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What classic cocktail would you suggest?

What classic cocktail would you recommend as a nice "go-to" drink to order at a bar? Something simple besides neat or Whatever & Cola that any bartender should be able to do well. I am open-minded but would like to skip the trends such as 'tinis, margaritas, and daiquiris. My tastes run to whiskeys and, on the sweeter side, gold or dark rum. Your help is appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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  1. I like whisky and my go to cocktail is a whisky sour.

    1. Manhattan is the obvious choice. With Bourbon over Rye for a sweeter drink.

      Dark and Stormy - Rum (Goslings) and ginger beer - Barritts if you can get it, with a squeeze of lime.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ASingh

        My Bermudian MIL would never put a lime with her Dark & Stormy. Only two ingredients needed, thank you very much. Americans need the lime. And the ice.

        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

          So after all of the criticism of Americans liking things too sugary, now we're criticized for wanting some lime to cut the sweetness of a drink? It's like we can never win...

        2. re: ASingh

          I now often order a Dark and Stormy during the summer. Bartenders in SF seem to know what it is but the bartenders I met in NYC didn't know about it, so I would cheerfully explain what I'd like. They were very nice about it. :-)

          1. re: buzzardbreath

            The thing that drives me nuts is that around here it's common to find a Dark ;n Stormy on the cocktail menu alongside other $10-$12 drinks. A Dark and Storny is essentially just a highball of relatively cheap rum (around $15 a bottle) and ginger beer, which is far more common than it used to be. To me, seeing a Dark 'n Stormy costing the same as a Manhattan in some places is the same as someone charging $12 for a Jack and Coke. I love a good Dark and Stormy, but I rarely want to pay restaurant prices for something I can make at home for the equivalent of a couple of bucks.

        3. I go for a Sidecar!

          Brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. Well done, they are exceptional. Poorly done, and they are sickly sweet or too citrus-y.

          6 Replies
          1. re: CarrieWas218

            I think this one is tough. This way my favorite drink for years, but I found many, many, many bars couldn't make it/didn't know what it was. I've had it served on the rocks and with fruit and cherry garnishes and at one point I think soda water was involved. I gave up on Sidecars looooong ago unless it's clear that the establishment is really into classic/craft cocktails.

            Oh, oh, and once I had it with some sort of bottled lemon juice. It was perfectly clear!!!!

            1. re: tokyopix

              The Sidecar is a pretty important classic. It was invented during Prohibition some time during the 20's. It's sad when such a simple cocktail gets messed up. It's a drink that while usually served up in a cocktail glass, can also be served on the rocks on an old fashioned glass.

              I had my first Sidecar back when PDT had first opened in NYC. It was late June 2007, I had just moved to Maine, but was back in town to work on an article about cocktails. It was a Sunday night and it was pretty quiet. A woman and her friend ordered Sidecars and were obviously enjoying them so I ordered one as well. I had only been into fine cocktails for about six months so all good cocktails were new to me. Before that my experience with drinks was 1980's things like Alabama Slammers and Kamikaze's. Sure I knew fine wine, craft beer, and single malt Scotch; but not cocktails. I started chatting with the woman and we had a great conversation and it really started my love affair with cocktail history. I asked her name as she left. Her name was Audrey and she owned a NYC cocktail bar that I later spent a lot of time at.

              Sidecar [1920-1930]
              1 ½ oz. Cognac
              ¾ oz. Cointreau or other orange liqueur
              ½ to ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

              Shake on ice and strain into either a ice filled O.F. glass or a sugar rimmed chilled cocktail glass.

                1. re: JMF

                  the equal proportions don't throw me -- i've always kind of figured the sidecar for a brandy margarita.
                  that's a good way to order it in a nontrustworthy place, btw.

                  but what the hell is 1/6 gill?

                  1. re: linus

                    Its the mouth-volume of a 1 pound carp - an obscure English measurement.

                    1. re: porker

                      So, if you don't have jigger handy, but do happen to have a carp, then its perfect.

          2. An Old Fashion
            Rye and sugar muddled with maraschino cherry and orange slice

            Bacardi Cocktail
            White rum shaken with ice, lemon juice, & grenadine, then strained (a favorite of Mrs Porker).

            1. My first two choices are up alrady (Manhattan and Dark and Stormy)...

              Sazerac would be my third
              and Mint Julep on hot summer days

              1. The only problem is without a good bartender even the most basic drink can be messed up: Manhattan with no bitters a sour with sour Mix instead of lemon juice a dark and stormy with ginger ale from the gun instead if ginger beer etc. etc. There really is NO drink that turns out good with a bar keep who doesn't care...

                4 Replies
                1. re: StriperGuy

                  Isn't this what beer was invented for?

                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                    I usually go with Beam on the rocks in a sketchy bar. Can't mess it up, and Beam is inexpensive enough that they are not likely to go to the trouble of swapping something cheap. There is always the water issue.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Agreed. I always go with a beer and/or bourbon (straight or on the rocks, depending on mood) because I trust very, very few bars to know how to correctly make even the most basic cocktails. In the bars I go that know how to make a good cocktail, I tend to go with any interesting specialty cocktails they have, or classic cocktails that I don't have the ingredients to make, such as a "true" Aviation if I see they have Creme Yvette on the bar. If I want most any classic cocktail I can make it in my home bar, both correctly, with some skill, and also cheaper.

                2. Ummm... get thee to a quality cocktail bar?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: JMF

                    Thanks, JMF! I just snorted coffee out my nose. Ouch. LOL But your point will be heeded when I make my next trek to SF. :-)

                    1. re: buzzardbreath

                      When you are about to go, post here for suggestions. But you have to make sure you go to Smuggler's Cove for the best tiki drinks in the country. I haven't been yet, but Martin Cate does fantastic stuff. I had quite a few of his creations at Forbidden Island in Altameda a few years back.

                      1. re: JMF

                        Smuggler's Cove is on my "must visit" list. I am trying to schedule a mid-week trip so I won't have to fight the weekend crowd.

                        1. re: buzzardbreath

                          I go to Smuggler's Cove often - and I always time my visits for EARLY = before dinner.

                          If it is truly a "must-visit," then just go at 5:30 or so and you shouldn't have any problem!

                          1. re: CarrieWas218

                            I would like to visit at least once to find out for myself if it lives up to its legend. I appreciate the advice about when to visit. That's good information.

                  2. If going with classics only, to me Manhattans and Old Fashioneds are acquired tastes at best, often with quite strong alcohol notes... but you might acquire the taste...

                    .... otherwise I'd recommend Whiskey Sour to someone who's palate I'm not familiar with, because IMO it's a more approachable drink, yet still "classic".

                    As for classic rum drinks, you seem to have ruled out several of them in your OP. That's the great thing about rum, IMO most rum cocktails are easy to like, unlike whiskey cocktails.

                    One drink I truly love but you can't find well-made in the states that often is the capirinha, from rum's cousin liquor cachaca.... IMO a far more interesting drink than the average mojito.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: TombstoneShadow

                      The problem with a whiskey sour at most bars is that you get a long free pour of rail bourbon over ice with the remaining volume filled with commercial sweet and sour mix. The whole thing may be stirred, or may be rocked a few times, but in general, it will be served as a build-in-the-glass drink. Furthermore, the egg white really "makes" a whiskey sour, and most bars will not incorporate raw egg into their drinks.

                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                        It's a problem with any cocktail that ersatz ingredients may be used. Certainly those with sweet and sour are especially vulnerable. I'm assuming quality, tasty ingredients in every case. Interesting note on the egg whites.

                    2. One other suggestion I have, and this used to be a standby, is Dark Rum, Soda, and a squeeze of lime. Hard to screw up.

                      Coruba would be my preferred, but Myers in a pinch is okay or even Goslings.

                      I have actually walked bartenders through making a proper Manhattan or even Margarita, but you can only get away with that is a bar that isn't busy:

                      "Can I have a Sauza Hornitos on the rocks with a splash of Cointreau and a fistful of limes on the side." That's how to get around the sour mix Marg.

                      Likewise if ordering a Manhattan I ask if they have bitters.

                      If you are a bit creative there are ways to get a decent drink in a run of the mill bar.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Some good ideas, assuming their limes aren't completely dessicated.

                        A G&T is usually drinkable, even with soda gun tonic and miserly lime. Rum and tonic is good too.

                        If I see Campari, Campari on the rocks with lemon or lime, or a (possibly Perfect) Negroni is possible. Old dry vermouth is pretty hidden in a Perfect Negroni.

                        I'm not anal about Martinis and almost every bar has some reasonable gin. They are seldom great but usually drinkable, even with old vermouth. Except when mine came with a lime wedge. WTF? If they skimp on the vermouth, then I still enjoy it as gin up.

                        The problem with Manhattans is that they are likely to be made with CC, making them kinda flavorless. And a bourbon Manhattan is pretty sweet. A reasonable rye with sweet vermouth is good even without bitters.

                        Sometimes even the beer selection is terrible.

                        The truly safest choice is a spirit neat or on the rocks. There is ALWAYS some bottle that I'd be happy with, but then I like all spirits that have flavor.

                        1. re: EvergreenDan

                          ah, the good old days of manhattans. when i was drinking those pretty much exclusively, i can't tell you the number of times i asked for rye and got some sort of canadian whiskey.

                          finally, i had to be a jerk and, after they said they did have rye, i would ask, 'not cc, not any canadian whiskey. does it say 'rye' on the bottle?'

                          1. re: linus

                            So true. Canadian laws are so lax concerning the term rye in whiskey that there actually doesn't need to be any rye in it. And a Canadian blended whiskey can have as little as 20% whiskey, and the rest basically vodka (grain neutral spirits.)

                            1. re: JMF

                              Did it ever have rye in it? Because i knew a Canadian back in the late 80's, and he referred to his Canadian club as rye.

                              1. re: TroyTempest

                                Originally it was all rye. The following may be a bit rough since I'm going from memory. During the first part of colonization of North America rum was the #1 spirit drunk, then starting during the Revolutionary war, which was all about sugar taxes, rum started becoming less available, this continued to the war of 1812, another war due to sugar taxes.

                                During this time rye whiskey took over and became the #1 spirit drunk in North America. Rye does very well in cold climates. During the mid to late 1800's corn whiskey/bourbon started to get popular, mostly because of the first subsidies to farmers to grow corn, but it didn't really take off fully until after Prohibition. During Prohibition was when Canadian whiskey started to be referred to as rye, to distinguish it from Irish and Scottish whiskies.

                                After Prohibition rye whiskey's popularity waned and until the past few years the whiskey distilleries in the US only made rye 1-2 days a year, and bourbon the rest of the time. This also effected Canadian whiskey production and rye came to be used less. But the Alberta distillery makes some amazing rye whiskey. I'm pretty sure that's where Dave Pickerel sources the 100% rye for Whistle Pig.

                                Oh, and during the 300 hundred years before Prohibition the #2 spirit drunk in the us was farmhouse produced Peach brandy. Not the sweet liqueur called by that name nowadays, but a real brandy made from peaches, and slightly barrel aged. Peach brandy was called for in lots of cocktail recipes from the 1800's, but it completely died out after Prohibition because farmers weren't allowed to distill and sell spirits. Except for when Lem Motlow, Jack Daniels nephew who took over running the distillery after his death, tried to bring it back for a few years in the late 1940's. But since several generations hadn't had peach brandy the it never came back into favor.

                                This is why a few years ago I brought back one of the first real farmhouse style peach brandy's on the market since before Prohibition. To meet mixologists needs.

                                Of course I'm not with that distillery anymore, but I expect the next batch, which is currently aging, to probably be even better than my first one. When I left they got to keep all my notes for improving it, plus all the vertical barrel samples taken each week and saved, from all the different ways I distilled and aged the brandy.

                                1. re: JMF

                                  Thanks for the detailed reply. I never knew about the peach brandy. Very interesting, indeed. So,do you know around what years did the most well-known Canadian Whiskies stop with the rye (CC, Crown Royal, VO, Black Velvet, etc)?

                                  1. re: TroyTempest

                                    I don't know the details, but I think during or after WWII. Let's say late 40's to mid 50's. This was a time of the dumbing down of North American commercial spirits in many ways. They never stopped using rye, but corn came into heavier use, and neutral spirits made from corn and other grains like wheat and barley was added to the blends.

                                    1. re: JMF

                                      please pardon me for not googling this myself, but lazily relying on your expertise:

                                      it was my understanding up until circa 1950, the number one selling distilled spirit in the u.s. was rye.
                                      is this incorrect?


                                      1. re: linus

                                        Linus, definitely up until Prohibition. Afterwards Rye whiskey was considered an "Old Mans Drink" and never became popular again, until the past eight years or so, but very, very little of it is made compared to bourbon.

                      2. Depends on the place, but a cape cod/vodka with cranberry juice is pretty hard to screw up. Sometimes if they have a decent orange vodka, I'll go with that instead. Like a cosmo, but not having to say "cosmo"