Fads come and go, but style is eternal. That’s true of everything from cowboy hats to cocktails. While trendy bars serve a million variations on the martini, other drinks have withstood the test of time and are still as delicious today as when they were first created.

These three cocktails have facilitated business negotiations, lent flavor to romantic dates and helped revelers celebrate for decades. They are simple to make and even easier to enjoy, but they’re as far as you can get from the latest fad for cupcake or cream soda flavors. Only the best ingredients will do for these timeless classics.

The Old-Fashioned

As Don Draper’s favorite drink on AMC’s Mad Men, the old-fashioned has had a resurgence of popularity, even though it was never technically out of style. In 1948, David Embury wrote what many people consider the first bible of mixology, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. It isn’t very long, but one of the drinks listed prominently and described in glowing terms is the old-fashioned. With just enough sweetness to complement the mellow flavor of quality bourbon, it’s a drink to savor, not to gulp.

To make an old-fashioned, start with Kentucky bourbon that has a bold flavor and not too much sweetness; you’ll get that from the other ingredients. Stetson Bourbon is a good one to try. Drop a single sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass – yes, the drink is so popular that it has its own glass named after it – and add two dashes of Angostura bitters. You want enough bitters to wet the sugar without dissolving it completely. Muddle the sugar and bitters then add a splash of water or club soda and a cherry. Tilt the glass to swirl the mixture and coat the glass before adding a large ice cube and pouring in two ounces of premium bourbon or rye. Some people like to add a twist of orange at the end, but others believe the cherry should be the only fruit in the glass.

The Manhattan

Each of New York’s boroughs has a drink named after it, according to The Kitchn blog, but the Manhattan reigns supreme outside the Empire State. No one is quite sure when it was invented, but the sophisticated drink was a popular offering at the Manhattan Club as early as the 1870s. Like the old-fashioned, the drink combines the smoothness of a good bourbon with a bracing splash of bitters and a cherry, but Italian vermouth gives it a more complex finish. Few cocktails are as beautiful looking as a Manhattan. Whether you serve it in a stemmed martini glass or a lowball tumbler, it tastes as satisfying as it looks.

A classic Manhattan’s heart is its whiskey. Pour two ounces of some of that Stetson bourbon or rye in a mixing glass and top it off with an ounce of vermouth. Choosing sweet or dry vermouth is a matter of taste, but a good guideline is to pick one that will offset the sweetness of the bourbon. If you’re using a sweeter whiskey, go with dry vermouth. Sweeten bold bourbon with sweet vermouth. Add a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters to the mix. Stir the drink with ice instead of shaking it to prevent foam from spoiling its clarity, then pour it into a martini glass with a cherry garnish. Some people like to add a drop or two of the liquid from the maraschino cherry jar, but purists prefer the cherry flavor to come solely from the single fruit in the glass.

A Manhattan has only a few ingredients, but like martinis, those ingredients lend themselves to almost infinite variations. Rick Rodgers of Cuisine Américaine likes Fee Brothers’ Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters, but other Manhattan connoisseurs prefer Peychaud’s or even a kiss of anisette. A so-called perfect Manhattan plays with the proportions and composition of the vermouth component, using equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. Other versions stray even farther afield, using brandy or rum in place of bourbon. A related drink, the Rob Roy, contains Scotch whiskey instead of American bourbon. It’s also enjoying a surge in popularity.

The Sazerac

To people in New Orleans, the Sazerac is as familiar as café au lait and beignets for Sunday breakfast. To the rest of the country, it’s just now catching on despite having been served in New Orleans bars and restaurants since the 1850s. This drink has a legitimate claim as the oldest cocktail still served and enjoyed today, but it’s changed a bit since its original incarnation. The first Sazerac was named after an imported brandy called Sazerac de Forge et Fils, a popular drink in New Orleans with a French heritage. When France’s wine grapes fell victim to a devastating aphid epidemic, brandy became scarce and expensive. New Orleans residents, reluctant to give up their favorite tipples, turned to American-made bourbon and found they liked it as well as the original brandy in their Sazeracs.

A traditional Sazerac uses ingredients that would have been found locally decades ago in New Orleans. Start with a sugar cube from the area’s extensive cane fields and douse it with two dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. Pack a second glass with ice to chill it as you mix the rest of the drink. Muddle the sugar and Peychaud’s, then add two ounces of rye, the Stetson bourbon or brandy to the mixture. Your lowball glass should be well chilled by now, so remove the ice and wet the glass thoroughly with about half an ounce of Herbsaint, an anise-infused New Orleans take on absinthe. Pour the excess Herbsaint out and add the bourbon mixture to the chilled glass, then twist a lemon peel over the drink to release its aromatic oils. You can toss the peel or add it to the drink; it’s a matter of personal preference.

Louisiana’s official cocktail deserves a broader audience, so the next time you want to enjoy a little adventure without getting trendy, reach for a Sazerac.

Some things never go out of style, and these richly nuanced whiskey drinks are among those enduring classics. Grab a glass, the right ingredients, and discover why generations of cocktail connoisseurs have embraced this trio of delicious drinks.

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By David Soto

David Soto enjoys cooking in his remodeled kitchen and mixing drinks at his personal bar.

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