The Standards


Every summer in New Orleans, the best and brightest of the cocktail world congregate at the tales of the cocktail conference to ruminate upon such esoteric subjects as cocktails of the 1600s, rum smuggling during prohibition and the early days of French mixology. Fascinating as these topics may be, they are a bit academic for the average drinker. This got me to thinking: what about those no-muss, no-fuss drinks that don’t require, well, thinking. What were we drinking before we knew that mixology was a field of scholastic study? Here is a quick look at some of the understated workhorses of the bar.

The Sour

When was the last time you or someone you love ordered a good old-fashioned whiskey sour? Probably ages. This is one of the most classic cocktail formulations in the book. Hundreds, if not thousands, of drinks are based on this formula; even drinks that aren’t based on this formula could probably be faked by properly applying.

1 1⁄2 oz base spirit

1 oz simple syrup (If using a cordial as the base spirit, use less simple syrup.)

3⁄4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake to chill. Strain onto fresh ice and garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.



I am a sucker for an Alexander for the simple reason that I am a sucker for dessert and for alcohol, and this drink has both. We believe that Alexanders were originally developed during Prohibition to mask the taste of cheap bootleg gin–that’s right, the Alexander was not originally a Brandy drink, though that is its more common incarnation these days. Both are fabulous, and the formula is wide-open for innovation. Substitute crème de banana for the brandy, and you have a Banshee. Substitute Galliano and you have a Golden Cadillac, and on and on.

1 oz brandy

1 oz crème de cacao (white)

2 oz heavy cream

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with a dusting of nutmeg if desired.


The Gimlet

This was one of the first drinks I ever learned to order at a bar. I have only rarely seen it in the subsequent decade. This great old cocktail poses a problem for the mixologist who is attentive to fresh and natural ingredients, as one of its two ingredients is neither fresh nor natural: rose’s Lime Juice. Originally created to preserve fresh limes for use on long voyages of the British navy, rose’s Lime has degenerated in recent years into an artificial commercial product that is anathema to the progressive bartender. Although some mixologists may be tempted to substitute fresh lime juice for the rose’s, this is not quite a fair switch–the cocktail, by definition, has the flavor of “preserved” lime, which you do not get with fresh lime. I have devised a clever workaround: locate a supplier who sells flavored syrups to coffee shops. Monin, Davinci and 1883 are all reputable brands. They make a lime syrup for use in Italian sodas that will work splendidly in place of rose’s Lime. a squeeze of fresh lime gives zing to this fabulous “modern” gimlet. Though the drink is tradition- ally made with gin, the vodka gimlet is equally popular.

2 oz gin or vodka

1 oz lime syrup (or Rose’s Lime)

.5 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with a wheel of lime or cucumber.


Tom Collins

Whatever happened to the Tom Collins? did someone cool proclaim this drink not to be so? I propose that we reopen the case. Consider the humble Collins: it has been around since at least the late 1860s and was at one time important enough that we named a glass after it. Simply put, a Collins is a sour that is served over ice in the eponymous glass and topped with club soda. Although gin is the conventional base for this cocktail, just about any spirit will work– bourbon makes a John Collins, Irish whiskey makes a Sean Collins, and vodka, surprisingly enough, makes a vodka Collins. The jury is out on what exactly constitutes a Joan Collins or a Phil Collins, but this much is certain: hastily avoid the so-called Collins mix that one finds at the grocery store. Most brands are artificially colored, flavored and sweetened and are hardly a substitute for this fresh simple formula:

1 1⁄2 oz gin or spirit of your choice

1 oz simple syrup

3⁄4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Club soda

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake to chill. Strain onto fresh ice and top with club soda; garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.