Timeless Tipples

The cocktail is an invention (of sorts) that has existed since the beginning of the 19th Century, starting very humbly. Due to the endless variety of possible ingredients and supreme degrees of pleasure, they are likely be around forever.

Originally, cocktails were a simple mix of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. In the 1860’s, a liqueur was introduced into the mix, forming the beginnings of the true, alcoholic cocktail.

There are literally hundreds of examples out there, and as I write this, several more may be being invented. But as in all things, there are those that stand tall above so many, that continue to exist due to their exquisite simplicity and reliable taste. These are the classics. The ones that built the reputation of the cocktail.

As it is with pizza, less is more. The cocktail is not a dissimilar beast to that famous Italian pie, strangely enough. The best examples rely on minimal ingredients and the best quality ingredients you can find, making them tower above all others.

The cocktail pretenders are everywhere. The ones that look an inedible colour, the syrupy blue and iridescent green ones, with silly cartoon like names, excessively sweet, and after the first surprising sip, difficult to drink right to the end. The ones where the liquor is indiscernible. Ask yourself half way through one of these “what exactly am I drinking?” I bet you won’t know, based on taste alone.

I mean, does anyone actually order a cocktail with a ridiculous name? A Fluffy Duck? Or A Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall? If so, then surely, it’s just for the comedy factor.

Cocktails form the same core tastes of any other food - sweet, sour, salty, bitter and yes, even umami. It’s all down to personal preference what style and flavour spectrum rocks your world.

Using my less is more favouritism, it’s the classics that win every time. For these are the concoctions that rely on just a few base ingredients, made seemingly simply but with such technical prowess and utilising the best quality core ingredients.

I boil down the absolute classic cocktails to just eight. They are all boozy, many containing pure alcohol only. If you’re going to have a cocktail, best to get the full brunt and let it warm your insides, I say.

I also won’t count the most basic cocktails of all, the ones that simply pour over one mixer onto one liquor, such as the Gin & Tonic, Vodka & Soda, or a Whisky Highball (whisky & soda) Yes, they are cocktails, but here we are examining the ones that require skill, prowess, a fine balance and a deft hand. With tradition and history firmly behind them.

No recipes are included here, only the base ingredients. You can find accurate recipes anywhere online. Also included are my liquor quality levels (LQL) for when considering your spirits:

1 = The very best artisan liquor you can afford

2 = Very good mid-range liquor

3 = Lower-mid range quality, more mainstream liquor is OK

The cocktail is, and always will be, about a certain degree of experimentation. They’re meant to be fun, so enjoy their creations. Here now are some interesting facts about my eight truly timeless classic cocktails.



Gin or Vodka / Dry Vermouth / Lemon Peel or Olive

Style: Stirred (but can be shaken – thank 007!)

LQL: 1


Photo via punchdrink.com


Perhaps the most classic cocktail of all with a murky history. Thought to have begun its career way back in 1906 when served to billionaire John D. Rockefeller in New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel.  There are many variations today, and a few deserve classic, or at least modern classic, status. From the original Dry Martini to the Dirty Martini (made with olive brine) this is a boozy wonder that will almost certainly have some differences wherever you order it. I come from the camp that believes firmly that the vermouth should just be a whiff, a very slight touch. Let your very best gin or vodka shine!

Hugely popular as a business lunch drink in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was common for several to be consumed – imagine! * hic *

Always the star of sophistication, the Martini deserves its heralded place as the pinnacle of cocktail creations.



Whisky (Bourbon or Rye) / Bitters / Sugar / Orange Twist

Style: Stirred

LQL: 1 or 2


Photo via punchdrink.com


A sophisticated classic that is a test of a bartender’s ability and skill. Considered the bar standard, with origins as far back as 1862, the first use of the name Old Fashioned for a cocktail with Bourbon as its base was said to have been at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen's club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky, when patrons asked for a cocktail “made the old fashioned way”

Pendennis Club, Louisville, Kentucky USA

The cocktail gained renewed popularity in the mid-1950’s and is having a current resurgence. It never really went away, of course. A beautiful balance of sweet and savoury with a spicy lift that is surprisingly refreshing.



Rye Whiskey / Sweet Vermouth / Bitters / Maraschino Cherry

Style: Stirred

LQL: 1 or 2


Photo via punchdrink.com

A creation from the mid-1800’s, this also has various theories of origin. The most commonly held belief is that it was invented at a party that was held by Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston’s mother, at The Manhattan Club in New York City.

Many believe it was actually created by a bartender simply known as “Black” at the famed Hoffman House in New York. The Manhattan Club still lays claim to the ownership of the recipe to this very day and it is regarded by many bartenders as one of the best cocktails to ever have been served.

Manhattan Club, circa 1870, NYC

It’s a boozy knockout that needs to be made with poise and balance to make it a smooth sipper. Traditionally made with Rye whiskey, it can be substituted with Bourbon for a touch more sweetness. To this day, the Manhattan is considered by many to be the perfect cocktail.



Vodka / Tomato Juice / Worcestershire Sauce / Chili / Lemon Juice / Veges (of choice)

Style: Shaken

LQL: 2 or 3


Photo via punchdrink.com

Yes, it’s the breakfast cocktail. Yes, it calms down a hangover. But this can be enjoyed anytime. It is cocktail with a unique flavour spectrum. Another cocktail with a complicated history, this 85-year old original originated in its earliest form at Harry's New York Bar at 5 Rue Danou, Paris. It became very popular amongst Americans and is to this day considered an American institution. Soon crossing the Atlantic, in 1934 it became known as the Red Snapper in the King Cole Bar in New York City’s St Regis Hotel, owned by John Jacob Astor IV and opened in 1904. The cocktail still goes by that name in the famous bar. Known as the Bloody Mary in just about every other bar in the world, it’s a true classic in its own right.

King Cole Bar, St Regis Hotel, NYC


Tequila / Cointreau / Lime Juice / Salt

Style: Shaken

LQL: 2 or 3


Photo via punchdrink.com


Considered the classic “Mexican” cocktail, the Margarita is not officially from Mexico. There are many stories as to the drink’s true origins. Owner of Tijuana restaurant Rancho La Gloria, Carlos “Danny” Herrera, claims he invented it in 1938. Another supposed contender has claims to the throne based on her name alone: Margarita. Dallas socialite Margarita Sames insisted that she concocted the drink for a group of her friends while on holiday in Acapulco in 1948. Her buddy Tommy Hilton of the Hilton hotel dynasty put the cocktail on the bar menu at Hilton hotels, and as they say, the rest is history. Or is it? We may never really know. 

Whether you enjoy your margarita frozen and flavoured with fresh berries or classically stirred with top shelf tequila, the drink is, and always will be, a bar staple.



Mint Leaves / White Rum / Lime Juice / Sugar

Style: Muddled then Shaken

LQL: 2 or 3


Photo via punchdrink.com

The refreshing Cuban classic. Is there anything better on a sizzling hot day? Sweet and fruity, this stands in a class of its own. Some say the Mojito can be traced back as far as 1586, with the creation of a medicinal drink named after Sir Francis Drake. Others maintain it was invented much later, when American’s visited Cuba, especially during Prohibition, to revel in a pulsing bar scene irresistible to many.

A third theory is that it was created at Bodeguita del Medio Bar in Havana, where supposedly Ernest Hemingway enjoyed them on regular occasions. Whatever the truth, cocktail lovers all over the world are happy someone thought of this wonderful refreshing mix which has become one of the world’s most beloved drinks.



Rum / Sugar / Lime Juice

Style: Shaken

LQL: 2 or 3


Photo via punchdrink.com

One of the most well balanced of the classic cocktails, this is a flavour bomb that excites every corner of your mouth. The classic Daiquiri, made from nothing more than rum, sugar and lime juice shaken with cracked ice and then strained, takes its name from where it was invented, the mining town of Daiquiri on the southeastern tip of Cuba. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, an American mining engineer created the drink to protect his workers from the dreaded yellow fever.

The Daiquiri came to the USA in 1908, when a U.S. Navy medical officer from the Army & Navy Club in Washington, D.C brought the recipe from Cuba. It has remained a favourite with many, with it’s peak popularity falling during the Second World War through to the 1960’s.



Gin / Campari / Sweet Vermouth

Style: Stirred

LQL: 1 or 2


Photo via punchdrink.com


A personal favourite of mine for its ability to smoothen and transform in the glass. After the initial hit of bitterness, the drink settles to a sweet, bitter and sour, all in balance. Refreshing, sophisticated and the perfect aperitif. An acquired taste for many, but a joy to those who persist.

A true Italian creation, beginning its life at the request of Count Camillo Negroni at Bar Casoni in Florence in 1919. It is believed that the count, who used to visit the bar quite frequently, one day asked barman Fosco Scarselli for his regular Campari and vermouth to be topped up with gin, instead of soda water. The barman garnished it with orange instead of lemon and the Negroni cocktail was born.

The Giacosa Café, previously known as the Café Casoni

This is by no means a definitive list of the only classics. Others would argue the inclusions of permanently popular, more modern drinks such as the Cosmopolitan and the Mimosa. 

These classics will never go out of style. They are stalwarts and fallbacks that you can totally rely upon, like a favourite pillow or comforting blanket. Maybe not quite as cuddly. Maybe….