Favorite Cocktails: What Are Your Top 5 Picks?

Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

What's your favorite cocktail? It's a question I hear a lot, and frankly it's a tough one. We all enjoy different things at different times: a Dark and Stormy on the patio, a Mimosa or Bloody Mary at brunch, and maybe a Manhattan or a Negroni at a top-notch, old-school bar. But let's give it a shot. I'm going to tell you about 5 of my desert-island cocktail picks (some chosen for mostly sentimental reasons) - and then I want to hear yours.

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  1. Gin and Tonic. Cool, crisp, with bitterness, sweetness - and bubbles. This was my very first mixed drink and it was love at first sip. While my friends preferred sweeter stuff like Rum and Cokes or Fuzzy Navels (I'm dating myself here, it was the 80s), I loved and still love the distinctively bitter taste of tonic water.

  2. Martini. Silky smooth, crystal clear, and packing a wonderfully boozy wallop, it's with good reason that this cocktail's stayed popular for close to 100 years. While there sometimes seem to be nearly as many possible (and hotly debated) ways to mix a Martini as there are drinkers (Shaken or stirred? Gin or vodka? A whisper of vermouth or a healthy measure? Garnish with an olive or a twist?), it's the simplicity and pureness of the drink that makes it the Holy Grail of all cocktails for me.

  3. Margarita. The warmth of tequila, the tang of lime juice, the orange-y sweetness of triple sec, the coarse crunch of salt - of all the drinks in the sours family, I think the Margarita might be my favorite. It pairs so beautifully with Mexican food - and crispy, salty snacks.

  4. Sazerac (not pictured). A beautifully nuanced and layered drink, the Sazerac is believed to be the very first cocktail ever invented. The official drink of New Orleans, it's a wonderfully sippable and contemplative cocktail for any time or place (I had my very first one on a cold night in Toronto). It's a bit of a finicky drink to make: the cocktail glass must first be "rinsed" with a few drops of absinthe or pastis, and the surface of the finished drink must be lightly misted with the oil released by twisting the zest of a lemon, but the payoff is worth it. Nothing like a Sazerac.

  5. Pimm's Cup. From the first time I sipped one of these tall, cool, ever-so-British drinks after a long day of gardening, I was hooked. Citrusy and herbal, and loaded with fresh fruit and vegetable garnishes, nothing says summer to me quite like a Pimm's Cup.

  6. Earl Grey MarTEAni. Okay, I'm cheating. I told I was going to give you my top 5, and here I am at number 6. But I really think this delicious drink deserves a mention. While the 5 I listed have been around for generations, the Earl Grey MarTEAni's a recent invention, and it's quickly made its way into my own personal Pantheon. A delicate mixture of Earl Grey tea-infused gin, sugar, lemon and egg white, garnished with finely-grated lemon and superfine sugar - wow, I could really go for one of these right now.

Now it's your turn. What are your top 5 desert-island cocktail picks?

Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.

(Images: Nora Maynard)

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