if you're trying to get into cocktails, start by learning the canon. There are reasons these drinks have survived and become essential: They're good and simple to make — and they're replicable almost anywhere that has a booze store and access to basic grocery items.


Makes 1 serving

Everyone agrees the martini is an essential drink: Its glass has become the universal sign of the cocktail. And yet for such a canonical beast, the martini is perennially personalized, a drink everyone dials in to their own tastes. Gin or vodka? Purists will argue for the former, but vodka has plenty of advocates. Vermouth-to-base-spirit ratio? Debated endlessly, but if you're using good, well-cared-for vermouth, it's not to be feared.

  • Ice
  • 2 1/2 ounces dry gin, such as Plymouth, Beefeater or the citrusy Tanqueray 10
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth, such as Dolin
  • 1 or 2 dashes orange bitters
  • Twist of lemon peel, for garnish

Chill a cocktail (martini) glass or coupe. Fill a mixing glass with ice, then add gin, vermouth and bitters (to taste). Stir gently for 20 seconds, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel.


Makes 1 serving

A boozy, classic deep dive into whiskey and sweet vermouth. These days, most craft cocktail types opt for rye, which has a spicier profile than bourbon, but the main thing is to pick a whiskey you like and a vermouth that's worthy of it. 

  • Brandied cherry, for garnish, such as Luxardo or Amarena Fabbri brand
  • Ice
  • 2 dashes Angostura and/or orange bitters
  • 2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Twist of orange peel (for its oils; optional)

Chill a cocktail (martini) glass, adding the brandied cherry garnish. Fill a mixing glass with ice, then add bitters, whiskey and vermouth. Stir for 20 seconds, then strain into the chilled glass.

Twist orange peel, if using, over the surface of the drink, then discard it.


Makes 1 serving

Supposedly no one likes a Negroni the first time they taste one, and some drinkers never come around on this bright red flag of a drink. It's an Italian liqueur that brings that fiery color and throws down the gauntlet: Campari, the deeply bittersweet, orangy and herbal aperitivo that complements equal portions of dry gin and sweet vermouth. It's boozy, it's strange, it's a high-wire balancing act.

  • Ice
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth, such as Cocchi or Dolin
  • 1 ounce dry gin
  • Twist of orange peel, for garnish

Chill a cocktail (martini) glass.

Fill a mixing glass with ice, then add Campari, sweet vermouth and gin. Stir for 20 seconds, then strain into the glass. Twist orange peel over the surface of the drink, then drop it into the drink.


Makes 1 serving

Perhaps the first and most genre-defining of cocktails, the Old-Fashioned has been carried back into heavy sipping rotation by the craft cocktail renaissance. Good bars opt to leave out the pile of pineapple and neon cherries that were once all too common. You may want a twist of citrus for its fragrant oils, but that's all the embellishment that's called for. A little sugar, good whiskey (it can be bourbon- or rye-based, depending on your preference) and the spice of bitters to button up the whole thing nice and neat.

  • 1 teaspoon sugar (may substitute 1 small sugar cube)
  • 1 teaspoon warm water
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Strip of orange or lemon peel
  • Large ice cubes
  • 2 ounces bourbon or rye

Combine sugar, warm water and bitters in an old-fashioned glass, then add the citrus peel and muddle. Add some ice cubes, then bourbon or rye, and stir to combine; make sure sugar has dissolved. Add a couple more ice cubes and serve.

Gin and Tonic

Makes 1 serving

With two ingredients plus a couple of slices of citrus, the gin and tonic seems so simple it barely warrants a recipe. It's gin, it's tonic: Where's the complication? But the flavors of juniper mixed with the tongue-livening bitter bubble of tonic have made this drink the essential highball for centuries. Its simplicity makes the quality of the ingredients and the right proportions critical. 

  • Ice
  • A few lime wheels
  • 2 ounces dry gin
  • 3 or 4 ounces good tonic water, such as Fever Tree

Fill a highball glass with ice, layering in a few lime wheels (to taste). Add gin and tonic (to fill), then stir gently.


Makes 1 serving

Crisp, tart and elegantly simple, a good daiquiri is a pale, delicious thing of beauty. The classic version is not frozen. Look for a good Cuban-style light rum (Havana Club, Banks 5 Island) to get you started, and then adjust as you get acquainted with the drink. A simple sugar syrup balances out the tartness of the lime and keeps the drink from getting too watered down by its icy shake.

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces white rum, such as Cana Brava 
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce rich Demerara syrup

Chill a cocktail (martini) glass. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add rum, lime juice and Demerara syrup. Seal; shake vigorously for 15 seconds, then strain into the chilled glass; double-strain only if you want to remove the tiny ice shards from the drink. (Some tipplers enjoy them in a daiquiri.)

To make Demerara syrup, combine 2 cups of Demerara or turbinado sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a brief boil; once sugar has dissolved, remove saucepan from heat. Cool completely before using or storing (in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks).


Makes 1 serving

Like the daiquiri, the margarita is a classic from the cocktail family known as sours, a simple but delicious clan of drinks in which the DNA is made up of spirit, citrus and sweetener.  Salt is optional, of course, but it functions the way it does in cooking, tying the whole package together.

  • Large/coarse-grained salt (for rimming; optional)
  • Lime half (for rimming; optional), plus 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • Ice
  • 1 3/4 ounces tequila
  • 1/2 ounce Cointreau
  • 1/4 ounce agave nectar

If you are serving the drink straight up, use a cocktail (martini) glass; if you are serving it on ice, a rocks glass will work. Either way: If you are rimming it with salt, make a small pile of salt on a plate. Rub lime half around outside rim of glass, then roll rim gently over salt to create salt edge.

Add ice to glass, if using. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add lime juice, tequila, Cointreau and agave nectar. Seal and shake vigorously for 15 seconds, then strain into glass.

Source: Carrie Allan, The Washington Post