For the last year bartender and author Jason O’Bryan has been going deep on the history and techniques behind his favorite drinks, from century-old standards to the modern classics that make up the contemporary cocktail canon. From the numerous drinks he’s written about, O’Bryan has selected seven that should accompany you on your trip to the pool, swim-up bar, barbecue or evening on the porch watching the sunset in the summer warmth.
New York Sour
O’Bryan describes whiskey as wanting “to be under a blanket in winter, or sipped slowly after dinner or huddled around a fire. It’s the spirit equivalent of a bowl of stew.” And yet, the New York Sour manages to turn the spirit into a summer affair. But it takes a different tack than that the traditional Whiskey Sour, which leans on egg white to mollify the tannins, deploying red wine instead. Read the full story behind the cocktail here.
- 2 oz. rye whiskey
- 0.75 oz. lemon juice
- 0.75 oz. simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
- 0.5 to 1 oz. light red wine
Add rye, lemon juice and simple syrup to the shaker tin with ice and shake hard for 10 to 12 seconds. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass, leaving 0.5-inch clearance on the top of the glass. Top with between 0.5 oz and 1 oz. of light red wine.
It’s simple. It’s refreshing. And it’s a new classic worth adding to your summer drinking repertoire. And with his instructions on how to make the national cocktail of Mexico, O’Bryan details two methods: the original and the artisanal. He’ll show you the proper proportions to mix this tequila and grapefruit cocktail with either soda or one that leans on fresh grapefruit juice, simple syrup and soda water. The classic version is below, but you can get the fresh variation here.
- 2 oz. blanco tequila
- 0.5 oz. lime juice
- 4 to 5 oz. grapefruit soda
Add ice to a tall glass. Add tequila and lime and top with grapefruit soda. Mix the ingredients around with a straw (or, as they do at La Capilla de Don Javier in the town of Tequila, with a large knife), sprinkle a pinch of salt on top and garnish with a lime wedge or honestly nothing at all.
“Across the entire classic cocktail universe, no drink has suffered more indignity—had more liquid crimes done in its name—than the Mai Tai,” O’Bryan writes. It’s a drink that’s treated like a boozy Hi-C by many amateur and bartender in the past. However, O’Bryan finds the original recipe from Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s and shows that it wasn’t a mélange of tropical fruit juice. The first Mai Tai is a straightforward and delicious combo of aged rum, orange curaçao, lime juice and orgeat. Read the full history of the Mai Tai here.
- 2 oz. aged rum (Appleton Estates Signature Blend or Hamilton 86 Demerara Rum)
- 0.5 oz. orange curaçao (Grand Marnier)
- 0.5 oz. orgeat (Small Hands Foods Orgeat)
- 1 oz. lime juice
Add all ingredients together in a tin with crushed ice. Shake briefly, about 5 seconds, and empty contents into a tropical-looking 14 oz.-ish glass. Pack with more crushed ice and garnish with a juiced lime husk and a sprig of mint, so it looks like a palm tree on a small green island where no one has to work or wear masks or hear about an election for the next three months.
Though it’s not quite the reigning king of the craft cocktail bar, vodka is the spirit that outsells the rest in America. It’s not that vodka is bad, O’Bryan explains in his treatise on the Eastside Rickey, it’s just that its neutral flavor profile isn’t bringing a ton to the party on its own. In 1939, John Martin had bought the Smirnoff Company and was looking for ways to market the spirit and that’s where the Moscow Mule came in. An effervescent creating with ginger beer-filled creation that’s served in one of cocktaildom’s most iconic cups. Better yet, O’Bryan shows you three variations to suit your own tastes. You can find the classic below and the other two recipes here.
Add all ingredients over ice in a copper or copper-plated mug and stir to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge.
“The first time I heard of the El Guapo, I thought it was crazy. Hot sauce? You take your first sip with some trepidation and are surprised and pleased to discover that sure, it’s a little weird, but it’s also amazing,” O’Bryan writes. This cocktail, invented by celebrated bartender Sam Ross, relies on the vinegar bite and spice of your favorite hot sauce. Made with tequila or mezcal, this ugly looking drink may not live up to its name, but close your eyes and take a sip and you’ll testify to its beauty. Find out what this cocktail has to do with the 1980s comedy classic Three Amigos here.
- 2 oz. tequila or mezcal
- Half a lime, quartered
- 3-4 cucumber slices
- 0.75 oz. simple syrup
- 3-5 dashes (about 0.25 oz.) hot sauce
Add lime pieces to shaker tin and muddle to get as much juice out as possible. At the rest of the ingredients, shake hard for 5 to 6 seconds and dump the whole thing, ice and all, into a large rocks glass. Taste for balance and add more lime juice as necessary. Garnish with a sprinkle of salt and a good crack of black pepper.
If the sun’s out, the gin needs to be out. This gin sour with a London Dry backbone is built with lemon and honey syrup for a refreshing cocktail served up. Created in the Roaring ’20s, it’s a fitting drink to toast to us emerging from our post-Covid slumber. The Bee Knees lends itself well to some fun variations as well, like throwing some rosemary in your tin, doing a regal shake with grapefruit peel or perhaps some St Germain could be added to the party. Learn about what this drink has to do with the Titanic here.
- 2 oz. gin
- 0.75 oz. lemon juice
- 0.75 oz. honey syrup (to taste)
Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice, shake hard for 10 to 12 seconds and strain off the ice into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a lemon peel, a lemon wheel or even nothing at all.
O’Bryan navigates his way through the quintessential tequila cocktail by offering two distinct takes on the Margarita. The classic version is a modified tequila sour that dials back the added sugar (in this case agave syrup) and adds back some sweetness with Cointreau, which he leans to over Grand Marnier, as its oak and vanilla notes make the final drink less vibrant. The second option is the Tommy Margarita is a lower-proof drink that eschews the extra booze the Cointreau provides in the classic. You can’t go wrong with either option. The classic is below, find the Tommy Margarita recipe here.
- 2 oz. tequila
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 0.5 oz. Cointreau
- 0.25 to 0.5 oz. agave syrup (to taste)
Add ingredients to shaking tin, or blender, with lots of ice. Shake, or blend, until ice cold. Pour into a glass, garnish with a bright slice of lime, and indulge.