Historically, a cocktail is defined as a drink made with spirits, sugar, water and bitters. No juices, no egg whites, no muddled fruit. If that definition seems limiting, think again. Thanks to the proliferation of craft spirits and bitters (check out this handy buying guide to help stock your bar with the bitters you need), the simplest cocktails can be made in a huge number of different ways.
Here, eight brilliant, ultra-simple cocktail ideas from bitters expert and author ofBitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, Brad Thomas Parsons.
Pink Gin Pink
gin is a classic cocktail first made popular by the British Royal Navy. To make it, simply coat a class with bitters and pour in chilled gin (or room temperature gin if you want to be really authentic).
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: Plymouth gin and Angostura bitters.
Whiskey and Bitters
This is about as simple as a drink can get, but adding bitters to bourbon over an ice cube is transformative.
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: Parsons suggests opting for a new American whiskey like Tincup with aromatic bitters like the Dead Rabbit Orinoco bitters.
The old-fashioned is the quintessential cocktail in the historical sense of the word. It’s sugar (or simple syrup), Angostura bitters, whiskey and a splash of water or club soda.
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: When he makes his old-fashioneds with bourbon, Parsons likes Bulleit. He uses a rich demerara simple syrup, bourbon and aromatic bitters like Fee Brothers’ Whiskey Barrel–Aged bitters or Brooklyn Hemispherical Black Mission Fig bitters for a raisined note.
Thought by some (especially New Orleanians) to be the first cocktail ever, Sazeracs are made with rye whiskey or Cognac, sugar, Peychaud’s and a rinse of absinthe.
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: You can stick to the classic mix of rye (Parsons likes Rittenhouse 100 proof) and Peychaud’s or try a different brand of anise-heavy bitters like the Bitter Truth Creole bitters, which are even more herbaceous than Peychaud’s.
These days, if you order a martini at a bar it probably won’t contain bitters. But the original martini was made with equal parts gin and dry vermouth and a few dashes of orange bitters.
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: Parsons keeps his classic martinis classic. He likes Plymouth gin and dry vermouth like Dolin. As for the bitters, he dashes in an equal mix of Fee Brothers West Indian Orange bitters and Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6. “It’s a way to balance the up-front orange zest flavor of Fees with the more aromatic, cardamom-rich Regans’.” He also likes Fee Brothers limited-edition Gin Barrel–Aged Orange bitters.
The old-school brown and boozy cocktail is classically made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters.
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: Parsons typically reaches for Bulleit rye whiskey. He uses the traditional Angostura bitters, then adds in a dash of orange bitters like Regans’ for brightness. For an alternative version, Parsons swaps in cherry bitters like Miracle Mile Sour Cherry as a reference to the typical cherry garnish.
There’s nothing classier than a Champagne cocktail, but it’s crazy-simple to make. Just drop a sugar cube into a flute, sprinkle in Angostura bitters and top with sparkling wine.
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: This cocktail lends itself to lots of variation. For a bright, citrusy version, Parsons uses Miracle Mile Yuzu bitters with a touch of Angostura (for color). He also suggests using floral lavender bitters like Scrappy’s.
This is the ultimate bitters-heavy cocktail. Developed by bartender Don Lee, it’s a take on a gin gimlet that calls for 28 dashes of three kinds of bitters. Here’s the recipe: Shake 2 ounces of gin with ½ ounce of lime juice, ½ ounce of simple syrup, 14 dashes of Angostura, 7 dashes of Peychaud’s and 7 dashes of orange bitters. Strain and serve up.
Spirit & Bitters Recommendation: Parsons makes this tart, lightly bitter drink with Beefeater gin, traditional Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters and a 50/50 mix of Fee Brothers West Indian Orange bitters and Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6.
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