November 17, 2017

In Good Spirits: The best cocktails are the simplest ones

Remember the Alimony is just one of the new-classic drinks featured in Robert Simonson’s book 3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon. PHOTO: Ten Speed Press

Easy as 1-2-3

By Joanne Sasvari

As the cocktail writer for The New York Times, Robert Simonson has sampled an awful lot of drinks. Fancy drinks. Tiki drinks. Molecular drinks. Juleps, sours, smashes, fizzes, punches and spirit-forward-drinks. But the ones he enjoys the most, time after time, are the simple, three-ingredient classics.
“The cocktails we continue to write about and drink, almost all of them are made of three things,” he says. Besides, he adds, “As a cocktail writer, you always want to hold forth and write about the great classic cocktails.”
So he wrote a book about them.
3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon (Ten Speed Press) might be the handiest tome a home bartender can have. Those other books, the beautifully bound ones from famous bars, look great on the bookshelf, but admit it—few of us are going to whip up a batch of kumquat cordial or infuse an entire bottle of whisky with cocoa nibs just to use a teaspoon of it in a cocktail.
Most three-ingredient cocktails require only basic tools and simple ingredients. They don’t demand special skills. With just a little effort, they’re easy to make in big batches. They are, in short, ideal for home entertaining, and isn’t that what cocktails are for?
The key to making a drink with so few ingredients work is to use quality spirits, “and take a little care with the construction,” Simonson says. That means chilled glassware, clean ice, fresh juices and proper garnishes (in other words, no glow-in-the-dark maraschino cherries). “There’s all these tiny little improvements you can do. It doesn’t take very much, but it all starts with good spirits.”
About two-thirds of the recipes are for older drinks such as the Champagne Cocktail, Sidecar, Old Fashioned and Manhattan—drinks that have withstood changing tastes and global cataclysms for decades, even, in the case of the Old Fashioned, centuries.
“The reason they’ve lasted is because a recipe as simple as that can easily travel from bar to bar,” Simonson says. “Furthermore, the person who likes to make cocktails at home can make these easily.” And, of course, they are delicious.
The book also contains a number of “new classics,” including one of Simonson’s favourites, a sherry-based cocktail called Remember the Alimony. “It’s a perfect, perfect cocktail,” he says. “It’s a great sipping cocktail.”
But old or new, these are the drinks you’ll want to make at home again and again.

Three to try

Light, dry and savoury, fino sherries not only make a great aperitif on their own, they are a terrific—and trendy—addition to cocktails.

Montilla-Moriles Alvear Fino
Not technically a sherry as it does not come from Jerez, but made in the same solera style. This has wonderful nutty, salty notes that pair well with olives or sushi. $17.99

Gonzalez Byass Fino Palomino Tio Pepe
Crisp and dry with a distinctive note of almonds on the nose and zesty grapefruit and lemon on the palate, and a touch of saline on the finish. A classic. $21.99

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana “Hidalgo Clasica” Fino
Apples, quince and dried flowers on the nose, and more fruit on the palate, with a subtle suggestion of the salty-almond profile typical of most finos. $30.22

Remember the Alimony

Created in 2012 by Dan Greenbaum of the (now gone) Beagle in New York City, this is a modern classic cocktail featured in Robert Simonson’s new book, 3-Ingredient Cocktails (Ten Speed Press).

  • 1¼ oz (37 mL) fino sherry
  • ¾ oz (22 mL) gin
  • 1¼ oz (37 mL) Cynar (Italian bitters)
  • In a rocks glass with one large ice cube, combine sherry, gin and Cynar. Stir briefly. Twist an orange peel over the glass, and use as garnish. Serves 1.

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