Fashioned. This is the drink for people who like whiskey and like it strong.

    Servings: 1 Start to finish: 5 minutes

    3 ounces bourbon ⅛ ounce (¾ teaspoon) agave or simple syrup Dash Angostura bitters 1 small ice cube

    In a rocks glass, stir the bourbon, syrup, bitters and ice cube.

    RUM OLD FASHIONED

    The Rum Old Fashioned is a warm weather take on the classic. Just substitute 2½ ounces white rum and ½ ounce aged rum for the bourbon in the classic Old Fashioned. If you have orange bitters, they are a delicious addition.

    MANHATTAN

    There are numerous origin stories for the Manhattan, but all of them place its birth in the late 1800s and in the New York City borough for which it is named. From the start, it has been a simple mix of rye (bourbon’s slightly peppery cousin), sweet vermouth and bitters. Somewhere along the line, the maraschino cherry became a must-have, taking the place of the simple syrup sometimes added. People who like the sweeter side of whiskey will love a Manhattan.

    Servings: 1 Start to finish: 5 minutes

    2½ ounces rye ½ ounce sweet vermouth 1 maraschino cherry 2 dashes Angostura bitters Ice cubes

    In a stirring glass, combine the rye, sweet vermouth and bitters. Stir with ice cubes, then strain into a rocks glass. Add the cherry.

    POKER COCKTAIL

    The Poker Cocktail is rum’s answer to the Manhattan, delivering unexpectedly warm, strong and lightly sweet flavor. To make it, substitute 2 ounces white rum for the rye, increase the sweet vermouth to 1 ounce and replace the cherry with ¼ ounce agave or simple syrup.

    GIN MARTINI

    Created during the late 1800s, the Gin Martini is the original martini, though it has worn many masks over the years. Most agree that the basic recipe should be a simple stir of gin, dry vermouth and orange bitters. Making it dirty means adding a green olive and a spoonful or so of the olive brine from the jar. This is for anyone who likes cocktails strong, clean and herbal.

    Servings: 1 Start to finish: 5 minutes

    2 ounces gin ¾ ounce dry vermouth Dash orange bitters 1 green olive (such as Castelvetrano), plus brine 6 to 10 granules kosher salt Ice cubes

    In a stirring glass, combine the gin, dry vermouth, bitters, 1 to 2 spoonsful olive brine and salt. Stir for 10 seconds with ice. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with the olive on a cocktail skewer.

    VODKA MARTINI

    A classic in its own right, the Vodka Martini often is maligned by purists who prefer its gin sibling. But the vodka martini is a lovely cocktail with ample clean, bright flavors. To make it, replace the gin with 3 ounces of vodka and reduce the dry vermouth to ½ ounce.

    DAIQUIRI

    The basic Daiquiri is a model of simplicity and balance. Variations date to at least the late 1880s, but it was during the early 1900s in Havana that the drink became the icon of white rum, lime juice and sugar we know today. This is for fans of sweet and sour.

    Servings: 1 Start to finish: 5 minutes

    3 ounces white rum ½ ounce lime juice ¼ ounce agave or simple syrup Dash Angostura bitters Ice cubes

    In a cocktail shaker, combine the rum, lime juice, syrup and bitters. Shake with ice cubes, then strain into a coupe.

    WHISKEY SOUR

    Consider the Whiskey Sour sort of a bourbon Daiquiri. Swapping a brown liquor for white delivers a huge difference in flavor. What was tropical and refreshing becomes rich, though still bright. To make it, substitute an equal amount of bourbon for the rum, and an equal amount of lemon juice for the lime.

    MARGARITA

    The classic Margarita is part of the Daisy family, referring to drinks made from a mix of a primary liquor, orange liqueur, citrus juice and soda water. Leave out the soda water and you get a Margarita. A note about salt: All the flavors at play here love a little salt. But don’t put it on the rim of your glass, where it blows out your ability to taste anything else. Instead, add just a few granules to the drink itself to heighten and highlight all the other flavors.

    Servings: 1 Start to finish: 5 minutes

    2½ ounces blanco tequila 1 ounce lime juice ¾ ounce orange liqueur ¼ ounce agave syrup 6 to 10 granules kosher salt Ice cubes

    In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, syrup and salt. Shake with ice cubes, then strain into a rocks glass with 1 large or 2 standard ice cubes.

    NAVY GROG

    The original grog, introduced to the British Royal Navy back in the 1700s, wasn’t much more than rum, lemon and lime juices, cinnamon and sugar. Jump to the 1950s and it was reinvented as a tiki classic. This simplified version was inspired by that. To make it, substitute 1½ ounces white rum and 1½ ounces aged rum for the tequila and use lemon instead of lime juice.

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    J.M. Hirsch is author of the cocktail book, “Pour Me Another: 250 Ways to Find Your Favorite Drink.” He also is the editorial director of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street.

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