10 Bottles / 10 Cocktails.
This cocktail malarky is all well and good, but how are you supposed to get started on your journey to mixin’ Nirvana? Excellent question dear reader. With ten green bottles*. Some pundits recommend one or other “12 bottle bar” but here at Proof we’ve gone two bottles better to keep things simple for our new recruits. It’s a nice round number (although there’s always some show-off who tries to go one better) and I’ll show you a similar number of crowd pleasing classic cocktails you can make with them. The 10 bottles are designed to be an affordable starting point to grow from but they also represent 10 bottles that the cocktailista should always have in stock. You’ll find the reasoning and some alternatives with each one and, further down, 10 cocktails which we’ve already visited that you should, after some time, be able to make from memory. Yes, they lean heavily on the sour family but getting those sours cracked is the key to developing good cocktail understanding and skills. No, there’s no Scotch (comes later) or vodka (go right now to the headmaster’s office and tell him what you just said to me!) but we’ve still managed to cram a lot of diversity into these few bottles. Shall we do this? Blindin’:
1. Wild Turkey 101. A bourbon whisky of 50.5% ABV that is a superb mixer and is relatively affordable and widely available. It’s one of few bourbons that can do double duty in drinks that call for rye whisky due to its dry spicy nature and some rye content. If you find the “kickin’ chicken” a bit too characterful I suggest Buffalo Trace or Four Roses small batch as excellent alternatives. An alternative alternative would be a good rye such as Rittenhouse.
2. Pierre Ferrand dry curacao. One of many orange liqueurs PF is, in my opinion, simply the tastiest and most versatile. Triple sec, curaçaos (non-blue!), Cointreau and Grand Marnier are all viable substitutes but have differing levels of sweetness and potency so tread with care.
3. Campari. This King of the amari (Italian bitter liqueurs) is vital for making Negroni’s and much more. There is no substitute but luckily you can find this anywhere. While it might taste a bit bracing the first time you try it, do persist – it’s a grower.
4. Havana Club 3 Años is simply the best choice for a white rum. The essential ingredient of a proper Daiquiri or Mojito it’s indispensable, affordable and widely available. Unless you live in the USA in which case you’re shit outa luck (don’t be tricked by the fake stuff they sell stateside but go for Plantation 3 Stars or El Dorado 3 instead).
5. Plantation Original Dark is a very versatile dark rum that punches well above its moderate price. Makes a nice rum Old Fashioned and so much more.
6. Calle 23 reposado tequila. A reasonably priced yet high quality, 100% agave, slightly aged tequila that makes a superb Margarita. Equally good alternatives are reposados from Espolon, Olmeca Altos and Don Julio.
7. Tanqueray export gin. A rock solid mixing gin that also makes a nice G&T. Not as fancy as some but better than many more expensive gins. Alternatives include Bombay Sapphire and Broker’s.
8. Punt e Mes is a sweet (aka Italian) vermouth but with a twist. It’s a bittered sweet vermouth that will make your Manhattans and Negronis shine and, in my opinion, is the tastiest and most adaptable mid-price example. If you eschew bitter flavours try Dolin instead.
9. Courvoisier VS cognac. A smooth and flavourful mixing cognac that won’t break the bank, Courvoisier is my go-to brandy but you could sub VS offerings from Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martell or Chateau Montifaud. If you have to drop your 10 bottles to 9 this is the one to let go but then you won’t be able to make the delicious Sidecar.
10. Angostura bitters. To round things off you will, of course, need a bottle of bitters and there’s only one place to start – the ultra-classic non-negotiable Lord-o-the-bitters Angostura.
Extras: OK so you do need a few other things but you can get them all from your nearest supermarket. Limes, lemons, mint, honey (runny, in a squeezy bottle) and sugar (fine, for making syrup.)
Once in possession of the above you have everything you need to make an excellent range of classic cocktails. Below are 10 crowd pleasers and some variants thereof. All have been previously discussed upon these pages so just click on the links for the recipes.
1. Negroni. The greatest cocktail ever invented. Variants include the Boulevardier (use the Wild Turkey 101 instead of rye).
2. Daiquiri. The other greatest cocktail ever invented (it was a tie) and the entry point to the almost endless sour family. Learn to make this one perfectly and from memory and you will be halfway to cocktail greatness.
3. Whiskey Sour. There are some variations to this one but start by making it like the Daiquiri and work on the foamy-topped version later. The Gold Rush is an interesting variation.
4. Gimlet. Simply a gin Daiquiri but it opens the door to the Southside, the Pegu Club, the Bee’s Knees and many, many more.
5. Margarita. Massively popular but very often badly made – nail this simple drink and become a party legend. Further improved versions are Tommy’s Margarita and my own Repo Man (although you’ll need to add some orange bitters for that).
6. Old Fashioned. More of a family of drinks, cut your teeth on a bourbon or rum O.F first.
7. Mojito. This evergreen summer cooler is very popular but takes some skill to get right. My favourite variation is the kick-ass Queen’s Park Swizzle.
8. Manhattan. Gateway into the wonderful world of stirred aromatic cocktails, the Manhattan is the essential template that you should learn to perfect.
9. Tom Collins. The Collins family are the basis for all long drinks/coolers and, while simple, will always put a smile on your guest’s face. Guaranteed!
10. Sidecar. Just when you thought, “He’s not going to use the brandy!” we come, last but certainly not least, to this classic brandy sour that is tricky to balance but ever so rewarding when you do.
With these simple drinks under your belt you’ll be well enough equipped to run a small cocktail party and spread your wings out to face the larger cocktail world. Keep these ten bottles in stock at all times and simply add others as and when needed to make other recipes that catch your eye. Bon voyage!
*OK, OK, so only a couple of them are green – have you never heard of artistic licence FFS?