Classic cocktails

I saw a great cocktail list a few weeks ago, and it struck me that it had all my favorites on it, despite the fact that there were only ten drinks or so. It was labeled "Classic Cocktails". They were all old-school mixed drinks--not sugary or stuffed with decorative fruit or branded with flavored vodka.

(I am a bit of a purist. I think almost all flavored vodkas are dumb. I also hate flavored coffee, but that's because it makes me want to retch. Flavored vodka just reminds me of the "schnapps" fad. You might as well just go to a bar wearing a T-shirt that says "Ooh I'm so drunk!")

The restaurant, by the way, was Le Bistro, in Corvallis, Oregon. The service was excellent, the food interesting and well-executed, and the wine list extensive and quite reasonably priced. We were in Corvallis to tour the wineries of Willamette Valley.

Their list featured the Sazerac, Sidecar, Negroni, Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned, and a few others. I immediately felt at home because the Negroni was the first professional classic cocktail I ever loved: it's gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Maybe I've developed more of a palate for bitter things as I've aged. I never thought I'd finish a bottle of Campari, but now I have. Here are a few more of my favorites.

The Americano: 1 oz Campari, 2 oz sweet vermouth, ice, and soda in a tall glass, topped with a twist of lemon peel. I often bring the proportions of Campari and vermouth closer to 1:1. It's basically a milder version of the Negroni, and as such, it works better as a digestif.

First Avenue: 1 1/2 oz oloroso Sherry, 1/2 oz Cointreau, 3/4 oz soda, 1/4 oz Campari. This has several of my favorite things in it. I could go on and on about Sherry. It's Spain's version of Port, a high-alcohol wine. It typically has a very nutty taste and, unlike port, is often quite tart. Oloroso is less tart than most of the other varieties. It's also hard to find, but $20 or more will get you a decent bottle. I love to sip sherry and eat toasted almonds. This drink is an excellent vehicle for it.

Moscow Mule: technically this is equal parts vodka and lime juice, then three parts ginger beer and a dash of Angostura bitters. I plan to try it this way soon. I've been basically mixing vodka and Vernors and calling it a moscow mule, but I'll be happy to be corrected. By the way, Vernors makes Canada Dry, Schweppes, and Seagrams taste like water. And if you want to take it to another level, the Ginger People's Ginger Beer makes Vernor's taste like water. Seriously, it kicks ass. I once tried putting vodka in it, but it was completely unpalatable.