Nobody knows everything and we all need to exercise our cocktail-building muscles if we hope to succeed in this business. If you want your bartenders to look like rock stars they need to be able to make every cocktail ordered from them with confidence. Are you instilled with a sense of comfort when you order a drink and the bartender makes a puzzled face, reaches for a cocktail book or app, or asks another bartender – or you – how to make your cocktail? No, you’re not, and neither are we.
It has been made abundantly clear that Americans want whiskey. With that surge in popularity has come a demand for classic cocktails, and whiskey is the base spirit in myriad recipes. These are the whiskey cocktails you and your bar staff need to know how to make.
Before you comment that the Old Fashioned is made with any spirit, realize that it’s widely accepted that the original recipe would have served to highlight the whiskey available to Americans in the 1800s. Yes, you can make the Old Fashioned with brandy, rum, gin, Mezcal, and other spirits, but the Old Fashioned has mainly featured bourbon, American rye, and Irish whisky.
The Manhattan most commonly calls for the use of rye whiskey, but of course you should play around with bourbon and Canadian, Irish, Japanese, and other whiskies. Save the riffing for after you’ve mastered this blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. Try to avoid muddling a Maraschino cherry when making this drink.
Because this classic has two ingredients in common with the Negroni, it’s often considered a variation on that gin, Campari and vermouth creation. Writer and cocktail enthusiast Paul Clarke would wholeheartedly disagree with that sentiment:
“A simple substitution? Hardly. The bittersweet interplay between Campari and vermouth remains, but the whiskey changes the storyline. Where the Negroni is crisp and lean, the Boulevardier is rich and intriguing. There's a small difference in the preparation, but the result is absolutely stunning.”
Be aware that some recipes call for just one part each of the vermouth and Campari but either 1-and-a-half or 2 parts whiskey. You’ll have to decide what works best for you and your guests.
If you’re going to make a proper Sazerac, you had better have absinthe on hand. The green fairy-washed rocks glass preparation is the key to this New Orleans classic that’s made with either whiskey or cognac. If you don’t have absinthe, replace it with Herbsaint or bourbon. For our purposes, we’re calling for rye in this whiskey cocktail.
This is a true NOLA original. If you know New Orleans, you know that the French Quarter is also known as Vieux Carré. This powerful whiskey cocktail was created in 1938 by the head bartender of the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, Walter Bergeron. Whereas the Sazerac can be made with either cognac or rye whiskey, the Vieux Carré is made with both spirits, plus sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, and both Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters. It packs a delicious wallop, just like NOLA.