I don’t know about you, but I could use a good, stiff drink right about now.
I don’t mean those fancy cocktails that have been carefully crafted — no, curated — by mixologists using elderflower liqueur and artisanal bitters distilled from the berries from a single clump of bushes hidden near the shores of a remote lake.
I mean ordinary cocktails for ordinary folks: simple, clean and classic. The kind of cocktail where you don’t have to go out to the store to buy some exotic ingredient you will use only once because, as it turns out, you don’t particularly like it.
I’m looking at you, hibiscus syrup.
That said, for the sake of this article I went to the store to buy the bitter liqueur Campari, which I did not have.
I first used the Campari to make a Negroni, a cocktail that, despite its recent spate of hipness, dates back at least to 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni legendarily asked bartender Forsco Scarselli to make a stronger version of his favorite cocktail, an Americano.
The bartender kept the sweet vermouth and Campari of the Americana but replaced the soda water with gin. Voilà, the Negroni was born.
The classic Negroni is equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari, but I used a variation that goes a little heavier on the gin — never a bad thing — and lighter on the bitter Campari. That way, the Campari stays more in the background where it belongs and does not drown out the gin or vermouth.
Campari also plays an important part in the next drink I made, a Boulevardier, named for an American expatriate magazine in Paris in the late 1920s. A Boulevardier is made from bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth. Don’t tell anyone, but it is basically a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin.
But what a difference the bourbon makes. The Boulevardier is a rounder, fuller-tasting drink; it is a Manhattan with a bitter edge to tamp down the sweetness. Perhaps it is just my preference of bourbon over gin, but I think the time is right for the Boulevardier to have its time in the sun — again.
And if you are spending time in the sun yourself, you’ll want to drink something cooling and refreshing. You’ll want to drink a Tom Collins.
This happy concoction, created back in 1876, is the perfect hot-weather cocktail. It mixes gin with lemon juice and simple syrup and makes it delightfully quaffable with club soda. Think of it as a sparkling lemonade with a kick.
You’ll probably be most satisfied with a basic unadorned gin, such as a London dry gin. The more herbal essences that are packed into the gin, the more flavors there will be to compete with the drink’s blissful simplicity.
For a lot of people, hot weather means margaritas. For many of them, margaritas mean a bottled premade mix. Don’t be one of those people.
Margaritas — which date back to 1938 — are easy to make, and the ones you mix at home are guaranteed to be better than anything that comes out of a bottle. You need only three ingredients: tequila, lime juice and simple syrup.
You can actually buy simple syrup, if you have an inexplicable aversion to money. Or you could just make it yourself by boiling together some water and sugar. And it will practically keep forever.
Another summertime drink is the daiquiri, the ultimate sweet-and-sour hot-weather drink that was invented in 1902. On the sour side, you have lime juice. On the sweet side, you have rum, simple syrup and superfine sugar.
Superfine sugar, which you can pick up online for $8 a pound, is easier to make than simple syrup. Put sugar in a blender and blitz it for 10 seconds.
In the right proportions, or even the wrong ones, a daiquiri is delightful.
After that was one of my personal favorite cocktails, the sidecar, which dates back to around 1920.
Next, I made a Black Russian. It didn’t take long; it has only two ingredients: vodka and Kahlúa. But put together, they have the most marvelous, velvety texture.
The Black Russian was invented in 1949, created in Luxembourg in honor of the teetotaling American ambassador to that country. It combined two of the most popular spirits of the day — the White Russian came later, with the addition of heavy cream.
The Bronx Cocktail, invented in 1905, was hugely popular in the 1930s before slipping out of the public’s consciousness. But maybe it is time for it to slip back in. It’s so smooth and balanced.
The Bronx Cocktail mixes gin with both sweet vermouth and dry vermouth, plus orange juice and a dash of Angostura bitters. It is a well-crafted, thoughtful combination, not too fruity but not too sophisticated, either. It’s a Goldilocks kind of drink — just right.
My last cocktail is another one of my favorites, Satan’s Whiskers, which dates back to Prohibition. It is like a Bronx Cocktail, but with more of an orange flavor and less of a kick.
Once again, you begin with gin, orange juice, and sweet and dry vermouths. But then you add a splash of Grand Marnier, which is an orange liqueur, and a dash of orange bitters, if you have it. I didn’t, so I used chocolate bitters, which gave it an intriguing undertone that acted as a counterpoint to the orange flavors.
But any bitters will do. Maybe you could try them all and see which type you like best.