Roger is the Cocktail & Liquor Columnist at The Kitchn. He's a widely published writer and photographer whose work has been featured on Serious Eats, PUNCH, and Food & Wine online. He lives in New York City with his wife, Karen.
It was at El Floridita that Ernest Hemingway conducted his love affair with the daiquiri. During his many stints in Cuba, where he escaped to and from his home in Key West, Florida, the writer was known to post up in a favorite corner of this Havana watering hole and quaff glass after glass of barman Constantino Ribalaigua Vert’s simple, sublime concoctions of rum, lime, sugar, and ice.
For fans of sweet vermouth, the Fig Leaf cocktail is the kind of drink that ought to be in your regular rotation. Unlike the majority of cocktail recipes, in which the spirit is the most plentiful ingredient, the build of the Fig Leaf is heavy on the aperitif wine rather than the booze (in this case, light rum). This drink falls into the category bartenders often call “reverse cocktails.
Brace yourself for the following: You can craft a dizzying array of cocktails from a surprisingly small number of spirits and mixers. It’s just a matter of owning the right bottles (that, and a little know-how). Welcome to the 9-Bottle Bar, a column dedicated to helping you amass an efficient, versatile, reliable-in-a-pinch home bar, without spending a fortune and ending up saddled with ingredients you’ll seldom use.
If you go about constructing a versatile at-home cocktail bar with a limit of just nine bottles, an initial impulse might urge you toward filling those nine precious slots with as many types of liquor and spirits as you can. That ought to cover your bases for the largest number of cocktails, right? With a vodka, a gin, a whiskey, a tequila, and so on, you probably think that suddenly you’re able to mix up practically anything. Wrong.
The Ward Eight, as drinks historian David Wondrich has written, is one of the City of Boston’s few contributions to the classic-cocktail pantheon. It came into being sometime around the turn of the 20th century and riffs on a Whiskey Sour with the inclusion of a special, somewhat mysterious ingredient: grenadine.
This drink, which supposedly originated at the bar of a British private club in the Burmese capital of Rangoon sometime in the 1920s, is squarely in the wheelhouse of the 9-Bottle Bar. It calls for four of the nine bottles, with lime juice as a fifth, acidity-adding ingredient. Being a British invention by way of a steamy ex-colony, the Pegu Club starts with London dry gin and then goes long on both citrus and bitters. In fact, the build is pretty darn close to that of the Margarita.
This Friday the 9-Bottle Bar is featuring a recipe for the Clover Club, a standout gin cocktail from the classic canon. The Clover Club is, essentially, a kind of Sour — a category of mixed drink that combines a base spirit with sugar or a flavored syrup, citrus juice, and, in many instances, egg white.
Even if all we did was admire it from afar, the Clover Club — with its colorful palette of pale pink, crisp Naval white, and ruby red — would be a winning drink. To its credit, it tastes mighty fine, too. This classic cocktail is an upgrade to the basic build of a sour cocktail (the Pisco Sour and the Whiskey Sour are two examples) thanks to a hit of sweet, tangy raspberry syrup.
We’re closing out the 9-Bottle Bar’s month-long look at rum with the recipe for a drink aptly named for the occasion. The alphabet-ending XYZ Cocktail appeared in the famous Savoy Cocktail Book, by bartender Harry Craddock, first published in 1930.
The devilishly named Satan’s Whiskers cocktail is a longstanding classic, catalogued in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and likely of even older vintage. It’s a “perfect” drink, meaning that it contains equals parts of sweet and dry vermouth. The base spirit is gin, and many versions of the recipe call for orange liqueur, orange juice, and orange bitters, resulting in a rounded, layered exploration of the citrus fruit in all its bitter-juicy-sweet complexity.
It’s July, outdoor drinking is in full swing, and orange liqueur is our muse of the month here at The 9-Bottle Bar. Based on those three facts, we seem practically duty-bound to mine our cocktail-recipe resources for a drink that suits these summery climes. So let’s get busy mixing up the Beachcomber. This cocktail, which appears in the famous 1947 Bartender’s Guide by tiki legend Trader Vic (Victor Bergeron, Jr.
Drinking a really good dry martini is a sublime experience…tinged by disappointment. Sublime because you suddenly realize what dazzling magic gin, vermouth, bitters, and lemon peel can make; disappointing because you also realize that you’ve suffered through a sad, shuffling parade of subpar, thoroughly ungifted-with-magic martinis over your drinking years. Let’s vow never to drink bad martinis again.
It’s easy to imagine the circumstances: A social function, gathering that worldly stratum of government officials whose members go by titles such as consul, attaché, and ambassador. The drinks are flowing, the pressures of one’s post are at their most acute, and yet the wisest of the group know well that conducting sensitive state business could be gravely jeopardized by dulled faculties. Enter the Diplomat.
This combination of gin, sweet vermouth, bitters, and maraschino liqueur makes for a complex, brooding libation that scratches the itch for a Manhattan. But instead of foregrounding woody, vanilla notes from whiskey, the use of gin in the Martinez turns up the volume on the herbal aromatics. Far more astute and knowledgeable writers than this one have done a superb job delving into the history of the Martinez.
There’s a cocktail named for each of New York City’s five boroughs, so why not its neighborhoods, too? The Red Hook cocktail shares its moniker with a waterside enclave in south Brooklyn. Recipe-wise, this bold and booze-driven drink is a cross between the Manhattan (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters) and the Martinez (Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, bitters), pulling ingredients from both.
Were it not for the linguistic ingenuity of one Henry Irving Dale of Andover and one Kate L. Butler of Dorchester, the Scofflaw cocktail might very well go by the name Hooch-Sniper, the Barnacle, or Bottle-Yegger. Indeed, this Prohibition-era cocktail comes with its own story and a nice twist at the end.
Creating drinks named the “Turf Cocktail” was evidently a popular pastime during the decades hugging the turn of the 20th century. There are no fewer than three distinct drink recipes bearing this name or a slight variation that come to us from old bar books. In today’s cocktail, we focus on a version that starts off like a Dry Martini before galloping in its own direction.
Spirit, sweetener, citrus, bitters. These elements form one of the great quartets of the cocktail canon. So many important drinks boil down to a meditation on this tried-and-true formula. And it works wonders when applied to the Cuba Libre, also known as the Rum and Coke. As Brad Thomas Parsons points out in his book on bitters, the traditional build of a Cuba Libre doesn’t call for the cocktail ingredient he holds so dear.
Steeped in ritual and beautiful in its simplicity, the Old Fashioned is the quintessential (and quite essential) classic cocktail. Even back when cocktails were newly making a home for themselves in beverage culture, the Old Fashioned — as the name suggests — was already the tried-and-true, the throwback, the cool original.
So delicious and simple to make, the Boulevardier is one of those cocktails that seems primed for the spotlight yet never manages to capture our attention. You’d think that, what with the soaring popularity of the Negroni, a drink that differs from it by only one ingredient would enjoy some reflected glory. But this handsome devil has instead kept a relatively low profile. So here’s to giving the Boulevardier its due.
In the column this month, we’re musing about what would become of your cocktail repertoire if you were to inch our self-imposed bottle limit up one notch, into the double digits. Absinthe, as we discovered last week, appears in many a classic cocktail, and thus brings a lot to the liquor cabinet. But when it comes to mingling (with other liquors), can absinthe compete with a vivacious Italian, dressed in stunning red?
With last month’s coverage of aromatic bitters in the books, we’ve explored all nine bottles that make up the small-yet-mighty 9-Bottle Bar — putting us now into extra innings. During the final weeks of the year, we’ll look into a few optional bottle No. 10s and explore how they would further round out your home bar. First up: Absinthe, a centuries-old spirit with a complicated past that plays a part in numerous classic cocktails.
In the past, we’ve written about aromatic bitters and covered some brands to fit your budget. But one well-known bottle was noticeably absent from the mix: the storied New Orleans original, Peychaud’s Bitters. The omission was intentional. Yes, Peychaud’s belongs to the broader category of aromatic bitters — of which Angostura is a member, too.
Aromatic bitters, the subject of our coverage this month at The 9-Bottle Bar, stars in so many classic cocktail recipes, we proposed that it may very well be the most useful member of this little company we’ve assembled. But when it comes to bitter booze, the aromatic, non-potable stuff is just one star in a brightly lit sky. This week let’s do of other notable varieties of bitters. One loosely associated group of bitters includes the Italian-made liqueurs Cynar, Aperol, and Campari.
Angostura is the most widely known aromatic bitters, but not your only choice when it comes to stocking this important ingredient of your 9-Bottle Bar. This week we look at a few strong contenders. Time to stop and smell the bitters. To recap a bit from last week’s introduction to aromatic bitters, we learned that bottles belonging to this category of cocktail “seasoning” tend to present a flavor profile that’s anchored in notes of bitter roots and baking spice.
Is there a most important bottle in the 9-Bottle Bar? One that turns up in essential recipe after essential recipe, and bridges gaps between disparate ingredients? Is there one bottle that, like the Dude’s cherished rug, really ties the metaphorical room that is the 9-Bottle Bar together? While I don’t play favorites, a strong case could be made for preeminence of the ninth and final bottle to be covered in the series: aromatic bitters.
If you’re feeling inspired by the tips in last week’s biters column to make your own orange bitters, one of the essential ingredients you’ll need is dried orange peel. You can probably find this product at your herbalist or specialty food store, but who knows how old those peels are? Taking the extra step to dehydrate fresh orange peel at home gives you that much more control over the quality and flavor of the final product.
If you’ve bellied up to a craft cocktail bar lately, you’ve likely noticed little bottles of concentrated spirit-and-botanical infusions adorning the bar top. These are homemade bitters, and they’re not so hard to make. These bitters are often the handiwork of the team behind the bar — and they run the gamut from the very versatile for a broad array of drink recipes, to very specific and esoteric flavors suited to just one or two drinks.
Now that orange bitters (along with a host of other varieties) have made their big, recent comeback onto the cocktail scene, there are suddenly a welcome wealth of options to choose from when stocking your personal bar. Discerning spirits shops and specialty-food stores have begun carving out shelf space for these diminutive bottles, making them more available to the budding cocktail enthusiast.
Into bitter territory goes The 9-Bottle Bar this month. It’s here we encounter the once-elusive orange bitters, a species whose numbers neared extinction before a few concerned citizens of the drinking community endeavored to bring the population back from the brink of disappearance. But before we delve into the plight and recent resurrection of orange bitters, let’s first cover the basics.
Orbiting just beyond the spirits, vermouths, liqueurs, and bitters that make up the 9-Bottle Bar solar system are a handful of important bar extras — items such as eggs, simple syrup, and grenadine — that bolster your home bar’s drink-making potential but which aren’t quite so essential to have around that they to warrant a place on the main roster.
As I’ve made clear in the columns this month, the words… they fail me when describing maraschino liqueur. So to better understand the elusive undertones of this beverage, I thought it best to also bone up on the active ingredient: the marasca cherry. What makes it so special? To do that I fired off a slew of questions to Todd Leopold. He’s the head distiller at the Denver, Colorado, distillery Leopold Bros., which he operates with his brother Scott.
Maraschino isn’t the only cherry liqueur on the block. Cherry Heering is another variety boasting a legacy that likewise stretches back more than a century. And the differences between them are striking — starting with their colors. While there are a (small) number of producers of maraschino liqueur, Cherry Heering is both a brand and unique type of cherry liqueur unto itself.
In last week’s column, introducing our friend maraschino liqueur, I noted that the stuff strikes some drinkers as an acquired taste. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the universe of brands of maraschino liqueur — available in the U.S., at least — just ain’t that big. It’s barely a solar system, in fact. Yet within this small world exists some notable variety. In other words, it still pays to be picky.