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What makes a cocktail a classic?

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Pwelsh4 Aug 27, 2013 12:15 PM

I was thinking today about the various classic cocktails and how they survived throughout the years.

With all the new styles of liquor and liqueurs plus the various new ways to create cocktails like molecular mixology and infusing with various foods, I want to know what everyone thinks about how these cocktails withstood the test of time and if they will be continued to be known as time goes on.

  1. JMF Aug 27, 2013 02:00 PM

    Many of the "Classics" are well balanced. This is probably the main reason they have withstood the test of time. We should probably list what we consider the "Classics" and talk about each on its own merits.

    Also there are the "New Classics", cocktails that are recently created (let's say post 1980 or even post 2000), using old or new ingredients, that have become hits because of their quality.

    4 Replies
    1. re: JMF
      p
      Pwelsh4 Aug 27, 2013 02:12 PM

      Thats true. What would consider new and old classics? I didn't even really thinkg about the "new classics"

      1. re: JMF
        a
        A_Gonzalez Aug 29, 2013 09:01 PM

        I've been thinking about that a lot lately, and I have to wonder, do we really know how well balanced cocktails were historically?

        I ask because often when I read old bartending books, many of the recipes, even for drinks that are still around, seem terribly *unbalanced* (like Sidecars made with equal parts of all ingredients).

        It gets even stranger when you look at Embury, who insists that too many bartenders make imbalanced cocktails, and then even his outlines for "balanced" drinks seem, to say the least, a little off. Then again, I'll admit, I have no way of knowing what spirits actually tasted like a hundred years ago, so I can't really judge.

        And on top of that, I wonder, are there many references to "balance" in writings about cocktails from pre-prohibition? I'm not a historian, but it would be interesting to know how much value people placed on balance back then.

        I don't know, as much as people talk about how the Martini used to be a great, balanced gin cocktail that's devolved into a glass of cold vodka for most people, I also suspect there are some "classic" cocktails that we're making better now than they did a hundred years ago.

        1. re: A_Gonzalez
          JMF Aug 30, 2013 07:48 AM

          I think that all you say is very true. I guess that you have to consider that tastes change over time. Many historical cocktails are too sweet, bitter, etc. for today's public. So what was considered a well balanced (or just tasty) cocktail 100 years ago, probably isn't considered such today.

          I am very into historical cocktails, but almost always have to tweak the ratios a bit to fit my tastes.

          Recently I wanted to put some vintage Tiki cocktails on a restaurants cocktail menu. I spent a week of my spare time inputting in EVERY Tiki drink recipe from Beachbum's books, just under 300 in all. Over several months I made almost every single one. At least 70% were too sweet, sour, etc. to use as is. I narrowed it down to just a few that I could use without having to adapt the recipe. Of those only one was well liked by almost everyone.

          1. re: JMF
            EvergreenDan Sep 1, 2013 06:32 AM

            I agree about too sweet, but have yet to experience a classic that is too bitter. It seems that some of today's cocktails are pushing the boundaries of bitter. Any examples?

            I do think that the flavor combinations of classic cocktails that have stayed popular are balanced, just often not the sugar.

            --
            www.kindredcocktails.com | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

      2. Veggo Aug 27, 2013 02:19 PM

        I think cocktails run parallel with music. Two generations ago there was a short list of great cocktails and songs. Today there are so many of both it is hard to predict which will be remembered two generations from now. I think the association with pleasant memories is an essential factor.

        1. JMF Aug 27, 2013 02:45 PM

          Technically a Classic cocktail was created from the early 1800 until the end of Prohibition. But I would stretch it from the 1800 to 1980.

          Here is a start on the list just off the top of my head.

          Classics:
          Aviation
          Caipirinha
          Daiquiri
          Mai Tai
          Margarita
          Martini
          Mint julep
          Mojito
          Negroni
          Old Fashioned
          Pisco Sour
          Whiskey Sour
          New York Sour
          Ramos Gin Fizz
          Sazerac
          Sidecar
          Manhattan
          Vieux Carré
          Painkiller
          Gin & Tonic
          Boulevardier
          Bronx
          Brooklyn
          French 75
          Mary Pickford
          Jack Rose
          Last Word

          New Classics:
          Cosmopolitan
          Penicillin
          Benton's Old Fashioned
          Oaxaca Old Fashioned
          Gin-Gin Mule

          6 Replies
          1. re: JMF
            p
            Pwelsh4 Aug 27, 2013 05:16 PM

            Great list. I have heard of most of these but why do you think these stood out for so long? Also would the Cuba Libre fall into either of the classics list?

            1. re: Pwelsh4
              Veggo Aug 27, 2013 05:24 PM

              It surely would at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, where I have quaffed many. For the birthplace of the daiquiri, it's a 6 block stumble to the magnificent mahogany bar at El Floridita. La Bodeguita opens early, right after breakfast.

              1. re: Veggo
                JMF Aug 27, 2013 07:49 PM

                Sadly, since I hate cola, a Cubra Libre is a classic to many.

                1. re: JMF
                  Veggo Aug 27, 2013 07:54 PM

                  More sadly, a Cuba Libre (a free Cuba) is often called a "HaHa" there, because the idea of Cuba being free is so laughable.

            2. re: JMF
              Alcachofa Aug 28, 2013 10:56 AM

              If you're including post-1980, I'd put the Bramble in there.

              1. re: Alcachofa
                JMF Aug 28, 2013 11:21 AM

                Definitely.

            3. i
              INDIANRIVERFL Aug 27, 2013 02:49 PM

              A classic can be found in the Playboy Bartender's Guide circa 1975.

              And sometimes the rare and expensive ingredient can also define the classic. Orgeat immediately comes to mind.

              8 Replies
              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                JMF Aug 27, 2013 02:51 PM

                Orgeat rare and expensive?

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                  p
                  Pwelsh4 Aug 27, 2013 05:15 PM

                  Orgreat might be hard to find some places but I got a bottle no problem from my local liquor store. Wasn't to expensive I don't think

                  1. re: Pwelsh4
                    JMF Aug 27, 2013 07:47 PM

                    Heck, I can make instant orgeat dirt cheap with ingredients found in most local markets (Orange Blossom Water isn't always available.) Much better than any store bought.

                  2. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                    JMF Aug 27, 2013 07:48 PM

                    I really don't think that rare and expensive have anything to do with classic cocktails.

                    What do you mean by "A classic can be found in the Playboy Bartender's Guide circa 1975."

                    1. re: JMF
                      rcb4d Aug 28, 2013 03:36 AM

                      He only reads it for the articles.

                      1. re: rcb4d
                        i
                        INDIANRIVERFL Aug 29, 2013 03:17 PM

                        I got particular delight from the Femkins. Or whatever those sprites are called.

                        My last college roommate circa 1976 went to school on a trust and had plenty of folding money. He had a bar that could produce any libation listed in the paperback Playboy Bartenders guide. I remember him driving from Melbourne cross state to Tampa as that was the only source of orgeat he could find in the state.

                        Also introduced me to the joys of spit roasted whole hogs and fresh tarragon on fish.

                    2. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                      t
                      TombstoneShadow Aug 30, 2013 11:21 PM

                      "a classic can be found in PBG 1975..." ditto that, BUT preferably I'd push it back into the 60's for true classic status....

                      1. re: TombstoneShadow
                        i
                        INDIANRIVERFL Aug 31, 2013 06:29 AM

                        I am merely a reflection of my history.

                    3. EvergreenDan Aug 28, 2013 12:15 PM

                      How about this: A classic -- new or old -- is a drink that could be enjoyed by your grandfather, you, and your unborn grandchild, and enjoyed repeatedly without growing tired of it.

                      Probably too restrictive; fun to ponder.

                      --
                      www.kindredcocktails.com | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: EvergreenDan
                        JMF Aug 28, 2013 12:20 PM

                        I was waiting for you, and the other cocktailians to chime in. I'm on the road but looking forward to exploring this.

                        1. re: EvergreenDan
                          h
                          hawkeyeui93 Aug 29, 2013 03:58 PM

                          I know that this is off-topic, but hopefully will be accepted by the regulars I see here. My late-grandfather enjoyed a regional beer called Grain Belt Premium. It warmed my heart to see it be resurrected by another small Minnesota brewery a few years ago. My only wish is that I would have been able to enjoy one with him presently [since he passed away when I was 15 years old].

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