Friday Happy Hour: The Cocktail

We’ve written about a lot of different kinds of drinks: some with long ingredient lists and others that literally take weeks to prepare and others that are super simple to throw together. But we’ve never written about the foundation of all those other drinks: the Cocktail. That’s it, just: the Cocktail. So let’s kick off a month of back-to-basics with the most basic drink of all. – Andrew



Illustration by Shauna Lynn for Oh So Beautiful Paper

The Cocktail


Put everything together and shake. Or stir. Strain into a glass and serve over more ice. Or straight up. With a garnish (we used a brandied cherry). Or not. Your call. Enjoy!

That’s it: spirits, bitters, sugar, and ice. Every other cocktail is a variation or elaboration on this theme. It’s at least 200 years old and probably older (Americans have been loving their booze for a long time), and it’s just as good now as it was (as I love to imagine) back then.

Ok: so how to turn this list of ingredients into a drinkable drink? Easy: 2 oz of spirits, two dashes of bitters, and 1/2 simple syrup in a glass with ice and…that’s it. Give it a stir to mix in the sugar, but otherwise, that’s literally all you have to do. This comes from the oldest detailed recipe for a Cocktail I’ve seen. From 1833.


Because Americans love taking a thing and figuring out how they can make it even better (and how they can add bells and whistles), it didn’t take long before the simple perfection of the Cocktail evolved into the Plain Cocktail – add a dash or two of orange liqueur and a squeeze of lemon peel – and then the Fancy Cocktail, same as the Plain, just throw the lemon peel in as garnish, and then the Improved Cocktail with a couple dashes Maraschino liqueur and a dash of Absinthe in place of the orange liqueur. These are all great. I recommend trying these versions out too. Just try the Cocktail first.

Spirits? Make sure you’re using solid pot-still liquor here: whiskey, genever, brandy aged rum, Tequila or Mezcal, that sort of thing. Steer clear of lighter, clear spirits, like dry gin or unaged rum, that won’t have enough body or flavor to support a drink as bare-bones as this. Bitters? Aromatic. Sugar? Syrup is easier to mix, while granulated sugar looks a little cooler. It also doesn’t mix as well as syrup, so you’ll need to muddle the sugar with the bitters before you add everything else. The amount of sugar you’ll need will vary based on your taste and on the sweetness of the spirits you’re using. A sweet bourbon will need less sugar than a malty and sharp genever.

Shaken or stirred? I like stirring myself, it dilutes the drink less and leaves it with a cleaner look, or just building the drink over ice. Garnish? Drop a lemon twist, or grate some nutmeg, or plop in a brandied cherry, or leave it alone. No rules. Go wild.

Here’s how I made the Cocktail in Nole’s beautiful photographs: an ounce of brandy, an ounce of rye whiskey. Two dashes of Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters and an eighth of an ounce of rich simple syrup. Stirred, strained, and garnished with a brandied cherry. Beautiful.


Don’t forget to let us know if you try any of our recipes. And if you do make one at home, you can use #osbphappyhour to share photos of these (or your own creations) on Instagram.

Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper