war on the rocks

PSA: Your Bartender’s Favorite Drink

January 1, 2016

As a former bartender, I am doomed to walk the earth eternally being asked what my favorite drinks are. It’s a subjective question that’s virtually unanswerable, and thus my answer (and the simplest one) is almost always “Old Overholt (rye whiskey), neat.” While the response is mostly true, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a few cocktails close to my liver. With all of us hopefully ringing in 2016 around the people we love, I want to provide some cocktails that are not only endearing favorites, but also interesting riffs on well-known classics.

1. A gin martini, when made correctly (which is to say not shaken … ever), is one of my favorite cocktails, hands down. The combinations of savory juniper and the dry notes of the vermouth make for a cocktail that oozes depth. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that my first cocktail is a riff on the gin martini but with an added, subtle sweetness.

2 Oz. Plymouth Gin
1 Oz. Dry Vermouth (Dolin Dry is a good choice)
¼ Oz. Benedictine
2 Dashes Orange Bitters

Build ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir over ice for at least 30 seconds (or until the glass has condensation on the outside). Strain the drink into a pre-chilled cocktail glass using a julep strainer. Garnish with a thin orange peel.

2. The combination of whiskey, vermouth, and an aperitif are God’s gift to us all. If you don’t believe me, order a Boulevardier next time you’re out. This next drink is a wonderful example of what happens when the best qualities of liquor are highlighted from beginning to end. The spice of the rye, paired with the dry, savory nature of the vermouth, wrapped in the sweet bitterness of Campari, and finished with cheeky citrus from the lemon twist make it borderline irresistible.

1½ Oz. Rye Whiskey (the stalwart Old Overholt is more than adequate)
¾ Oz. Dry Vermouth
¾ Oz. Campari

Build ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir over ice for at least 30 seconds (or until the glass has condensation on the outside). Strain the drink into a pre-chilled cocktail glass using a julep strainer (or serve on the rocks). Garnish with a thin lemon twist.

3. If the above rye whiskey drink was not your jam, this next drink hopefully will make you a believer in the versatility of rye. Paired with the sweet herbal multi-layered profile of Green Chartreuse, and tamed by the sweet vermouth, this drink takes it up a notch strength-wise, but does so unassumingly.

1½ Oz. Rye Whiskey
¾ Oz. Green Chartreuse
¾ Oz. Sweet Vermouth (Dolin Rouge is good here)
1 Dash Orange Bitters

Build ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir over ice for at least 30 seconds (or until the glass has condensation on the outside). Strain the drink into a pre-chilled cocktail glass using a julep strainer. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

4. Mixing Goldschläger with Islay scotch and actually making it work truly makes you think, “what a time to be alive.” Of all the cocktails on this list, this one is perhaps the hardest, but only because there are more steps. But, before you scoff at drinking Goldschläger, and working harder to boot, let me just try to explain what happens when this drink is first tried. The cinnamon of the Goldschläger works exceptionally well with the smokiness of the Islay scotch. On top of that, the combination of lemon juice and raspberry syrup add a classic sweet and sour taste, while the lavender grants a pleasant floral note running throughout the entire drink. Lastly, the egg yolk not only adds a hedonistic creaminess but also adds a subtle nuttiness to the end of the drink. I guarantee this drink will impress whoever is lucky enough to have it.

1½ Oz. Goldschläger
¾ Oz. Lemon Juice
½ Oz. Laphroaig Scotch (Any Islay scotch will work here)
½ Oz. Raspberry Syrup
1 Dash Lavender Bitters
1 Egg Yolk

Build all of the ingredients in a Boston Shaker without ice. Dry shake for 15 seconds, then add ice and shake again for 15 more seconds. Double strain using a Hawthorne strainer and tea strainer into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.

5. As you might have guessed, I prefer savory drinks. Moreover, I love to use multi-dimensional liquors to add small details to the taste profile of my drink. This cocktail latches onto the sweetness of the bourbon, tames it slightly with the bitter notes of the Averna, adds a layer of walnut, and finishes with the menthol notes found in Fernet Branca. The aromatic bitters only serve to accentuate these flavors.

1½ Oz. Bourbon (Tennessee Whiskey, such as Dickel No. 12, will also work here)
½ Oz. Averna Amaro
½ Oz. Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
½ Oz. Fernet Branca
1 Dash Aromatic Bitters

Build ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir over ice for at least 30 seconds (or until the glass has condensation on the outside). Strain the drink into a pre-chilled cocktail glass using a julep strainer. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

6. Unsurprisingly, the best has been saved for last. Derived from the taste profile of a very dry gin martini, this cocktail is the one cocktail you want when you want more than one cocktail. Equal parts Manzanilla Sherry and dry vermouth, this cocktail is a shining example of what happens when you drink too much sherry and think “sherry can make anything better.” Except in this case, it’s resoundingly true. Don’t expect to taste multiple layers of deep flavor here, but know that this is the drink your favorite bartender probably drinks when he or she isn’t bartending.

1½ Oz. Manzanilla Sherry (Do not use any other type of Sherry)
1½ Oz. Dry Vermouth
1 Dash Orange Bitters

Build ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir over ice for at least 30 seconds (or until the glass has condensation on the outside). Strain the drink into a pre-chilled cocktail glass using a julep strainer (or serve on the rocks). Garnish with a thin orange peel.

Each of the drinks above is layered. They are drinks that take the best qualities of each ingredient involved, push them to the front and then slightly alter your expectations with the first sip. Perhaps most importantly, these are drinks that make me remember why I loved bartending and why I still love playing bartender at home. Though I’d argue the drinks above are perfect as is, you should always listen to your palette and add/substitute/remove ingredients where you see fit. Just remember — even if you make something deplorable, there will always be two ounces of Old Overholt served over nothing waiting for you.

 

Ruben Gzirian is a pursuer of fine whiskeys, with Michter’s US*1 American Whiskey currently his favorite. He holds an MA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and enjoys reading World War II history, with a focus on the Eastern Front.

 

Photo credit: Ruben Gzirian