Cuba-LibreHavana, Cuba (1900)
Townhouse Bar & Grill, Emeryville, CA (1995)

This spin on the Cuba Libre is one that can open the minds of your friends who don’t drink cocktails – except for Rum & Coke or Jack & Coke.

Coca-Cola was invented in the 1880s by John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Georgia. His product, originally called “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca,” was marketed as a patent medicine, a cure-all for various popular ailments including constipation, morphine addiction, impotence, and “extreme mental exertion.” Pretty sure its mix of Bordeaux wine, sugar, caffeine, and cocaine would put some pep in anyone’s step! Georgia enacted Prohibition laws in 1886 (trendsetters, way ahead of the national ban in 1920), so in order to keep his popular product moving, Pemberton reformulated his tonic to remove the wine, and it became even more popular.

But Coca-Cola seemed to be missing its booze, and eventually it found a natural companion in Caribbean rum. The original Cuba Libre goes back to just after the 1898 Spanish-American War in Cuba. U.S. soldiers stuck around and brought Coca-Cola with them, adding it to the typical rum and lime in an easy blend: a shot of rum, a squeeze of lime, top it off with Coke and toast with the battle cry of the day: “Free Cuba!” The Cuba Libre / Rum & Coke may be the most popular highball of all time, even inspiring a hit song in the 1940s (originally by Lord Invader, then covered by The Andrews Sisters). By this time, of course, the cocaine content in Coca-Cola had been nixed, just leaving the twin turbos of sugar and caffeine. And beginning in the ’80s, even sugar was booted in favor of the cheaper high-fructose corn syrup. Coke is still made with cane sugar in certain international markets like Mexico – read the ingredients list and look for “The Real Thing.”

Flash forward to the ’90s: Paul Harrington is working the bar at Townhouse up in Emeryville. He gets with two people from Wired magazine to launch a cocktail section on their web site (an incomplete archive by Robert Hess is here for the curious) that helps spur the current cocktail renaissance. His tweak to this tired old drink, suggested by a Venezuelan customer: Add a hit of gin and Angostura, cut back on the Coke – suddenly the high-school drink is all growed up. If you only know the standard version, you might be surprised by the magic that gin & Angostura work on the flavor: rounding down the sweetness and boosting the earthy spiciness.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirits: Light rum (recommended: Havana Club 3, Caña Brava, Cruzan), London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Coca-Cola (if you can find imported Mexican Coke, your drink will be even better)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Angostura bitters, Lime wedge

HOW TO

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 1/2 oz light rum
1/2
oz London Dry gin
3/4
oz lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:

3 oz Coca-Cola

Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a lime wedge. Optionally, serve with a straw.

Tom-Collins1London (1875-ish)

Order a Tom Collins in most bars and you’re likely to get back something that tastes like Gatorade. Make it at home, take about thirty more seconds than the restaurants do, and you’ll taste a complete 180° on this tall, refreshing quaff. Serve it on a hot afternoon and you’ll get the picture pretty quick.

This is a great one for people who say they don’t like gin – especially when made with the original Old Tom style of gin versus London Dry. Couldn’t be smoother.

Story goes the traditional garnish on the East Coast is an orange wheel with a maraschino cherry; West Coast gets a lime wheel and maraschino cherry. Midwesterners, I say split the difference and use a lemon.

The Collins, as a family, is essentially a sour with dilution by way of fizz. Add a spice element and you’d have a punch. The history of the Tom Collins is a little hard to pin down – there are stories of a bar prank (“hey, man, Tom Collins was just in here talking shit about you – he just left for the bar up the street”), hazy evidence linking it to a bartender named Collins… but the obvious answer to at least part of the name is its use of Old Tom gin. Old Tom was the gin in the 19th century, coming after Genever (aka “Holland gin” but not really a gin) and before the London Dry style that took hold around 1900. It’s a lightly-sweetened gin with less emphasis on juniper than London Dry, more on the other botanicals – citrusy and floral.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirits: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup, Seltzer (or tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino))
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lime wheel (or orange or lemon), Cherry (recommended: Filthy amarena, Luxardo maraschino)

HOW TO

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz Old Tom gin
1 oz lemon juice
3/4
oz  simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:

1 oz seltzer

Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a lime (or orange or lemon) wheel and cherry pierced on a cocktail pick. Optionally, serve with a straw.

ramosginfizzNew Orleans, Louisiana (1888)

The Ramos Gin Fizz doesn’t mean to be difficult, really. It’s just that creating a glassful of pillowy heaven does take a bit of work and attention. Even the name – which shouldn’t be difficult – is: the correct Spanish pronunciation is “RAH-mose” but most people I know say this as “RAY-mose.” To make things more confusing, in New Orleans, some say it “RAY-muss.” Whatever. As they say, “Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for breakfast.”

This drink evolved from the basic Sour 2:1:1 formula (spirit:citrus:sweet) into a Fizz (by adding seltzer, like a Tom Collins but without ice) and from there into a group of fancy Fizzes (egg white makes a Silver Fizz, egg yolk makes a Golden Fizz, whole egg makes a Royal Fizz). Adding cream and orange flower water was the masterstroke by barman Henrico “Henry” Charles Ramos at the now-extinct Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans back in 1888. The drink became so popular, Ramos employed a line of up to 35 “Shaker Boys” to pass the shaking tins down an assembly line, vigorously shaking each drink in succession for up to 12 minutes total.

125 years of practice and refinement have perfected this little number. Some will tell you removing the spring from a Hawthorne strainer and adding it to the shaker will help whip the drink, but in practice, it actually over-aearates the drink. Some will say you have to shake the drink for ten minutes – that’s bullshit, too. Don’t add the seltzer to the mix, either – the shaker will have a hard enough time staying sealed with the egg white and cream expanding as you go. You may occasionally see a couple drops of vanilla in this drink – which tends to overwhelm the delicate flavors, if you ask me. But good ice does make a key difference here, even though you’ll only be using one cube from a Tovolo 1″ ice tray (unless you’re one of those mad geniuses with a Kold-Draft machine at home). The density of the ice will ensure the drink dilutes, chills, and whips properly. And the right glassware is crucial (an 8-ounce fizz glass like the Libbey 2318 Lexington), to help hold that stasis of booze, air, and protein afloat. Don’t try to make two of these in one shaker – it just won’t work.

This technique was taught to me by 320 Main bartender Shaun Cole, who learned it from bartender, brand ambassador, and consultant Marcos Tello. Word is, Marcos traveled the country gathering techniques from various bartenders and even food scientists, then consolidated the best-of into this recipe. Jason Schiffer, owner of 320 Main, told me this drink “lets bartenders show off their skills like no other drink.” It takes focus and practice to get this one right, but the effort is rewarded. The ideal texture is a tight, dense, almost-meringue-like foam floating atop a creamy, aerated liquid base – not a frothy mass of loose, sloppy bubbles.

If you’re concerned about consuming raw egg whites, try not to be. It’s fine, you won’t die. Just make sure your eggs are cold and fresh, and that you don’t get any chickenshit in your drink.

The Ramos Gin Fizz is perfect for a warm spring or summer brunch, so long as you’re up to the task. Reserve this for a morning that’s not a morning-after!

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Shaker, Eyedropper, Muddler, Tovolo 1″ Ice Cube Tray, Straw, Spoon
Glassware: 8-ounce fizz glass
Ice: Ice cube
Spirit: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater) or Plymouth gin
Mixer: Simple syrup, Seltzer or Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Accents & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lime juice, Orange flower water (look for a French brand, but Middle Eastern will do), Heavy cream (aka “whipping cream” – but not whipped cream), Egg white

HOW TO

Chill a fizz glass in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a cocktail shaker, combine:

1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2
oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz heavy cream
3
drops orange flower water

In a second container (to avoid contamination from a piece of eggshell), separate:

1 egg white

Discard the yolk and the chalazae (the thick, stringy part connected to the yolk) and combine the egg white with the previous ingredients. Seal the shaker very tightly and dry shake for ten to twelve seconds to emulsify the ingredients. Hold the shaker lid firmly while shaking – the egg whites will foam and expand in volume and will create pressure in the shaker.

Add:

1 ice cube (1″ square)

Whip the shaker vigorously until you hear the ice cube has completely dissolved. Pour, unstrained, into the chilled fizz glass. Hold the glass in one hand, and, using a muddler, tap on the bottom of the glass for a minute or two. Look for the level of the drink to settle down about 1/8″ or so, and for any large bubbles in the foam to dissipate. You’re looking for a thick, consistent foam texture in the drink. Next, to the surface of the drink, add:

2 drops orange flower water

In the used shaker, add:

2 oz seltzer

Slowly drizzle the seltzer straight down the center of the drink from a height of about an inch or two. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll see the foamy head of the drink rising slowly above the rim of the glass. Keep pouring seltzer down the same spot and keep an eye on the foamy head. If it starts to sag around the edges, stop adding seltzer.

Serve with a straw (and a spoon to scoop out those last bits of meringuey goodness), then congratulate yourself on creating a thing of beauty. Kick back the rest of the day, you’ve earned it.

p.s. You may want to keep a spoon handy for scooping out the last little bit of foamy, citrusy goodness.