By Adem Tepedelen
The tried-and-true classics of the cocktail world, such as the Martini, the Old Fashioned, and the Manhattan — have remained popular and unchanged for generations. And there’s a reason why. They are our go-to drinks, because, as the saying goes, the classics are never out of style. But that doesn’t mean that they are untouchable. Modern mixologists, who cut their teeth learning how to make these iconic bevvies, pay their reverence today by riffing on the recipes that have kept cocktails part of the “mix” (so to speak) for so long.
To update or improve, if you will, on a classic, you have to intimately know the original and what makes it special. We offered several local bartenders the opportunity to show how they have taken a drink from the canon of the world’s best-loved cocktails and transformed it into something new — perhaps better — and definitely different. They all took a unique approach — some reverential, some irreverent — but the end result is five fun cocktails you might be inspired to serve at your next soirée.
Play it Up
These thoughtful and playful renditions of classic cocktails offer a great way to try a different take on an old favourite. And, hey, they may just inspire you to get a little creative with your home bar to see if you can come up with your own unique version of a classic.
Spurs ’n’ Saddles
Nate Caudle, Little Jumbo
Mixologist notes: “The DNA of this bestseller is closely tied to the gin-based Pegu Club, although we’re adding an extra step with the root beer syrup. I find the classic recipe to be too dry and astringent, so swapping bourbon in as the base spirit bolsters the body and adds a sweet roundness from the corn in the spirit. This is a genuine Wild West twist on the 1930s classic.”
• 1 1/2 oz Bulleit Frontier bourbon
• 1/2 oz Cointreau
• 1/2 oz lime juice
• 5/6 oz root beer syrup
• 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Build, shake and double strain neat into a small rocks glass. The garnish is a flamed hickory-smoked bourbon rinse.
Simon Ogden and Brian Newham, Veneto Tapa Lounge
Mixologist notes: “We tweaked the classic Caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, for the current menu. Caipirinha translates to ‘little person from the countryside’ or ‘hillbilly,’ which speaks to its workaday roots. We’ve given our version the Italian equivalent: ‘La Campagnolo.’ To marry it with the Italian heritage of our room, we swapped the lime out for lemon and muddled red pepper, and the sugar for Italian Maraschino Liqueur. It’s a peppery, bright take on the original, and a perfect way to melt into a warm autumn afternoon.”
• 1/4 red pepper, chopped
• 1/2 fresh lemon, quartered
• 1 1/2 oz cachaça
• 3/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
• 1/4 oz simple syrup
In the bottom of a shaker, muddle together the red pepper and fresh lemon. Fill shaker with enough ice to fill a good-sized tumbler and add all ingredients. Shake aggressively and pour unstrained into your chilled glass. Top with a lemon wheel and roast some ground black pepper over the drink with a lighter, match or torch for some splendid aromatics.
The Mexican Fascist
Marc Pinkoski and Scott Lansdowne, Cenote Restaurant and Lounge
Mixologist notes: “The Mexican Fascist is one of Cenote’s variations of the classic Old Fashioned — but it replaces the bourbon with tequila. Then, following the traditional recipe of spirit, sugar, water and bitters, this cocktail combines strong notes of boozy chocolate and orange, with a bite of habanero heat on the finish.”
• 2 oz Hornitos Plata tequila
• 1/4 oz simple syrup
• Muddled orange fruit and peel
• 6 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate bitters
• 1 dash Scrappy’s Firewater bitters
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake briefly, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with orange peel and grated dark chocolate.
Shawn Soole, Olo Restaurant
Mixologist notes: “The Drunk Uncle is in the Negroni family. It’s a twist on the classic Boulevardier and Old Pal. It’s smoky and bitter, like a drunk uncle.”
• 1 1/2 oz Islay whisky
• 3/4 oz Martini Bianco vermouth
• 3/4 oz Cynar liqueur
Stir and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Serve with a grapefruit twist.
Katie McDonald, Clive’s Classic Lounge
Mixologist notes: “Elevating a classic cocktail doesn’t always mean adding or subtracting ingredients. The alcohol market is so flooded with options right now that you can up the game of a classic simply by finding the brands that best suit the drink’s flavour profile. This is my favourite Vesper recipe.”
• 1 1/2 oz Tanqueray No. 10 gin
• 1/2 oz Kettle One vodka
• 1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
Combine all ingredients in a tin and stir with ice. Strain into a small chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.