Mastering Five Essential Winter Classics

Today’s top bartenders share secrets to perfecting some of the season’s most iconic drinks.

In the canon of classic cocktails, there are some drinks that, due to their warming ingredients or spirit-forward construction, feel particularly well-suited to the colder months.

This holiday season, we’ve rounded up five perfected versions of winter stalwarts, from the Irish Coffee to the Old-Fashioned, along with tips from top bartenders who have spent countless hours chasing perfection in a single drink. Here, Anu Apte-Elford on the Rob Roy, Tom Macy on the Old-Fashioned, Meaghan Dorman on the Gibson, Jillian Vose on the Irish Coffee and William Elliott on the Stinger.

Irish Coffee

For a great Irish Coffee, Jillian Vose, beverage director of the New York’s The Dead Rabbit, suggests stepping away from the oversized mug. “If you can do anything to alleviate screwing this drink up, use a six-ounce glass. The size of the glass is a huge reason why a lot of people get it wrong.” But it’s more than just glassware that sets The Dead Rabbit’s version of the drink—widely considered the best in the city—apart. [Read more.]

Rob Roy

Typically described as a Manhattan made with blended Scotch instead of bourbon or rye, the Rob Roy is not an obscure drink by any means. And yet, it has never quite captured the same devotion as its sister classic has. Like the Manhattan, though, the Rob Roy can take many forms depending on the whiskey, vermouth and variety of bitters used—something that can pose a challenge to bartenders and drinkers unfamiliar with the base spirit. Anu Apte-Elford, proprietor of Seattle’s Rob Roy, offers three distinct takes: classic, bold and elegant. [Read more.]

Old-Fashioned

Over the past century, the Old-Fashioned has served as a barometer for the state of the cocktail world. Its days as a muddled fruit-salad dressed with whiskey marked a nadir in modern mixology. Its return to form in the early 2000s, meanwhile, mirrored the rise of the nascent cocktail revival and coincided with a boom in American whiskey. Today, it sits comfortably atop its throne, as both a hallowed symbol of the second Golden Age of cocktails and one of the most popular drinks in the country. As a partner and head bartender at Brooklyn’s Clover Club, Tom Macy is particularly equipped to tackle the iconic cocktail. His rye-based version, which topped a recent blind tasting of over a dozen recipes, is the product of more than 40 different variations over several years. [Read more.]

Gibson

“I want people who don’t even drink Martinis normally to drink this Gibson,” says Dear Irving’s Meaghan Dorman of her perfected recipe. To address the frequent observation that Gibsons are too astringent, Dorman softens the drink by rotating in citrusy Tanqueray 10 in place of more austere Beefeater, and opts for Carpano Bianco vermouth in place of dry vermouth, which she favors for its botanical notes. “It’s not just a sweeter version of dry vermouth,” she says. “It really adds a lot.” [Read more.]

Stinger

“The Stinger can’t help but read two-dimensionally because it only has two ingredients,” says William Elliott of Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere and Sauvage. But Elliott specializes in simple drinks “where you really focus on the perfection of each ingredient.” So, instead of dismissing it outright as a bad drink, as many bartenders have, he spent roughly two weeks tinkering with the formula. His version takes the troubled classic in a completely new direction. [Read more.]

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