In the contemporary cocktail era of infuse this and puree that, making alcoholic beverages at home can be so intimidating, you need to gulp down a cocktail just to get through making one. It’s time to take a deep breath and get back to the fundamentals.
To find the tastiest instruction in town, I did what any sensible cocktail journalist would: I went straight to the oracle—Tony Abou-Ganim—smiled like a Girl Scout hustling cookies and asked him to teach me the classics.
First things first. Ice. Tony explains that every good cocktail starts with the basics: crystal-clear ice, proper glassware and delicious garnishes. And, of course, quality spirits and fresh ingredients.
After stirring what he says is his first Negroni of the day, Tony looks up starry-eyed. “It requires a courtship before one falls in love with the Negroni. Mine was in 1993 when I had it made by Dale DeGroff in the Rainbow Room [in Manhattan]. In this pinnacle moment, I realized that there was a lot more to this bartending thing than I had ever imagined. The revelation sent me on the course I’m on today.”
A few savory sips and it’s time to move along to the Old-Fashioned. “This drink embraces the entire notion of what a cocktail is. Its earliest definition in 1806 states it as a strong spirit, water, sugar and bitters,” Tony teaches.
Our next lesson is the daiquiri—the preferred drink of Ernest Hemingway and JFK, not the kind that comes in a mile-long plastic tube worn around the necks of inebriated tourists. “The traditional daiquiri gives an opportunity to showcase rum,” Tony says. “If you can master the yin and yang between the sugar and the lime juice, so that it’s not overly sweet or overly tart, you will be able to balance a cocktail.”
Now that we are in love, educated and balanced, it’s time to meet Tom Collins, a cocktail the master describes as “very refreshing and easy to make. Use fresh lemon juice, not the Tom Collins mix,” he instructs. “Master this cocktail and you will truly understand variation. It’s very easy to add muddled fruit to or substitute champagne for the soda water to make a French 75.”
My five-course liquid lunch with Vegas’ godfather of mixology concludes with the fabled martini. Tony demonstrates stirring 20 times to the left, 20 to the right, pours and then slips in an olive on a silver pick and offers the libation with a linen cocktail napkin. Pure elegance.
As Dorothy Parker said: “I love to drink martinis. Two at the very most. Three, I’m under the table. Four, I’m under the host!” Bottoms up!
1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Italian vermouth (sweet)
orange twist (garnish)
Method: In an ice-filled martini pitcher, add gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Stir until well blended. Strain into a chilled lowball glass and garnish with a burnt orange twist.
2 oz. bourbon whiskey
1-2 sugar cubes
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 tsp. water
lemon twist (garnish)
Method: In an Old-Fashioned glass, muddle the sugar cubes with water and bitters until completely dissolved. Fill glass with large cube ice and slowly add whiskey. Stir well to mix and garnish with a twist of lemon.
2 oz. light-bodied or bold rum
1 oz. hand-extracted fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
lime slice (garnish)
Method: In the mixing glass of a Boston shaker, add lime juice, simple syrup and rum. Shake with ice until well blended. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and garnish with a thin slice of lime.
2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
2-3 oz. chilled club soda
orange slice and maraschino cherry (garnish)
Method: Shake gin, lemon juice and sugar with ice, then pour into a chilled Collins glass filled with ice. Add club soda and garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherry.
2 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. French vermouth (dry)
1 Filthy Food olive (garnish)
Method: In an ice-filled martini pitcher, add dry vermouth and gin. Stir until well chilled (20 times to the right and 20 times to the left). Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a stuffed olive.