SidecarRitz Bar, Paris, France (1920s)

The Sidecar is an elegant, refined sip that recalls Paris in the 1920s, when Prohibition had forced America’s best bartenders overseas. Swap the brandy for tequila, lemon for lime, and you pretty much have a Margarita.

It’s traditional to moisten the glass rim with lemon and dip the rim in sugar – but certainly not necessary. I find the drink perfectly balanced on its own.

The Sidecar and the Margarita are where you’ll understand why a quality triple sec like Cointreau is worth every penny versus a cheaper variety that would overpower the drink with syrupy sweetness.

It’s said to be named for an American Army Captain stationed in Paris around the end of World War I who visited the Ritz Bar in a motorcycle sidecar – who knows, really? All you need to know about the Sidecar will be conveyed in your first sip: it’s a delicious classic worthy of its status.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Brandy or Cognac (recommended: Germain-Robin, Pierre Ferrand, Hennessy, Courvoisier)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon wheel, White sugar (optional)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

If you choose to sugar the rim, sprinkle some sugar on a plate and moisten either the full rim or just half with your lemon wheel garnish and lightly press the glass rim into the sugar. Try to avoid getting sugar on the interior glass surface.

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

2 oz brandy or Cognac
1 oz triple sec
3/4
oz lemon juice

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Rusty-NailNew York or Los Angeles (1950ish)

Really just a Scotch on the rocks with a bit of Drambuie, the Rusty Nail is an Atomic Age classic I’ve found even more satisfying when made along the lines of an Old Fashioned.

The natural combination of Scotch and Drambuie had been around since Prohibition, operating under a couple different names (some stupid names, too: D & S, Knucklehead, MIG-21, Little Club #1, B.I.F), until it received official christening as a “Rusty Nail” at some point in the ’50s.

I’ve seen ratios as high as half-Scotch and half-Drambuie – way too sweet. Dry it out some and round it up with lemon oil and orange bitters; you’ll want to take your time sipping it that way. The recipe below is not an “according to Hoyle” 2:1 Rusty Nail – it’s my minor spin on the drink that suits my palate.

Drambuie (from the Scottish Gaelic an dram buidheach, “the drink that satisfies”) is an herbal spiced heather-honey liqueur with a Scotch whiskey base. It was originally made exclusively by the Broadford Hotel on the Isle of Skye in the 1870s, then the recipe was sold to commercial producers in the early 20th century. Rat-Packers looking for a slightly softer impact from the blast of straight Scotch whiskey embraced the Rusty Nail as their preferred sip, most likely holding a cigarette in the same hand (keeping the other hand free for snapping fingers). Cue up some Sinatra and kick back, baby.

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Barspoon, Vegetable peeler or sharp knife
Ice: Ice chunk or ice cubes
Glassware: Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Scotch whisky (Speyside or blended – recommended: Glenfiddich 12, The Glenlivet 12, The Famous Grouse)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Drambuie
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters, Lemon twist

HOW TO

Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife, cut a strip of lemon peel to make:

1 lemon twist

Don’t include too much of the bitter white pith, if any. Holding the twist with the outside facing down over an Old Fashioned glass, pinch to express lemon oil into the glass. Reserve the twist for a garnish. Into the glass, add:

1 dash orange bitters
1/2
oz Drambuie

Add an ice rock or two to three ice cubes then add:

2 oz Scotch whiskey

Stir briskly to blend and chill. Insert the lemon twist as a garnish.

highballEngland, early 19th century

The mission here with “Home Bar Basics (and Not-So-Basics)” is to make the sometimes-intimidating world of cocktails accessible to all interested. But as much as we cocktail nerds love our Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, even those relatively simple drinks are complex and fussy compared to the family of drinks known as “Highballs” – a shot of booze with a non-alcoholic fizzy mixer served tall over ice, nothing more. I’ll be a purist here and say that adding anything else – even just a squeeze of juice – takes it out of Highball territory: the simple Rum & Coke becomes a Cuba Libre if you add lime juice (and a bit of gin and Angostura, as in the fancy version in my book). One addition makes good sense, though – a pinch of oils from a citrus zest garnish adds brightness and dimension to the mix.

But listen: simple doesn’t mean dumb. Highballs, like any other drink, are done well when one pays attention to the details: measure your pours, use high-quality ingredients, and employ good ice. A common mistake home bartenders make is eyeballing proportions that will fill whatever glass is on hand (“what is it… 50/50? oh well, down the hatch”). The standard Highball mix is a two ounces of booze with three ounces of mixer – like the previously-detailed Pimm’s Cup. Ideally, you’ll have dedicated Highball glasses around 10 ounces in capacity (shorter & wider than a Collins glass – but one of those will do in a pinch). Resist the urge to fill a bigger glass: either add more ice or just live with the glass not being full!

The name “Highball” came from the Irish, who call for their drink of choice as a “ball o’ malt” – so, simply a tall serving of whiskey (“boll” is Flemish for “glass” – the Dutch brought the term to England along with their genever, then to Ireland). Far as we can tell, the original Highball was the Scotch & Soda, mixed by people in the UK as soon as they could get their hands on the carbonated water first manufactured by J.J. Schweppe in Geneva and London. From there, it spread to Ireland, then Boston & New York. With the popularity of sodas like Coca-Cola, ginger beer, and 7-up in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Highball in all its forms became even more varied and accessible – and still reigns as the king of mixed drinks. A survey I read recently listed the top ten most popular cocktails in the US: seven out of ten were Highballs.

If you’re big on carbonated drinks, look into buying an iSi Soda Siphon for a steady supply of seltzer or homemade soda straight from the fridge.

GIN & TONIC

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixer: Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree Tonic Water or mix your own with Small Hands Yeoman Tonic Syrup)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz London Dry gin
3
 oz tonic water

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


VODKA & SODA

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: vodka (recommended: Absolut)
Mixer: seltzer (recommended: Fever-Tree Soda Water or carbonate your own)
Garnish: Two lemon twists

HOW TO

Pinch two lemon twists into a Highball or Collins glass to completely express their oils, then reserve one twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz vodka
3
 oz seltzer

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the reserved twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


RUM & COKE

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Coruba)
Mixer: Coca-Cola (if you can find imported Mexican Coke, your drink will be even better)
Garnish: Lime twist (try to get the most peel you can from the lime in one single piece)

HOW TO

Pinch a lime twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz dark Jamaican rum
3 oz Coca-Cola

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the reserved twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


SCOTCH & SODA

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Scotch whisky (recommended: The Famous Grouse)
Mixer: seltzer (recommended: Fever-Tree Soda Water)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz Scotch whisky
3
 oz seltzer

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


WHISKEY & GINGER

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Irish whiskey (recommended: Jameson)
Mixer: Ginger Beer (recommended: Barritt’s or Reed’s)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz Irish whiskey
3
 oz ginger beer

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


JACK & COKE

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Tennessee whiskey (recommended: George Dickel)
Mixer: Coca-Cola (if you can find imported Mexican Coke, your drink will be even better)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz Tennessee whiskey
3
 oz Coca-Cola

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.