We’ve polled the World’s 50 Best Bars to find their 50 best-selling classic cocktails. W50BB editor Hamish Smith counts down from 50 to 1.
We started with a question. “What cocktails do they make most at the World’s 50 Best Bars?” This is not easy to answer – we’re talking about thousands of drinks varying in style and constitution.
Creativity is central to these bars’ attraction but there are also classics cocktails that unite them – from North and South America to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia – age-old recipes are recreated time and again. Sometimes because customers ask for them, but mostly because these are the drinks that occupy a hallowed place in the hearts of the global bartending community.
In this year’s Cocktail Trends Report we thought we’d create a list of these favourites, to find out which are in and which are out of fashion right now. Talking to the bartending community, it’s clear the Old Fashioned is anything but and that the Mojito is a fading force – but we wanted proof, not anecdotes.
We asked The World’s 50 Best Bars (plus a sprinkling of those that finished not far out of the top 50 in our 2014 poll) to name their top 10 best selling classics.
When you look at the hundreds of classics out there, a list of the top 50 seemed a good place to start – frankly we were never going to make a list of any other number. Some of these drinks adhere to the original recipe, others will be twisted, but we take the view that if it is sold as a Manhattan, it is a Manhattan. Giving each vote an incremental ranking from 1-10, we created The World’s 50 Best Selling Cocktails list.
50: Fog Cutter
Appearing from out of the mist is the boozy brain-scrambler, the Fog Cutter. With white rum, cognac and gin all in attendance, this is one of the most deadly fruit drinks to emerge from the beach bar. Just in case the three measures of spirits weren’t enough, there’s sherry in there too. The bitterness is provided by the lemon, the sweetness by the orange juice and the almond syrup, the cloudy head by their sum total.
49: Long Island Iced Tea
The 1980s was a dodgy period for music, hair and most definitely the cocktail. The Long Island Iced Tea is a symbol of this dark age and the antithesis of today’s cocktail movement. What it’s doing in this list is anyone’s guess. White rum, gin, vodka, tequila and triple sec are not meant to share a home, but with cola, citrus and sugar, somehow in 2015 they still do. The customer is always right – except this one.
At number 48 is The Bloodhound, a dry gin drink that is more sophisticated than it looks. The red comes from the raspberries (you can try strawberries too), the martini rosso and the marashino, leaving this drink little choice but to be blood red. London dry gin and extra dry vermouth balance what might have been a blushingly sweet drink.
A couple of shots of bourbon, grenadine and grapefruit shaken and poured into a coupette and within a blink of an eye you have a Blinker. It’s a classic three-piece cocktail that, until recently, was lost to time. First credited to Patrick Gavin Duffy’s 1934 The Official Mixer’s Manual, it re-emerged when Ted Haigh wrote Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails in 2004, though he subbed grenadine for raspberry syrup, which many think is an improvement.
46: Planter’s Punch
We expected Planter’s Punch to have been higher in our list. Only 4% of our polled bars put it among their top sellers, despite punch-style drinks enjoying recent renaissance. This one has connections with Planter’s Hotel in Charleston but the recipe is Jamaican. Founder of Myers’ rum, Fred Myers, printed the recipe for the Old Plantation Formula on the back of bottles. Jamaican pot still whisky gives this fruity cocktail some teeth.
45: Singapore Sling
The Raffles Hotel in Singapore is the place to drink the Singapore Sling, but only if you are in the area and stuck for something to do. Even then, we’d recommend you head to 28 Hongkong Street for a properly made drink. At Raffles they have thankfully dispensed with the premixed version, but there are still question marks over the recipe. As Simon Difford discusses, the official fruit-forward recipe was published in the 1970s – a time when fruity drinks were in fashion – whereas other earlier accounts of the drink omit the pineapple and grenadine and just have cherry liqueur, gin, triple sec, citrus and bitters.
From the imagination of Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s, this rum and cognac concoction finds a home for orange and lemon juice and orgeat syrup. Best with crushed ice, an orange slice and mint garnish, this tiki classic has more balance than some of its tiki counterparts. Most recipes warn this drink packs a punch, but we can’t resist saying there’s a sting to its tail.
The Hurricane hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm, yet remains a favourite in New Orleans, where it is credited to Pat O’Brien, a 1960s tavern owner. It’s a fruity (passion fruit and lemon juice) and rummy (try dark, light and over-proof) libation, perfect for those who like approachable boozy drinks. In New Orleans, especially around Tales season, you’ll find it served in plastic cups, so patrons are able to drink while staggering between bars. It is better served in a glass – if only there was one of appropriate name.
After the Sazerac and brandy julep, the Sidecar is the third best selling brandy cocktail at the World’s 50 Best Bars. As a well-worn classic, we might have expected it to feature at the other end of the list, but the Sidecar isn’t driving cocktail trends right now. This brandy, triple sec and lemon drink is essentially a sour but can be sweetened to taste. It has Parisian roots but the original creator has never come forward – or at least not singularly.
One of the Manhattan derivatives, Brooklyn will always play little borough to the might of the first born. Instead of sweet vermouth, it requires dry, with the sugary fix coming from maraschino liqueur. Rye provides the pepper and Amer Picon the bitter. After a period of near extinction, its revival has timed nicely with the renewal of its namesake borough, which is now arguably (though not emphatically) cooler than Manhattan.
40: Rob Roy
The Rob Roy is a Manhattan in tartan. The scotch offers a bit more muscle to proceedings
and, in tandem with the Angostura bitters, pulls up its kilt to the sweet vermouth. Bartenders often use a scotch with peat, for a bit more fight. But the standard recipe, from the Waldorf in 1894, just asks for blended scotch. Only five of our polled bars said this was among their 10 best selling classics. That seems low, but scotch always loses out to American whiskey when it comes to classics.
Against the might of mothership Dry Martini, the Vesper plays a supporting role. Most bartenders we’ve spoken to say its story is great, the drink less so. That said, at number 39, this vodka-gin-Lillet Martini pulls a chord for some punters, particularly those who like scooters and James Bond. And so to the tale – how tall it is, is anyone’s guess. Invented at Martini bar Duke’s in London for Ian Flemming, the Vesper found its way into the 1953 James Bond flick Casino Royal. It was named mid-film when Bond – looking to patent his cocktail invention – meets beautiful bitch Vesper Lynd. In the end Vesper dies, while the drink is alive and kicking.
It has been said the Bellini is a cocktail for those who can’t quite bring themselves to drink cocktails. Yet it is a refreshing sweet drink, and if made properly can be unchallenging fun. In Italy peach-marinated wine is a traditional thing, at least while peaches are in season, so the Bellini draws on this combination, though not always with fresh peaches. Named after the Italian painter who used splashes of pink in his work, this drink should be made with prosseco, not its drier foes cava and champagne.
37: Gin Gin Mule
Credited to Audrey Saunders at New York cocktail Mecca Pegu Club, the Gin Gin Mule is a modern classic. The gin gin is down to the ginger and gin, not a double helping of gin, though as the only alcohol in the recipe, two shots will be necessary. Known in other parts as the Ginger Rogers, the Gin Gin Mule is closely related to the Moscow Mule – but with superior kick from muddled ginger.
36: Hanky Panky
The Hanky Panky was invented by Ada Coleman at the Savoy’s American Bar. Coleman (or Coley as her friends called her – we didn’t know her so we’ll stick to formalities) tells the story of how she invented the drink for actor Charles Hawtrey (star of the British Carry On films of the ’60s and early ’70s), one of the “best cocktail judges” she knew. She said: “He sipped it and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky Panky it has been called ever since.” Hanky Pankys are still driving posh men to exclamation a hundred years on at The American Bar, where it has become a must-drink, no matter how bored Erik Lorincz must be of mixing gin, Fernet Branca and vermouth.
35: El Diablo
Not a lot is known about El Diablo, but its first cocktail book mentions seem to cluster around the 1940s. It was also a drink on the menu of Trader Vic’s. We can tell you El Diablo, which is sometimes called Mexican Diablo, means ‘the devil’ and is a devilish mix of tequila, crème de cassis, lime and ginger beer. At The World’s 50 Best Bars it endures, at least in a handful of bars anyway, so the big flavours that might appear to clash are obviously working in perfect harmony for some.
This one is from Dick Bradsell; he first made the Bramble at Fred’s Club in Soho. Not many drinks survived the 1980s but this blackcurrant liqueur, gin, lemon juice and sugar number is still a favourite. Edinburgh cocktail spot and World’s 50 Best Bars stalwart Bramble bar is named after it and in its rendition of the drink opts for Merlet Crème de Mures. If you don’t have blackberry liqueur, or blackberries, that’s fine. Don’t make a Bramble.
33: Blood & Sand
With one of the best names in the cocktail recipe book – and there have been a few – this drink was first made in 1922 and was inspired by the eponymous film. Fast forward 93 years and it’s still going strong with a cluster of top bars telling us it is among their top 10 best selling classics. It is also scotch’s first single-occupancy drink in this list after 30 cocktail mentions. Mixed with scotch, cherry brandy (the blood), sweet vermouth, and orange juice (the sand) this drink is possibly a little sweet for more discerning palates.
32: Vodka Martini
For those times when you run out of gin, there is the Vodka Martini. That’s a little harsh on vodka, but bartenders at the W50BB tend to be in the gin camp when it comes to Martinis. Also referred to as the Kangaroo and Vodkatini, the vodka of choice here is arguably as important as for any other cocktail. With only a little dry vermouth to cover the spirit’s modesty, it’s important to use something with muscle. At the World’s 50 Best Bars, Ketel One, Belvedere and Grey Goose are the ones that look good naked.
31: Brandy Crusta
This drink is old – but not crusty. Invented by Joseph Santina (it’s alleged) in the mid-19th century, it is cognac, triple sec, maraschino, lemon juice, sugar syrup and bitters with water. To look at, it could be any cocktail– until the half lemon is conspicuously wedged into the top of the glass, acting as a bitter filter for its sugary contents. The Crusta, it turns out, is named after the sugar-crusted rim.
What effect Brand Brazil has had on the Caipirinha finding a place in our list is hard to tell. The World Cup (and Olympics in 2018) isn’t likely to be plastered to walls of The World’s 50 Best Bars. But that doesn’t mean last summer didn’t put punters in the mood for cachaça and lime. It’s a drink to be enjoyed as the Brazilians do – strong with lots of cachaça and limes. Muddle using a strong glass to avoid a third ingredient.
29: Amaretto Sour
One of the original sweet and sour drinks, the almondy Amaretto Sour is as approachable a cocktail as you are likely to find, even for those with nut allergies (brand leader Disaronno has no nuts – though probably wise to check labels). Approachable is not always a plus for bartenders, so modern twists are sometimes spiked with spirit, perhaps bourbon, for body or have their sweet amaretto liqueur component turned down a notch. In its original form, it is two shots of amaretto, lemon juice and egg white but the optional Angostura bitters offers the balance the drink needs without breaking all the rules.
28: White lady
While earlier versions are claimed, the American Bar (number eight in The World’s 50 Best Bars) has the most complete story. It was apparently made by Harry Craddock for F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda, on account of her platinum-white hair. Today people of all hair colours get their lips around the White Lady (the drink), not least in the world’s best bars. It is a simple drink of gin, triple sec and lemon juice, though others embellish with egg white. One of our polled bars said it sells more of these than any other classic.
More a pain-delayer than painkiller, this cocktail is trademarked by Pusser’s rum. It became the popular treat of the six-seat beach bar on the British Virgin Islands, the Soggy Dollar Bar that seafarers would swim to for refreshment. The bar serving the rum, coconut cream, pineapple and orange juice drink would happily take sodden money for its creation, but the cocktail would only delay the pain of having to swim home – possibly drunk.
26: Tom Collins
Essentially alcoholic lemonade, the Tom Collins is probably the most refreshing drink around. Traditionalists reckon Old Tom gin is the one to use here, but most will hit the speed rail gins. The Old Tom version may be the original but this is a drink that has procreated – now the Collins family includes the Pedro Collins (rum), Pepito Collins (tequila), Colonel Collins (bourbon) and Captain Collins (Canadian whisky). Tanqueray, Beefeater and Hayman’s are the most popular choices for this gin-lemon combination but really the hero here is the humble lemon. Get good ones.
25: French 75
In the same way the British, not the French, were the first to make sparkling wine, they also might have been first to make the French 75. No matter, this drink was popularised in Paris in the ’20s and most attribute its rise to Harry’s American Bar. Today this London dry gin, lemon juice, sugar and champagne drink is still popular, not least among the world’s top bars. In three bars we polled, it is the number one classic they serve.
Penicillin is widely seen as one of the greatest discoveries to benefit the health of mankind. In cocktail form it is probably not. Though it is nice to see a drink invented by World’s 50 Best Bars bartender Sam Ross confirmed as having classic status. The ex-Milk & Honey and now Attaboy owner, Ross used blended scotch, lemon juice, honey-ginger syrup, Islay scotch and garnished with candied ginger. Credit where credit’s due, the Penicillin’s smokey, honeyed flavours do having something of the medicinal about them.
23: Espresso Martini
Famously first made by Dick Bradsell at Soho Brasserie in 1983, the Espresso Martini’s invention was at the behest of a customer who wanted a drink that would “wake her up and fuck her up”. To this day there is no better classic to arouse and dull the senses in one hit. This after-dinner cocktail of espresso coffee, vodka and coffee liqueur is served in a Martini glass but bears little resemblance to the original Martini. It is mixed en masse in 10 of our 73 polled bars.
There was a time when bartenders would openly admit to hating the Cosmo. Many still do but don’t say so quite so much. That’s probably because we are passing through the moody mixologist years – the bartender is back. In a few years, once Sex and the City is a distant memory for today’s Cosmo- lovers, this modern classic will likely resurface as some sort of ironic ’90s memorial. For now it is the 22nd most likely order in The World’s 50 Best Bars.
21: Pisco Sour
If there is agreement between Peruvians and Chileans on anything, it is that the Pisco Sour isthe classic cocktail. Consensus will not be reached on the drink’s preferred spirit though, the birthplace of which continues to rankle those on both sides of the border. This drink was an early explorer, finding its way to the dock of the San Francisco bay in the 1930s and to New York in the 1960s. With Peruvian food now a fixture internationally, the Pisco Sour is in renaissance. In some ways it is camouflage to what can be a complex spirit (particularly Peruvian pisco), but nonetheless this is the limey cocktail that brought pisco its limelight.
This gin-turned-vodka-turned- gin-and-lime cocktail has moved with the times. With gin now back in favour, its vodka years are mostly behind it. In a sense this is a Daiquiri for gin drinkers and two of our 73 polled bars said it was their best selling classic. Around 15% said it is among their top 10. Whether with lime cordial or lime juice sweetened with sugar, it is served in a coupette with a couple of shots of London dry. At Zetter Townhouse they twist it with homemade saffron cordial. Fancy.
19: Piña Colada
Somewhere between acceptance and ridicule exists the Piña Colada. Right now we’re in the acceptance phase as the craft movement reaches saturation point for 19th and early 20th-century classics and turns to kitsch. Piña Colada means ‘strained pineapple’ and its origins go back as far as the first meeting between pineapples and rum. Coconut completes this tropical ménage à trois and the drink can now be found in the likes of Artesian and is a top 10 seller in 11 of the bars we polled. At London tiki bar Trailer Happiness they make roasted pineapple molasses purée to add depth to what already is a palate buster of a potion.
18: Clover Club
For the years before the Cosmo made pink drinks less cool than brown ones, there was the Clover Club. This pink pre-prohibition classic was invented in Philadelphia and is a favourite of many of the world top bars, not least Julie Reiner’s Brooklyn bar Clover Club. About 15% of polled bars said this gin, raspberry, lemon juice and egg white drink is among their top sellers. But in most bars, they’d be happy to bash it out. Great name, great drink – and boy do they slip down drinkers’ plug holes.
17: Mint Julep
If you want the simplest of drinks to take hours, make the Mint Julep. Here the important thing is to refrigerate a Julep tin (if you can find one – we couldn’t) for so long, hands shiver at its sight. Other than that, it’s mint, sugar and bourbon. At the Kentucky Derby 120,000 Mint Juleps are served each year to race-goers, though not jockeys. That would be dangerous. Meanwhile, at The World’s 50 Best Bars the Mint Julep is also running well, with about a fifth of bars attesting to its selling power. They like to use Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark and Four Roses.
16: Aperol Spritz
If only all brands were lucky enough to have their own cocktail. The Aperol Spritz is barely a cocktail but with wine, Aperol and soda all making friends in one glass, it is a refreshing Italian style aperitivo perfect for the more sober, hot- weather occasion. It has its roots in northern Italy, so to be authentic the wine should be from Veneto. For bubbles add Prosecco, for still, try Soave or Pinot Grigio. Better still have a glass of wine and a measure of Aperol on the side. But drink both responsibly.
The drink of the living dead. Simply clear the back bar of rum and empty the contents into a large glass along with some more booze in the form of apricot brandy, lime and pineapple juice. When a customer asks for this, try to recall their gait. Without preloading, one Zombie is enough to nullify coordination, two and the drinker becomes the drink – a zombie.
Flying high at number 14 and the third best selling gin cocktail at the World’s 50 Best Bars is the Aviation. Essentially, a bon vivant’s Tom Collins with some maraschino, this is the number one classic in two of the bars we spoke to and is a top 10 seller in about 20% of polled bars. The recipe first appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, where crème de violette provided an extra floral dimension.
13: Bloody Mary
‘For when it is too early to drink a Martini’ should be this drink’s slogan. Not that it needs one. This is a cocktail that is ubiquitously enjoyed at the world’s best bars and probably on Mars, too. Somehow it ties a rope between last night’s debauchery and today’s penance. It can be drunk AM in front of grandma or PM in front of mates, but mostly only one is needed. It’s a big drink with ingredients normally found on plates, not in glasses. It is also a classic that will never go out of fashion.
12: Moscow Mule
Bartender enthusiasm for vodka has waned since the spirit’s latter 20th-century heyday, yet at the W50BB the Moscow Mule is doing great business. Essentially this is vodka’s answer to the Dark ‘n’ Stormy but is housed in the kind of copper mugs that once bought should probably be put to use.
11: Dark ’n’ Stormy
Bermuda ahoy! The Dark ’n’ Stormy is what you are most likely to drink in Bermuda (that and the Rum Swizzle) and the 11th most likely classic at The World’s 50 Best Bars. The history of rum is never far away from seafarers and the Dark ’n’ Stormy is no different. To cut a story’s length, British colonialists brought the ginger beer, Gosling’s brought the rum. Add a bit of lime, and there you have it, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy – worthy of any bloke with a beard and tatts, on or off land.
10: Whiskey Sour
The Reykjavik Bar Summit earlier this year gave a ‘kind of’ masterclass on the Whiskey Sour. Pairs of bartenders from W50BB bars Attaboy, Employees Only, Door 74 and Candelaria were all in attendance but probably did not expect to make their Whiskey Sours with one arm each, while encased in an XL t-shirt. The drinks were disgusting but we can tell you that, safely ensconced in their bars, an order of a Whiskey Sour is likely to work out better. It is lemon and whisky. Get those ingredients right and you’re almost there.
9: Mai Tai
Victor Jules Bergeron – aka Trader Vic – was the man who, alongside Don the Beachcomber, made fruity drinks cool. When Trader Vic’s brand of Polynesian restaurants globally proliferated, so did the Mai Tai, which can now be found in bars across the world – who knows, maybe even in Polynesia. Tiki got biffed to the sidelines when the Probation-era heavies burst back into the world’s bars, but of late we have seen a revival. Artesian is tiki-esque, Three Dots and a Dash and Smuggler’s Cove are true tiki and Honi Honi, which took part in our poll but finished just south of the top 50, is tikier than a rum-drenched Hawaiian shirt hanging off an arched coconut palm.
It’s a bit like when your mother starts playing your favourite record. The Mojito is now the cocktail of the indiscriminate masses and, ergo, kryptoniteto any self-respecting bartender. But underneath it all, most still love a Mojito – they just don’t want to make them. There remains no better use for a spare bunch of mint – though Juleps are nice. At The World’s 50 Best Bars Havana Club and Bacardi are the first choices for spirit but that depends whether you want a rum from Cuba or born in Cuba. Enough politics. Whatever the white rum, it should be of Cuban style, the greenery is best in spearmint form and the sugar dissolved, rather than granules that lurk like nefarious aphids among the mint leaves. But that’s just us.
Ask a Mexican to make you a Margarita and they’ll most likely make you a pizza. This is an all-American drink that has no kinship to the country which produces tequila, its key ingredient. Magaritas also involve fresh lime juice and triple sec, but many ingenious commercial expeditors have reduced this cocktail to a pre- mixed powder – though not yet ashes. At The World’s 50 Best Bars freshly made Margaritas are the number one tequila cocktail. Here they like it to contain Ocho, Don Julio or Tapatio.
The daiquiri is the most ordered rum drink at The World’s 50 Best Bars, yet practically nobody says it right. It’s dy-key-ree, not dak-er-ree. In Cuba, they can say it, and there is no better place to empty the glass of this refreshing sour than under the Caribbean’s warming sun. To make: take strawberries. Throw them at the customer who ordered a strawberry daiquiri. Then take lime juice, white rum and sugar syrup. Shake, serve and repeat. There is no such thing as Daiquiri in the singular: they slip down like a newt on a luge. If Ernest Hemmingway is about, he will want six.
5: Dry Martini
They say you can judge a bar by the way it makes a Dry Martini. This is an unfair test because everyone likes their Martini different. There are those who require a few meagre drops of vermouth, for some it’s a ratio of 5:1 gin to vermouth and there are sensible souls who go with 2 or 3:1. The straight laced don’t drink Dry Martinis. But, however served, this is a drink that put the roar into the 1920s and probably the manes on lions. It is the staple of any bar and requires a gin that can stand up to the scrutiny. At the W50BB they use Tanqueray, Plymouth and Beefeater most.
Manhattan is the sweet queen of cocktails with an embittered spirit. At the World’s 50 Best Bars, this perfect match of peppery rye, bitters and sweet vermouth is most likely made with Rittenhouse, Bulleit, or Willet. The classic of unknown descent (though likely New York) is a best seller in half the bars we polled. But only one bar said it was their top seller – it seems it will always be subservient to the king of classics, the Old Fashioned.
The Sazerac has been knocking people off bar stools for 150 years. Purists use cognac as the principal spirit and so did bartenders in the 1850s, until phylloxera ravaged French vineyards and the American Civil War made the sourcing of cognac not the most important thing on Americans’ minds. It was replaced by whiskey and to this day some prefer the double booze hit to be propelled by the grain not the grape. Rimmed with absinthe, a hearty sniff tells you this is not a session beverage. More than half the bars we polled said the Sazerac was among their best sellers.
If love for the Old Fashioned has passed over the counter from bartender to customer, the Negroni is now appreciated on either side of the divide. This is the quintessential three-ingredient gin cocktail. Count Negroni had the first, but count the Negronis made at The World’s 50 Best Bars and you’ll see why it is second on our list. Best made with 1/3 Campari, 1/3 gin and 1/3 sweet vermouth stirred with ice, most bartenders could make this with their eyes closed – so could consumers, but don’t tell them that, it’ll be bad for business.
1: Old Fashioned
“The Old Fashioned is the new Mojito” seems to be the line among bartenders. A few years ago this was the darling drink of the community as bartenders fastidiously dribbled bitters on to sugar cubes and stirred whisky and ice like tantric booze-Buddhists. These days they might groan for different reasons – 65 of our 73 polled bars said the Old Fashioned is one of the 10 most likely classics they make. Creatives are not known to enjoy repetition, but this vanguard drink of the classic cocktail revival can be approached in different ways and will likely be a fixture at the top of this list for years to come. Bartenders said Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark and Buffalo Trace made the best Old Fashioneds.