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[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

There are endless cocktails in the world, and new ones invented every day, but how many of these drinks are true essentials? Today we'll start a new series covering drinks everyone should know—five essential drinks for every major category of spirits. Each week, I'll offer five cocktails that are classics or deserve to be. Of course I realize my choices may seem somewhat arbitrary and even capricious. Of course, I'll leave out one of your favorites. Heck, I can't even include all of my own favorites in such a list of five cocktails.

But let's start with gin.

(Let's forget, for a moment, the gin-and-tonic. Later on in this series, I'll provide a list of five essential highballs. I promise you, the g-n-t will be first on that list.)

The first of my essential cocktails should come as no surprise. It's the...

Martini

Speculation and rumor abound regarding the history and origin of the martini. I doubt anyone will ever know the full history of this cocktail, but no matter. The marriage of gin and vermouth is one of the finest inventions of humankind.

Get the recipe »

As I've noted before, the martini rewards ratio experimentation; try it drier than dry with a wisp of vermouth, or bump the gin down to halfsies. No matter how you try it, it's hard to screw up a martini.

Martinez

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[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

If you know anything about the Martinez, your first thought might be to ask why I've included it separately. It's best known these days as a variation on, or predecessor to, the martini.

Well, that's sort of true. I think the drinks are so far apart that thinking of the Martinez as a grandfather to the martini is somewhat misleading. They're more like cousins.

To make a Martinez, you start with equal parts gin and sweet vermouth. This alone distinguishes it in two ways from the modern martini. You can even use a higher proportion of vermouth, and go as far as two parts vermouth to one part gin. To that, you add a teaspoon of maraschino liqueur and a dash of either Angostura or orange bitters.

Oh, the gin in this should be Old Tom, a richer, slightly sweeter specimen than the London Dry Gins so common today. Until about three years ago, Old Tom gins were almost extinct in the United States, but today, two bottlings are available: Hayman's, from the UK, and Ransom, from Oregon. Each one is delicious, and each has a slightly different flavor profile. The Ransom is a little maltier, and for that reason, I think it tastes better with sweet vermouth.

Get the recipe »

Negroni

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[Photograph: Jen SFO-BCN on Flickr]

The Negroni—that classic combination of gin, vermouth, and Campari—is a popular topic here at Drinks, so it's no surprise we consider it a true essential. It's bitter and sweet, easy to make but compelling in flavor.

Negronis to Order »
Negronis for a Crowd »

Drinks Editor Maggie Hoffman has also been known to sub in Gran Classico for the Campari with delicious results.

Gimlet

Another in a line of beverages invented to make medicine more palatable—at least, allegedly. As with the martini, no one seems to really know this drink's origin, but the story goes that a British Navy surgeon invented it as a way to entice sailors to take their daily portion of lime juice, to fight scurvy. If this story is true, it makes the Gimlet a cousin to Navy Grog, a mix of rum and lime also introduced as an anti-scorbutic.

Nonetheless, the Gimlet today is normally a mix of gin (or vodka) and Rose's lime cordial. Some bartenders now make a fresher version using homemade lime cordial, lime juice, and gin. Both versions are crisp and refreshing; which version you prefer will largely depend on whether you value fresh juice in place of a bottled cordial. Keep in mind, though, that some purists insist that such a cocktail made with fresh juice is not, by definition, a Gimlet.

Jasmine

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For my final selection, I'm going with a modern classic. One trend in the classic cocktail renaissance is to revive old, forgotten cocktails, sometimes with a modern spin. For example, the Aviation was essentially a defunct cocktail until a few years ago, when historically minded bartenders got their hands on it. Another prominent example is the Last Word, a delicious drink that no one knew of until Seattle's Murray Stenson revived it some years back.

These are great drinks (although I'm not as fond of the Aviation as some are), and I consider them modern classics simply because they're nothing your dad (or even grandfather) would have likely imbibed. But for my final drink, I'm going with a true modern classic: the Jasmine, invented by the architect-bartender Paul Harrington in the mid-1990s.

Paul Clarke wrote it up and provided a recipe back in 2007. I love this drink. First, because it's pink and fruity looking, it's a hit at parties, especially if you have friends with adventuresome palates. Mostly, though, I love it because through some weird alchemy of flavor, the cocktail tastes like grapefruit juice. If you like grapefruit but think you hate Campari, try this one; it might change your mind.

So, it's your turn. What essential gin cocktail did I miss?


About the author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is a sleep-deprived new father, boozologist, and cocktail curmudgeon. He lives in Providence. You can follow him on twitter at @dietsch.

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