Any Don Draper fan worth his salt knows that classics are popular for good reason: They are simple and delicious. Now, I don’t want to mess with a good thing. Yet it’s fun to give those go-to sips a subtle twist to keep things exciting.
Gain an understanding of the ingredients before you add a spin. The best way to do this is by tasting base liqueurs in their bare state to get a feel for the flavors. Always go for quality gin and bourbon and 100 percent agave tequila so you don’t have to mask the cocktail with too many distracting ingredients. Simply let the base spirit shine and build on its flavors.
Let’s tackle that martini. Instead of using dry vermouth, you can change the style of the drink without sacrificing its integrity by using substitutes like Dry Fino sherry or Lillet Blanc, an aperitif-fortified wine from Bordeaux.
A margarita can take on many twists if you add fruit or interesting liqueurs like St. Germain or Canton. Remember that when adding fruit to a margarita, always use fresh. The pre-made bottled mixes with fancy tropical flavors aren’t as good and a Whole Foods is never too far away.
Finally, look at the Manhattan. At some of our restaurants, we offer a Port-style Manhattan, for which the sweet vermouth is swapped out for Port. We add a bar spoon of maple syrup to give it wintery flair. This fun little number is on the menu at Bar Drake in San Francisco and it’s very popular. Here’s the recipe, so you can try it at home.
2 1/4 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1 oz. 10-year Tawny Port
1 ½ oz. bar spoon of maple syrup
Dash of Angostura bitters
1. Pour all ingredients over ice into a mixing glass.
2. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass.
3. Garnish with brandied cherries.
— Jacques Bezuidenhout