7 Drinks Every Bartender Should Know
Ask any two bartenders for their list of the most popular cocktails in America and, chances are, by the time they get to drink number 4, the lists have diverged.
Entire books can (and have) been written on the subject. Nonetheless, here are 7 popular cocktails with a colorful history you should know.
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#1: The Martini (aka, James Bond's Drink)
A classic martini calls for gin and a splash of dry vermouth, stirred, served in a chilled martini glass with a pimento olive garnish.
But that's not how 007 do. He likes a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. For the record, shaking a martini makes it colder and more diluted as the ice melts during the process. To be fair, a spy has to stay sharp while looking cool.
History of the Martini
The classic martini definitely came into being by 1922, but records of a martini cocktail date back to 1887 (with a much sweeter recipe).
Sometimes the martini is said to be traced to the Gold Rush in California. In these origin stories, the name comes from either a brand of vermouth (Martini & Ross) or the town of Martinez. Sometimes, it's linked to the name of a bartender in the Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC, circa 1911.
Either way, the relative prevalence of gin during Prohibition probably popularized the classic version of the drink.
Ways to Take Your Martini
Martini aficionados have…opinions about their drink. They also have a whole vocabulary to describe their preference, and the uninitiated are often confused by the terms.
How "wet" or "dry" a martini indicates how sweet it is due to the amount of vermouth. The standard is 3 parts gin or vodka, 1 part vermouth. A wet martini has more, a dry martini has less. An extra dry martini may only have a vermouth rinse. There's a joke that a Churchhill martini made with 5 parts gin and a quick glance at the vermouth. A martini with no vermouth is sometimes called a Naked Martini.
Martinis are traditionally garnished with an olive, but a "dirty" martini has a splash of olive brine in the mix as well for a savory taste. Sometimes this replaces the vermouth, but typically it's an addition.
These are the most common versions of a "real" martini. Then people got creative.
Variations on the Martini
A smoky martini, sometimes called a burnt martini, has a splash of smokey single malt scotch added in.
When you garnish a martini with a cocktail onion instead of an olive, it becomes a Gibson.
A Perfect Martini is sweeter, sometimes called the 50/50 Martini due to a mix of sweet and dry vermouth. The Martinez, which possibly pre-dated the Martini, forgoes the dry vermouth entirely for sweet and adds two dashes of orange bitters and a spoon of Maraschino liqueur with a lemon twist.
A Reverse (or Upside-Down) Martini flips the ratios of gin and vermouth for a weaker cocktail with a lighter flavor.
Then there's a whole family of Tini's – the Appletini, Chocolatini, Mochatini, Pornstar Martini, etc etc. The greatest resemblance these bear to a martini is the glass and the liquor (typically vodka, but sometimes gin). Otherwise, they're really their own beast.
#2: The Margarita (Jimmy Buffet's Beverage)
A cool, fruity combination of tequila, triple sec (orange liqueur), lime juice, and ice. Shake, strain, and present with a salt rim and lime wheel. Salt subdues the bitterness and brings out the sweet and sour flavors.
History of the Margarita
The first U.S. importer of Jose Cuervo ran an ad campaign in 1945 with the tagline "Margarita: it's more than a girl's name." It's the first definitive record of the iconic cocktail.
Frozen margaritas were invented in 1971, inspired by 7-Eleven's Slurpee machine.
Variations on the Margarita
The margarita is incredibly adaptable. You can add just about any fruit for a rainbow of tequila regrets. You can make them on the rocks, straight up, or frozen.
#3: The Manhattan (J.P. Morgan's Favorite)
A timeless mingling of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, stirred – never shaken – and garnished with a maraschino cherry.
History of the Manhattan
The origins of this cocktail are fuzzy and often associated with Prohibition, but the cocktail was mentioned in print as early as 1882.
Variations on the Manhattan
The Perfect Manhattan calls for a 50/50 mix of sweet and dry vermouth, and the Dry Manhattan uses dry vermouth entirely, with a lemon garnish instead of cherry.
The Rob Roy is made with scotch, rather than the more traditional rye whiskey or bourbon.
#4: The Mojito (Hemmingway's Habit)
Taste a bit of Havana with this mixture of white rum, club soda, lime juice, simple syrup, and a healthy dose of mint leaves. To draw out the enjoyment, make special ice cubes with water, sugar, and lime juice. Delicious!
History of the Mojito
The mojito is a very old cocktail – it's believed to have originated in Cuba in the 1500s. Rumor is that pirates drank it to cure scurvy and dysentery (yum!).
Variations on the Mojito
As a popular drink in Cuban and Mexican restaurants, mojitos are sometimes made with tequila instead of rum. You can also change out the lime juice for other fruit.
#5: The Piña Colada (Official Drink of Puerto Rico)
Tantalizingly tropical and named for its primary ingredient, combine pineapple juice with white rum and coconut cream then shake or blend with ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry, or both.
History of the Piña Colada
The piña colada was probably invented at a tourist bar in Puerto Rico in 1954. The U.S. territory adopted it as its official beverage in 1978.
"The Piña Colada Song" (which you're probably singing in your head right now) was written by a guy who never liked piña coladas and originally wanted to sing about Humphrey Bogart, instead.
Variations on the Piña Colada
Add blue curacao to turn your piña colada into a Blue Hawaiin, or Midori for an Iguana Colada. Replace rum with Kahlua and it's a Kahlua Colada, or with vodka for a King Henry. Blend a piña colada with a strawberry daiquiri for a Lava Flow.
#6: The Negroni (The Count's Creation)
Sun-kissed but surprisingly strong! Made with equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet red vermouth on the rocks. Stir and garnish with an orange twist.
Fair warning – in Milan, they say that it takes 3 tries to enjoy Campari, and that in your first attempt, you should only "kiss" it.
History of the Negroni
The Negroni has a well-documented history because the guy who invented it – an Italian nobleman named Count Camillo Negroni – went on to found a distillery for the drink that is still open today. Circa 1919 in Florance, the Count walked into a bar with a hankering for an Americano but with less soda and more…gin.
Variations on the Negroni
Replace the gin with sparkling wine and you've made a Negroni Sblagliato (named for the "mistake" a bartender apparently made by grabbing the wrong bottle).
The Boulevardier uses whiskey instead of gin, and if you take it one step further by replacing the sweet vermouth with dry, you've got the Old Pal.
#7: The White Russian (The Dude's Drink)
Deliciously rich! Made with Kahlua (coffee-flavored liqueur), vodka, and heavy cream stirred together and served over ice in an Old Fashioned glass.
The Dude abides.
History of the White Russian
The earliest written mention of the White Russian doesn't show up until 1961, though the Black Russian has its origin story in the late 1940s at the dawn of the Cold War. The story goes that it was created for the American ambassador to Luxembourg while she was visiting Brussels.
No Russians were consulted in the making of this drink…unless you count the vodka.
The drink was repopularized by its appearance in The Big Lebowski, under the screen name of "The Caucasian."
Variations on the White Russian
Skip the cream and it's a Black Russian. When it's made with chocolate milk instead of cream, it's either called a Dirty Russian or an Off-White Russian, depending on your preference. Replace the cream with horchata and it's a White Mexican. And if you really must, you can replace the cream with goat milk to make a White Canadian.
A White Cuban swaps out the liquor instead of the cream – change the vodka out for rum (what else?).
The Mudslide is basically a White Russian with Irish cream liqueur added to the mix.
There's More to Bartending Than Cocktails
Mixology is an important part of bartending, but so is knowing the law where you live and protecting yourself from liability.
Whether your area requires a bartending license or not, it's a good idea to complete alcohol server training. You'll learn how to spot minors, evaluate someone's level of intoxication, and become familiar with the law where you work.
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