The Old Fashioned is essentially The Original Cocktail, with hard-to-follow roots going back to the early 1800s at least. Back in the day, it could’ve been any kind of booze (in Wisconsin, they still do this one with brandy). Bourbon respects the drink’s established Kentucky roots.
If you order one at a bar, most of them will thin it out with all kinds of fruit and soda; the original used none of those. This is a small tweak to the simple original recipe of spirit, sugar, and bitters – with just a little hit of orange oil that makes the drink.
The Mint Julep: one that you’ve heard of, but most likely haven’t had properly. Most places make these with a packaged mix or mint syrup – for no good reason. The process is roughly as difficult as making a cup of tea: Steep fresh mint in bourbon whiskey with sugar, then add ice. The hardest part is waiting a few minutes for the flavors to infuse. Preparing this drink properly is a bit of a challenge and takes some skill. But you’re up for it, right?
Juleps as a style of drink go back farther than we have reliable records, as far back as 15th-century Europe, where a “julep” was a flavored sugar syrup mixed with medication. In Colonial America, mint juleps were first made with brandy, then whiskey as word got down south.
The Sazerac is an unusual old-school drink with the fine distinction of The Official Cocktail of New Orleans. No garnish, no ice, no citrus juice – but deeply refreshing and smooth. It was originally made with Cognac, but since 1870 or so, rye whiskey has been the standard. And that’s a good thing: Rye’s peppery intensity gets a serious flavor going up front where Cognac might just lay back and take it.
Peychaud’s bitters and Herbsaint are two New Orleans-local ingredients that give this drink its one-of-a-kind character.
The Manhattan is where we start to get all fancy and what-have-you. Break out the cocktail glasses. If you don’t like whiskey, you’ll hate this one. And it could care less. Take it or leave it. The Manhattan is commonly made with bourbon, but the real authentic style is with rye. Check out how just two ingredients (whiskey and vermouth) take a couple drops of bitters for a ride and create an amazing depth of flavor. Here’s where you’ll see why stirring spirits-only drinks makes a difference versus shaking. If you’re curious, try one shaken really hard so you can see the difference – and so you’ll know why to send one back if it’s made wrong.
The Daiquiri is nothing more than a basic “sour” of spirit, citrus, and sugar… but somehow transformative. Done right with the best limes you can find, a Daiquiri will astound people who only know the slushy Slurpee kind they churn out at the chains. If the classic, up style of serving this drink was good enough for JFK and Hemingway, it’s surely good enough for Joe Blow.
If you are lucky enough to acquire in-season, tree-ripened limes, just make sure you’re sitting down when you taste this.