As a society we are relearning how to drink Craft Cocktails, we lost our way during prohibition. Those thirteen dry years set us a drift in the sea of poorly made sugary slop. Leaving us with the collective inability to make, order, or even understand a great craft cocktail.
Our goal with these 12 craft cocktails is to give us all a foundation to walk into a bar that looks like this, and confidently order a great cocktail.
Excellent prohibition, pre prohibition, and craft cocktail bars are popping up everywhere. They are becoming as prevalent as the microbrewery. My cocktail mates Mike, Will and I offer these 12 of our favorite craft cocktails to order in a bar as a way to get you in the spirit of spirits. Recipes, recommended ingredients, and how to order are all included in the list. Don’t be dissuaded if you don’t “like” a particular spirit, odds are you do, but have not had the quality or skill to craft it into a luscious libation.
The 12 Craft Cocktails
Of the Rye and Bourbon drinks this is the granddaddy. In our collaborative Craft Cocktails list no less than three variants made there way on here, it is that good. When ordering any of these we typically specify exactly how we want them, and the ingredients. Sadly the Classic Manhattan and the Old Fashioned you will see later have been ruined by so many useless tweaks. We have nightmare’s and many horror stories where a well meaning bartender have ruined them. Being specific in your order really helps the bar keeps, if they don’t have an ingredient they will typically recommend, and also stay on course. Fear not, specificity in ordering is not rude, its the opposite.
Here is how to order a fantastic Manhattan “Ill take a simple Manhattan, Pikesville Rye, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, One cherry. Served up.”
Note, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth is often called just “Carpano” or “Antica”. Vermouth can be a personal choice, only rule is it must be sweet.
2. Medici Manhattan
This craft cocktail is a sweeter richer version of the manhattan, it adds a bitter Italian Amaro “Montenegro” also known as “Monty” to the mix. It is an excellent addition.
Our way to order, “Can you make me a Medici Manhattan with Highwest Double Rye. Carpano. and ‘Monty’. Served up.”
We specify here because some bars will use a sweet vermouth or another Amaro, we don’t want that.
3. Black Manhattan
In our Craft Cocktails list the third Manhattan is the Black, this variant we pull the vermouth out completely and replace it with a silky sweet and bitter Italian Amaro called Averna. Averna is a distinctive bottle, I scan the bar for the bottle before I order this. Many bartenders will make this with Montenegro, good, but it is a big step down. I like mine on a large ice cube, but if you prefer it up, that is your call. If you want to “rock it” ask for the specific cube, seriously. Personally, if I’m going to pay more than 15 dollars or quid for a cocktail, give me a big cube. If they don’t have them, then switch to ‘up’, no bar ice allowed in this one.
How to order a Black Manhattan “Hey chief, can I get a Black Manhattan with High West Double Rye and Averna. Over big rock.”
The Negroni is simply an outstanding easily drinkable cocktail. It is a a stable base for so many cocktails, the recipe is commonly known as a “one one one” which is one ounce of three things, base spirit, something sweet, and something bitter or sour. The idea is balance. I order these everywhere, it is one of the most consistent and infallible cocktails there is.
Ordering a Negroni is really about the base gin more than the remainder, vermouth will always be sweet, and the bitter will always be Campari. So confidently say “I’d love a Negroni with Waterloo Nine please!”
Waterloo No. Nine is a slightly botanical dry gin, but if you have a favorite dry or London dry gin, substitute it.
Now we head off the trail a bit, this is a Negroni variant, with an ultra cool name. This simple cocktail will often prompt other patrons to ask, “What did you order?” For two reasons I believe, first the name which has that English beginning and French ending “Boulevard-ee- yea.” Second, the bartender should know immediately what this is, and often offer a comment like “nice” or “excellent choice” as they get to work. I usually go rye here, but bourbon is also very common. Like the Negroni, it will be sweet vermouth and Campari, those never vary.
Order like a pro, “Can you make me a Boulevardier, and can I get that with Basil Hayden’s dark Rye?”
6. Old Fashioned
Drink like your parents grandparents, I’m sure they knew a thing or two. In my opinion no single cocktail has suffered from prohibition like the Old Fashioned. In our 12 Craft Cocktails list we are returning to the roots, the OG OF. No cherries, sour mix, vermouth, or whatever, drink like those in the know, its one of the best cocktails without any improvisation.
My way of ordering an Old Fashioned, and yes I do this, “Could you make me a classic Old Fashioned, Buffalo Trace with just some sugar and orange peel, rocks, nothing else.”
In high end craft cocktail bar I just say “Can I get an old Fashioned with Buffalo Trace” they will know.
Martini’s have a place in the cocktail bar. It tends to be a serious place, it is a serious drink. Probably one of the most powerful and boozy cocktails you can order. Essentially a Martini is a mildly diluted single spirit. Will recommends a 6 to 1 ratio of Gin to dry vermouth. You will find when you order one it is exceptionally common for the bartender to ask your preference due to the booze forward nature of the cocktail, it is equally as common to ask about the garnish. If you know your preferences then ordering and enjoying is easy.
The thing with a martini, due to the simplicity, the skill in preparation is directly reflected in the drink, it takes a pretty deft hand to make a great one. Watch out though, if you get a great Martini it can be the express train to downtown Drunkville.
Ordering a Martini is like ordering a high end coffee, it’s a ‘your preference’ cocktail. The bartender brings the skill, you bring the recipe here. Here is how Will orders his “Martini please, Monkey 47, dry, 3 olives.” like I said its like ordering a coffee in a cafe.
This is the cocktail of James Bond, James BLOODY Bond people! Every single thing about a Vesper is elegant, highbrow, and dangerous. Few cocktails can totally change how you look, and how you feel in the moment like a Vesper. It is a Martini, and we recommend a vesper when you need to bring your game up a notch, or you want to enjoy an amazing cocktai
The vesper is part Gin, (often a bar tender will ask you to specify a gin, botanical is best, like the Botanist Gin.) part Vodka, with Lillet Blanc or if you are really lucky Kina Lillet, a more elegant sibling in place of the vermouth. You’re about to see a lot of Lillet, it was common in the craft cocktails scene more than 80 years ago.
Order this with the confidence of an international spy. I say “Vesper, with the Botanist and Lillet” if you want the “shaken not stirred” line this would be the time.
Ask for Lillet, because vermouth is a common substitute. Vespers can come in a martini glass or champagne flute, no matter how it finds you drink it like a boss, a super spy boss.
9. Corpse Reviver #2
Talk about a drink that people will want to talk about, it’s this one. The name alone is reason to order, but it is also possibly one of the most perfect cocktails ever made. Yes to answer the obvious question, there is a corpse reviver #1, but getting one is rare, so the #2 is not usually needed.
What the heck is a Corpse Reviver anyway? according to the Savoy Cocktail book a way to recover after a hard night, although “more than two can have the opposite effect”. I agree. The Corpse Reviver is an even split of Gin, our friend Lillet, Orange Liqueur, and Lemon Juice, with an absinthe rinse. So, so goo
Ordering is simple, say the name “Corpse Reviver.” in what ever sentence you want. Waiting for it to arrive is the hard part
10. El Presidente
Here our Craft Cocktails turns to the edges of the craft cocktail bar, the forgotten spirit Rum. Rum is an ancient and wonderful spirit, but has been mainly resigned to slushy ice drinks in beach bars. Most peoples experience with rum is Bacardi, and the near endless varieties of flavored rums, but on its own great rum is as good as any spirit on the bar. Especially in this impossibly elegant cocktail, El Presidente.
We love these, and because of our collective Tiki obsession we know a lot about rum. I don’t expect most people to be as into rum as we are. To make it easier on you use an aged rum at the bar, anything between 5 and 12 years old. Just ask the bar keep, “What aged rum do you have?” Some of the more common players are Plantation 5 year (my go to, BTW), Eldorado, 5, 8, 12 or Doorley’s 5, 8 or 12. I don’t like spending beyond 12 year rum in a mixed drink personally. El Presedente is simply Rum, Lillet again, Curacao and a splash of Grenadine.
Order by name, it is the President after all. “What aged rums do you recommend? Can you put that in an El Presidente, por favor?”
11. Mai Tai
We are now fully off center, a full Tiki cocktail. As I mentioned we have a pretty serious Tiki obsession. You may find ordering a Mai Tai at a craft cocktail bar can take some courage the first time or two. Although, if you are looking to catch the eye of that person at the bar by saying “I don’t conform.” This will do it. Order one and it is almost a guarantee the crowd will follow. This is a cocktail that whisks you and the bar to the exotic islands. It really helps that is one of the best cocktails there
There are just too many Mai Tai recipes to get specific here, but generally bartenders like to make these if they have time because they let them show off their skills. Be careful if the bar is 3 deep and hopping this is a big ask of many an establishment.
If you are not familiar a Mai Tai is a legendary drink from the 1930’s Tiki movement. its Rums, Rons, Rhums, and more Rums, Rons and Rums with orange curacao, a magical substance called Orgeat, and juices. Mai Tai’s usually come all pretty with umbrellas, and fruit, with mint and a straw. Embrace the exotica but take your time with a Mai Tai it can kick your tail fast. You may find holding a Mai Tai in any bar makes you the center of attention, as it should.
To order make it personal, “Id love your best Mai Tai!” odds are you will be impressed.
12. Vieux Carre
There was some debate over number 12. Actually our list got so long so fast that we need more Craft Cocktails lists. We end with a New Orleans classic from down on the bayou the Vieux Carre. Pronounced “veer car-eh” this cocktail is the height of elegance at the craft cocktail bar. We also leave you with the first cognac cocktail on the list. A Vieux Carre is somewhat like a Vesper with a split of cognac and rye with sweet vermouth, from here the bartender will often personalize the drink, with flavorful splashes of things like Pimento dram, or Benedictine, and a variety of bitter
Easy to order, once you get the confidence to say the name, “I could really go for a Vieux Carre.” The bartender may ask what rye or cognac, unless you have some in mind go with “How ever you like it.”
In Conclusion, a Toast to Craft Cocktails!
There you have it, 12 Craft Cocktails to set you on the path to high end cocktail bar dominance. Try it out, and enjoy the ride! Or if you are just getting started take some inspiration from our other posts Home Bar Essentials | Cocktails with Friends and Essential Glassware | Home Cocktails with Flair |