Cardamom syrup, muddled calamansi, fat-washed bourbon. Some modern craft-cocktail recipes are sexy from a distance but too complicated to be executed at home.
Not long ago, drinks writer Robert Simonson had a “eureka moment” while thinking about such drinks, and the cocktail boom in general. “The reason that some of the enduring cocktails have lasted so long is because they have a very stable construction,” Simonson said. Stable as in, three distinct, balanced components: Spirit, sweetener and bitters or citrus.
Simonson, who has authored two previous books and writes for the The New York Times, has just had his third book published: “3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon” (Ten Speed Press, 2017). It is an ode to cocktails much as they were when they were first born in the 1800s: Potent and unfussy.
Among the book’s 75 drinks are familiar names such as the Manhattan (bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters), Sidecar (cognac, Cointreau, lemon) and my personal favorite, Bee’s Knees (gin, honey, lemon). Simonson also covers lesser-known cocktails such as the Mamie Taylor (basically, a Moscow Mule made with Scotch instead of vodka) and Blinker (rye, grapefruit juice, grenadine). Most are accompanied by succinct narration and beautiful photography by Colin Price.
Not counted among the three ingredients: Garnishes and water, which Simonson calls “the phantom fourth ingredient.” “People don’t think of [ice] when they drink a cocktail. You want dilution to soften [a drink’s] edges.”
Simonson will talk about three-ingredients cocktails this Saturday, Sept. 30, at 5 p.m. at Bookhampton in East Hampton (631-324-4939), where he’ll also sign copies of the book.
Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (from “3-Ingredient Cocktails”)
2 ounces rye or bourbon
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube
Saturate a sugar cube with bitters and a bar spoon of warm water at the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass. Muddle until the sugar dissolves. Add whiskey and stir. Add one piece of large ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Twist a piece of orange zest over the drink and drop into the glass.