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By Bob Westal | April 4, 2011

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Making a good cocktail can, fairly literally, make you the life of the party. It can definitely score you points with friends, coworkers, bosses (some a lot more than others), significant others and potential significant others (some a lot more than others).

You already know how to a lot of cocktails because their recipes are also their names -- gin and tonic...rum and Coke...Jack and Coke...Scotch and soda. Screwdrivers and greyhounds are just names for orange or grapefruit juice and vodka. Give or take a garnish, these "highballs" all call for 1-2 ounces of booze to taste, about six ounces or so of non-booze, plenty of ice cubes, and don't forget to stir. Best to serve them in tall, slender "Collins" glasses.

But what about the "real" drinks -- the classic cocktails? The ones that fictional old school super-spies and admen order without batting an eye. The good news is these are all drinks that are great, require no blender and have simple ingredients. The only trick is to start making them and have everything you need available, including the correct glass. It's a hell of a lot easier than learning to cook, and it makes people really happy.

General note: Cocktails can be and should be adjusted to taste, but small changes can be a big deal. Shot glasses hold varying amounts. Therefore, use a measuring shot glass or measuring cup if one is handy; otherwise, just go with proportions.

THE MARTINI

The king of cocktails, an acquired taste for those unused to alcohol, but absolutely worth acquiring.

2 ounces gin or vodka

1 ounce dry vermouth

1-2 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters (optional, but recommended with gin)

Olive(s) or twist of lemon garnish

Pour gin/vodka and vermouth over ice into cocktail shaker, along with bitters, if you've got them. Shake or stir very vigorously into chilled martini or champagne glass, add olive(s) or lemon twist. Note that purists insist a vodka martini isn't a martini at all. Drink either, anyway.

Do: Adjust the amount of vermouth to taste. Many prefer the very "dry" martini, which has significantly less vermouth, sometimes as little as a teaspoon or just a coating on a glass or even the cocktail shaker. At the other extreme, the "fitty-fitty," 50% vermouth and 50% gin, can be delightful if your vermouth is good.

Do: Try it with gin if you're a vodka man. We love the vodka version, but there's a reason many insist all true martini's are made only with gin. It may not go down as easily at first, but the flavor will grow on you.

Do: Shake or stir, whatever floats your boat. Our very slight leaning is towards stirring gin martinis and shaking vodka martinis. When James Bond was ordering his martini shaken not stirred, it was with vodka.

Don't: Use vodka or gin that's been kept in the freezer. The secret ingredient in any martini is the very cold water from the ice. You need the ice to melt slightly so that you're not just drinking straight booze.

Don't: Think that anything that comes in a martini glass is a martini.

Variation: Use a cocktail onion as your garnish. Your beverage has magically become a Gibson!

THE MANHATTAN

A sweet inversion of a martini, this accessible and delicious beverage can and will improve people's opinions of you.

2 ounces whiskey (bourbon, Canadian, or rye)

1 ounce sweet vermouth

2-4 dashes Angostura or Regan’s orange bitters

Maraschino cherry as garnish (semi-optional)

Pour your whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters over ice cubes into a shaker. Shake or stir very vigorously and pour into chilled glass. Garnish with cherry.

Do: Shake, though stirring is fine, too. Not everyone agrees, however.

Don't: Make without bitters. This will also result in a sickly sweet beverage. We personally prefer Angostura with bourbon or rye, and Regan’s orange with the lighter Canadian whiskey.

Variations: Too sweet for you? Feel free to reduce the amount of sweet vermouth. You can also make a "perfect Manhattan" and use 50% sweet and 50% dry vermouth.

OLD FASHIONED

As the name implies, this drink is one of the oldest cocktails, and its staying power is no mystery. You'll be amazed how much a spoonful of sugar helps Don Draper's favorite medicine go down, bringing out the natural sweetness of a good brand of whiskey.

2 ounces of whiskey (bourbon, rye or Canadian)

1 teaspoon of superfine sugar and 1/2 ounce water, or 1/2 ounce of simple syrup

Angostura or Regan’s orange bitters

Orange wedge and/or maraschino cheery (optional)

Dissolve superfine sugar -- regular table sugar or cubes will also work but are harder to dissolve -- in water or pour 1/2 ounce of simple syrup (i.e., sugar water) into a wide mouth Old Fashioned glass. If you like, muddle (smash) an orange slice in the bottom of the glass. Add ice cubes, whiskey and bitters -- again, we personally prefer Angostura for bourbon or rye or Regan’s orange for Canadian, but it's your call. Stir vigorously with a swizzle stick or club spoon. Sip away.

Variations: The Old Fashioned engenders as much controversy and variations as the martini. Sometimes, we like to prepare it in a shaker and serve either on the rocks or "up" into a chilled glass. The Brandy Old Fashioned is also an honorable drink, especially beloved in Wisconsin.

Don't: Use powdered sugar, unless that's all you've got. This is not the same as superfine sugar and contains cornstarch.

Don't: Use soda water. Some recipes call for it and many bartenders will automatically make it this way. Every time we've tried it, it ruins the flavor of the slightly sweetened whiskey.

Do: Add the muddled orange slice and/or maraschino cherry. Many cocktail devotees get fussy over matters like orange pulp on the bottom of the glass. Oddly, this doesn't bother us.

BLOODY MARY

Long favored by heavy drinkers "the morning after," the rest of us can enjoy this classic highball anytime, provided you like tomato juice and spice. Considering the array of popular vegetable garnishes, it's also the only classic cocktail that doubles as a salad.

1-1.5 ounces of vodka

4-6 ounces tomato juice

1-2 dashes of Tabasco sauce

2-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce

1 dash of ground black pepper

1/8 tsp. pure horseradish (optional)

1 dash celery salt (optional)

1/2 ounce of lemon juice (optional)

Garnish with any or all of the following: celery stalk, olives, pickled green beans, carrot sticks, dill pickles, cucumber, cooked cold shrimp.

Pour tomato juice and vodka over ice into a glass (Collins or larger), add Tabasco, Worcestershire, pepper and other spices. Stir vigorously with swizzle stick or bar spoon, and add as many garnishes as you dare.

Don't: Go crazy with any of the spice/sauce ingredients. If you're not sure how much you want, err on the side of a bit less. A little of such items as celery salt or horseradish can go a very long way.

Do: Go crazy with the garnishes. They're half the fun of a Bloody Mary.

Variations: Canadians like to substitute Clamato to make the highly addictive Bloody Caesar. Try it with gin. Also, and this is really radical, try it without booze. Virgin Marys can be immaculately tasty and really are good for hangovers and maybe colds, too.

TOM COLLINS

If there ever was an actual Tom Collins, he's long been forgotten. The drink, however, is a refreshing, easy to make treat that's significantly lower in calories that most highballs.

2 ounces gin

1-2 ounces lemon juice

1-2 teaspoons superfine sugar

Soda water

Lemon slice and maraschino cherry (garnish)

Dissolve sugar in lemon juice in a Tom Collins glass (what else?). Add ice, gin and top off (i.e., fill glass) with soda water. Stir with swizzle stick or cocktail spoon, add lemon wedge and a very optional maraschino cherry as garnish.

Do: Know your taste buds and adjust accordingly. If you like your drinks very tart, use two ounces of lemon juice and one teaspoon of sugar. If you have a slight sweet-tooth like us, use just one ounce of lemon juice and 1.5-2 teaspoons of superfine sugar. Cocktail snobs may disapprove, but you'll grin -- and you'll still be ingesting vastly less sugar than if this were a rum and coke or a gin and tonic.

Variations: Vodka is the most popular substitution, but name a type of booze, and someone has made a "Collins" with it.

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