Six classic cocktails to make at home — and the stories behind them

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This year marks 100 years since the start of an era which was to define 1920s America, help usher in the Jazz Age and even unexpectedly boost organized crime: Prohibition.

Described by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson as “a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose,” Prohibition ushered in laws banning the manufacture, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages.

Others had decidedly different views, one of them being the legendary humorist W.C. Fields who admitted: “Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.”

With bars and restaurants closed around the globe, amateur bartenders are making their own cocktails at home.

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Started in January 1920, Prohibition was repealed nearly 14 years later in December 1933. 

To mark the milestone in the most appropriate way — with a drink — we’ve chosen six classic cocktails with recipes from around the globe, each with a story of its own. And while most bars may be in lockdown mode today, at least you can make these at home.

Bloody mary — The St. Regis, New York

As with many iconic cocktails, stories abound about the provenance of this simple but delicious classic, the bloody mary.

George Jessel was an actor, comedian and film producer who claimed to have invented the bloody mary as a hangover cure following a particularly heavy night of drinking in Palm Beach, Florida in the 1950s. Given that he was a natural showman and teller of tales, many doubted his claim, preferring the word of Fernand “Pete” Petiot instead.

Petiot was head bartender at the King Cole Bar in The St. Regis New York — a bar that still exists today. He started serving the mix of vodka and tomato juice there in the 1940s — calling them “Red Snappers” — but claimed to have invented the cocktail some 20 years earlier.

A bloody mary at the The St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar.

Courtesy of The St. Regis New York

What is indisputable is that Petiot was responsible for adding Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper, thereby crafting the recipe known and loved today. St. Regis hotels continue to honor his creation with regional variations on the classic served across their global properties, but this is the original recipe as provided by Andrea Minarelli, head mixologist at St. Regis Hong Kong.

This recipe makes about four 12-ounce cocktails.

Ingredients:
1 ounce premium vodka
11 ounces bloody mary mix (below)
Lemon wedge, celery stick or tomato (fresh or dry), for garnish

St. Regis’ signature bloody mary mix:
Juice of 1.5 lemons
1.25 liters/42 ounces tomato juice
2.5 ounces Worcestershire sauce
5 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper
0.5 tablespoon ground celery salt
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

Preparation:
Combine all of the “bloody mary mix” ingredients together in a large container. Strain the peppercorns from the mix. Fill tall, 12-ounce glasses with ice. Add the vodka, then fill the remainder of the glass with the bloody mary mix and stir. Top with your choice of garnish. Store any remaining mix in the refrigerator and use within one week.

Old Fashioned — The Diplomat, Hong Kong

A concoction which is now among the most popular cocktails in the U.S., the Old Fashioned partly has Don Draper to thank for its modern resurgence. But its origins go further back than 1960s New York, certainly long before Prohibition called a temporary halt to its beguiling combination of just four main ingredients.

The Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, was where a bartender allegedly first crafted the drink, and to this day the city hosts an “Old Fashioned Fortnight” to celebrate it.

Orange and sugar are integral ingredients in a classic Old Fashioned cocktail.

Victor Sindean / 500px

Like all great drinks, it quickly found global fame with discerning drinkers, and a speakeasy-style bar called The Diplomat in Hong Kong is where Seattle native John Nugent crafts this faithful version. Just remember that in “Mad Men,” Draper made his with rye whiskey.

Ingredients:
2.5 ounces over-proof bourbon
0.5 ounces sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio)
3 dashes angostura bitters
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Orange and lemon peel, for garnish

Preparation:
Start by freezing a half glass of water in a small plastic cup. Remove the plastic cup from the freezer and break the ice into large cubes. Place the cubes in a chilled rocks glass and add all ingredients. Stir for 30 seconds and toss the orange and lemon peels directly into the glass to finish.

Margarita — The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo

Ahhhh, the margarita. There seem to be as many tales of its origin as there are versions of this drink around the world. It could have been an homage to a young barman’s lover — called Margarita — who was tragically shot in a hunting accident. Perhaps it originated in 1940s Galveston, Texas, where jazz great Peggy Lee asked for “a tequila drink without a lot of mess in it.” Or maybe a 1948 Christmas party in Acapulco was where it all began.

Salt on the rim enhances the interplay of sweet and sour flavors in a classic margarita.

Merethe Svarstad Eeg / EyeEm

Whichever story you prefer, the margarita is a righteous classic that is enjoyed the world over thanks to its mix of tequila, lime juice, Cointreau and that delicious salt rim.

Kentaro Wada is head bartender at The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, and his recipe ticks all the right boxes. He suggests serving this recipe with salt-flecked edamame beans as the perfect accompanying snack. Note that measurements below are for a one-liter premix, not per drink.

Ingredients:
13.5 ounces tequila
7 ounces Cointreau
7 ounces lime juice
27.5 ounces soda water (about 3.5 cups)
Sudachi or lime wedges

Preparation:
Mix the tequila, Cointreau and lime juice in a one-liter bottle and shake well. Serve in a highball glass over ice, mixed gently with equal parts soda water. Finish with a squeeze of sudachi (a Japanese lime variety) or regular lime on top.

Pisco sour — Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco, Peru

Although Pisco may not be a drinks cabinet staple, it’s worth ordering some of the brandy to craft delicious South American cocktails. Dating to the 16th century, Pisco is produced and hugely popular across Chile and Peru, with both countries claiming it as their own and even holding their own annual days dedicated to the drink.

The Pisco sour as we know it today dates to the 1920s, where it is said to have been created in Lima and sampled by Orson Welles, Ava Gardner and, of course, Ernest Hemingway.

Pisco sour cocktails at Belmond Palacio Nazarenas.

Courtesy of Belmond Palacio Nazarenas

Today it’s available all over Peru, but one of the finest versions comes not in the small Peruvian city of Pisco, but in the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. It’s there in the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, a palace and convent turned hotel, where the drink can be crafted in guestrooms during a Pisco sour masterclass.

“The variety of Pisco and the beauty of its flavor makes the Pisco sour our emblematic drink,” said General Manager Arturo Schwarz. “It’s a traditional cocktail which invites you to keep celebrating our national roots!”

Ingredients:
3 ounces Pisco
2 ounces simple syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio)
1 ounce lime juice
1 egg white
3 dashes angostura bitters

Preparation:
Put the pisco, simple syrup, lime juice and egg white into a cocktail shaker and shake for 15 seconds. Fill the shaker with ice, then shake for 10 more seconds. Pour into an old-fashioned glass or short tumbler and sprinkle the angostura bitters on top of the foam. Serve immediately.

Vesper martini — Four Seasons Hotel, Seoul

The Vesper martini is inextricably linked with the most famous martini drinker of them all: Bond, James Bond.

Ian Fleming’s first novel featuring the British agent was “Casino Royale” published in 1953 and in it, he couldn’t be clearer in instructing the barman to craft a drink he subsequently names after the beautiful Vesper Lynd: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

A Vesper martini at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul.

Courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

However, the Vesper is not the classic martini Bond so famously orders “shaken, not stirred.” Those are vodka martinis, while here he requests gin, specifically Gordon’s London Dry Gin.

Keith Motsi is the head bartender at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul and a huge fan of the drink.

“It’s a very easy, yet very versatile cocktail,” he said. “Not only is it suitable to entertain with one or two people, but it’s also easy to prepare for a group.”

Ingredients:
1.5 ounces gin
0.7 ounce vodka
0.3 ounce Lillet Blanc (Lillet’s replacement for Kina Lillet since 1986)
3 dashes orange bitters
A pinch of lemon zest

Preparation:
Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake well. This drink must be shaken, not stirred. Place the cocktail shaker in the freezer; when you want to drink it, remove it and shake well again. Place a small filter over the shaker, pour into a martini glass and top with lemon zest.

Secret Negroni — Mr. Chew’s Chino Latino Bar, Kuala Lumpur

Finally to the Negroni, the history of which is as close as you can get to indisputable in the cocktail world.

In 1919, just a year before the onset of Prohibition in the U.S., an Italian count named Camillo Negroni walked into Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy. Uninspired by the American — a popular cocktail at the time — he wanted something with more of a hit so he asked the barman to add gin instead of soda water to his Campari and vermouth. With an orange garnish instead of lemon, the Negroni was born and the count’s name immortalized in cocktail history.

A “secret Negroni” at Mr. Chew’s Chino Latino Bar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Courtesy of Mr. Chew’s Chino Latino Bar

In the heart of the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Chew’s Chino Latino Bar offers a “secret Negroni” for those in the know. While the classic Negroni has cherry, wine and citrus notes, this strong aromatic version uses Asian spirits to set it apart. Mr. Chew’s uses Shaoxing rice wine, which is commonly used for cooking and drinking. 

“It’s not difficult to make,” said chief mixologist Sam Shohag. “Most of us have gin, Aperol and dry vermouth. And, while rice wine is more unusual, you can also use sake. If you love bitter cocktails, it’s the perfect drink.”

Ingredients:
1 tonka bean or vanilla pod
17 ounces rice wine (only 1 ounce used per drink)
2 ounces gin
2 ounces Aperol
1 ounce dry vermouth
3 dashes of chocolate bitters
A pinch of orange zest

Preparation:
Start 24 hours in advance by mixing half a mashed tonka bean or a vanilla pod into 17 ounces of rice wine or sake. Later mix one ounce of the infused rice wine with all the other ingredients in a large glass, add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over ice, or ideally an ice ball, and top with orange zest.

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