Raising the Bar: The New Cocktail Religion


Imagine walking into an old apothecary that has not been touched since Prohibition. Up on the shelves there are bottles of different shapes and sizes, some with peeled and stained labels, others with illegible type. There are unidentified liquids, medicine droppers, tonics and tinctures. There are beakers, glass jars filled with botanicals, herbs in solutions, glass stir sticks, and unknown scents and sights beckoning.

This could be an ancient apothecary or this could be a chic new bar devoted to the craft of the classic cocktail. In recent years, the cocktilian bartenders – those upstarts otherwise known as mixologists or bar chefs – have been reviving and reinventing the world’s classic cocktails. Carrying on a trend that began with Dale DeGroff’s first true vintage cocktail menu at New York City’s famed Rainbow Room, a new breed of bartenders are raising the bar and our taste buds with more than a throw back to the “good old days.” This new religion has its own rituals and rites of passage. To the delight of the patrons of this new cocktail culture, these priests and priestesses of the bar seem to have taken an oath to make drinks an art form. We can rejoice in the fact that this means they aspire to mix the finest libations that have ever passed over our lips. And this is good for the lucky regular who has found the barkeep who’s hitting the mark.

If the card-carrying mixologist has a typical dossier, you can likely find these basics: They use only fresh juices, they often make their own tinctures, infusions and homemade bitters, they muddle, they frequently stir martinis instead of shaking them, you may see egg whites frothing in your shaker tin, they might flame orange peels for the garnish, and the atten- tion they pay to detail and nuance is distinguishable.

Sure, if there are three mixologists playing rock, paper, scissors, and the winner gets to decide which cocktails make the top ten classics, each throw will elicit a different list, but there are a few standards that most would agree on – and happily imbibe: Manhattan; Old Fashioned; Collins Drinks; Pimm’s Cup; Margartia; White/Black Russian; The Champagne Cocktail; The Sidecar; Sazerac; and Moscow Mule.

Also keep in mind the revamped versions of these standards are gaining just as much attention and fanfare. If each of the classic cocktails is a vintage BMW motorcycle, then each has its perfect sidecar – the new interpretation on a classic that has us thirsty, chatty and wanting just one more.

I hope you sift the pages of this magazine, with one of these classic cocktails in your hand. Prohibition is over, and the martini cart, the speakeasy and cocktails are back in vogue!


2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey

1 oz Brandied Cherry Juice

2 dashes Orange Bitters

brandied cherries

Pour over ice and stir 30 turns-instead of shake-next strain, then garnish with brandied cherries

(the items mentioned in this recipe can be found at Grape Vine Market)



2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 maraschino cherry for garnish

Pour over ice and stir 30 turns-instead of shake-next strain, then garnish



Use Rye Whiskey for the more traditional New York style Manhattan

Substitute Orange Bitters for Angostura for a more floral note

To make a Manhattan “Perfect” use 1/2 oz dry vermouth and 1/2 oz sweet vermouth

Substitute Ruby Port for sweet vermouth