16 Tips For Upgrading Classic Cocktails

It seems like bartenders at trendy city spots are inventing new cocktails left and right. These concoctions come with strange and wonderful elements like cherry foam or salted honey cream. Or they require one or more ingredients to be set on fire. But amidst all the mayhem, sometimes it's nice to go back to the classics — the tried and true cocktails you know you're going to like because they've been around for generations. The classic Manhattan, for example, has stood the test of time, and with only three ingredients plus a simple garnish, it's easy to make at home. Likewise, you'll never see a Martini go out of fashion, while Negronis may go in and out of style, but they'll never be lost forever.

But classic doesn't mean boring, and there are almost as many ways to upgrade a classic cocktail as there are to invent a brand-new one. So if you're looking for a cocktail that you know you'll like, but will give you a new experience at the same time, have a look through our list of recommendations for upgrading classic cocktails.

Use a Meyer lemon in a Tom Collins

A Tom Collins is a refreshing cocktail for a hot day. Its intense citrusy flavor provides just the right amount of freshness, and if you pick a cucumber gin like Hendrick's, drinking this cocktail will feel like plunging into cool waters.

A Tom Collins can also be very tart, depending on how many lemons you use, so we suggest making this Tom Collins by switching out regular lemons for Meyer lemons, which are actually a hybrid between lemons and mandarins. This citrus ingredient can provide the tartness needed to ensure the drink remains as refreshing as can be, while the mandarin adds an extra layer of sweetness while bringing the tartness down to a more sustainable level. All you have to do is add ice, gin, freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice, and simple syrup to a shaker and shake it all for a good 30 seconds. Strain the mixture into a glass and top it with club soda.

Swap margarita mix for hibiscus

The key to experimenting with a classic cocktail is to try new things without messing up the balance of flavors. Take the classic margarita, for example. Typically made with tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and agave syrup, you'll notice that this cocktail relies on sweet and sour elements, in addition to the alcohol. This means that when you switch up your margarita, you should keep that interplay in mind.

For instance, you could try switching your margarita mix with hibiscus, which is also very tart and therefore able to maintain the balance of flavors that make a margarita a classic. To make this work, you'll have to first make some hibiscus syrup using hibiscus flowers, water, and granulated sugar. Then combine the syrup in a shaker with the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and ice, and shake it all up. Don't forget to strain before serving.

Up the mint levels in a mojito by using mint-infused rum

Mint is what gives mojitos their signature flavor, and you would not be able to make a cocktail without mint and still call it a mojito. So if you're looking to upgrade this drink, the best thing you can do is double down on the mint. To do this, we suggest a simple swap: rather than using regular rum, opt for a mint-infused white rum.

This is the simplest way to elevate a mojito. All you have to do is follow our recipe for a refreshing classic mojito, and just carry out your swap when it's time to add the rum. Start by making the simple syrup with sugar, water, and mint leaves. Then stir some more mint leaves with the prepared simple syrup in a glass, pour in the mint-infused rum and lime juice, and stir. Finish it off with ice, club soda, and plenty of mint leaves as a garnish.

Make a dirty Martini even dirtier with chicken soup broth

If you like dirty martinis but think they could stand to be a bit dirtier, we have just the recipe for you: the chicken soup martini, which, like all good chicken soup, includes carrots, celery, extra virgin olive oil, and chicken bullion. To some, this may seem like a bit much, but if you think about it, a bloody mary calls for celery too, along with such savory delights as Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, so a chicken soup Martini shouldn't be too much of a stretch.

And the thing is, it actually tastes good. To make it, you'll have to prepare your own mirepoix gin by sauteing the carrots, onions, and celery, and then adding gin and letting the mixture infuse. Just be sure to strain this component thoroughly before using, as you don't want to end up with bits of sauteed onion in your glass. Next, prepare the chicken bullion brine by mixing bullion with hot water, kosher salt, and MSG. Lastly, combine these mixtures with sherry and a couple of drops of saline solution, stirring as you would for any other Martini. Just steer clear of botanical gins like Hendrick's and opt for a more neutral, dry gin like Sipsmith. Anything flowery won't pair well with chicken broth.

Combine a margarita with a Martini to make the Mexican Martini

If you like margaritas and Martinis, but can't decide which one to drink tonight, we have an easy solution for you: just drink both in one spectacular, all-star cocktail! We're talking about the Mexican Martini, which is basically a combination of a margarita and a Martini.

To prepare this, you'll take the best parts of each drink and combine them. This means tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice from the margarita, and olive brine from the Martini. The recipe also calls for a splash of fresh orange juice, which doesn't have to do with anything, but somehow it bridges these two drinks in a seamless way. The execution of this recipe is also very Martini-like, as you'll need to pull out your shaker and shake all the ingredients together with ice before straining them into a glass rimmed with salt, which brings us back to the margarita. Serve this drink with olives and a lime wedge, just to pay homage to both the classic cocktails from whence this one hails.

Substitute whiskey for rum in an old fashioned

No cocktail could be more of a classic than one that is called "old fashioned." This all-around mainstay calls for bourbon or whiskey to be combined with Angostura bitters, orange bitters, and a sugar cube in a glass and mixed until the sugar dissolves. Add ice, a garnish, and you're done.

And the upgraded version of the old fashioned is just as simple, despite the twist. Just pour in some rum instead of whiskey at the appropriate moment in the recipe. Or you can prepare our version of an old fashioned, which calls for cola syrup, orange liqueur, and some lime bitters as well as rum. The important thing is that the rum will give your usual old-fashioned a tropical kick and some extra hints of sweetness, without straying in the direction of saccharine. Meanwhile, the oakiness present in most rum will stand in for the oakiness in the whiskey, allowing you to get the best of both worlds.

Smoke up your margarita with mezcal instead of tequila

Smoky cocktail ingredients are having a moment right now, but you don't have to set anything on fire to make one for yourself. Instead, try swapping the tequila in your margarita with mezcal, a spirit that has a naturally smoky flavor, with or without added flames. All you have to do is follow a classic margarita recipe and just use mezcal instead of tequila.

Once you've established how delicious this upgrade can be, it's time to try mezcal on a few other all-time favorites. For instance, turn a classic Moscow Mule into a Mezcal Mule. This prickly pear version is especially fun, and it only requires you to shake mezcal, lime juice, and bitters together, pour the mixture over ice, and top with club soda and a prickly pear puree, which you can make at home by mixing a peeled prickly pair.

Chill your Aperol spritz with frozen mango

Over the past couple of years, Aperol spritz went from being practically unknown outside of Italy to the it-cocktail on every bar menu worth its salt. So while this might not be considered a classic cocktail in New York or L.A., where many people have only just heard of it, it has been going strong in Italy for decades, ever since Aperol itself was invented in 1919.

So if you still need to go out and discover the original Aperol spritz, which is made from equal parts Aperol and Prosecco, plus a splash of club soda, do that first. Then try this frozen twist to the Aperol spritz. Unlike the original, this one requires a few extra ingredients, as you will have to add frozen mango chunks and orange juice to the original set. Then just pop everything in a blender and blitz until smooth. Other great options for this twist are frozen strawberries or frozen raspberries for something more tart.

Infuse a Moscow mule with southern charm by using bourbon instead of vodka

The Moscow mule, invented by a Los Angeles bartender back in 1941, gets its name in part from the fact that it uses vodka, the preeminent Russian spirit if there ever was one. So it stands to reason that the twist we suggest here, which is to use bourbon instead of vodka for a Moscow mule, makes it a southern mule, because bourbon is the preeminent southern spirit if there ever was one.

Luckily, the ingredients in a Moscow mule match perfectly with those in a southern mule, meaning that bourbon goes just as well with ginger beer and mint simple syrup as vodka does. So to make this cocktail, pull out your favorite Moscow mule recipe and just swap in the bourbon. Just make sure you're actually using ginger beer for this recipe, and not ginger ale. While both have a distinct gingery flavor, the former is much more pungent and comes with an added kick. Some ginger beers even contain alcohol, so make sure you know whether it contains alcohol or you may end up with a little more strength than you bargained for. Serve this drink in a set of copper mugs, for old-times' sake.

Incorporate pickle juice into a Michelada

If you need a quick pick-me-up and can't choose between a drink and a meal, have both in the form of a Michelada. This classic cocktail is made with beer, tomato juice, lime juice, Worcestershire, and sometimes hot sauce, is filling yet refreshing.

For something that looks like a meal and doesn't just taste like one, try our super-garnished Michelada recipe, which calls for practically all the ingredients needed to prepare a complete meal, including protein and vegetables. But the twist we're talking about is actually pickle juice. John Cusimano, the husband of celebrity chef Rachael Ray, appears to be something of a cocktail aficionado in addition to being a lawyer and musician. He was the one who came up with this addition, and a good thing, too, because it works! Just follow our Michelada recipe, add the pickle juice along with the Clamato, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, and lime juice, stir, then continue on as directed.

Switch up the fruit garnish on your old fashioned

When elevating an old fashioned, it's a good idea to stick to the original recipe as much as possible, as part of its charm comes from the fact that it's uncomplicated and straightforward. So the best way to upgrade this drink, aside from using rum, is to play around with the garnish.

An old fashioned will typically come with an orange peel garnish, perhaps as a way to herald the orange bitters contained within. But oranges are in season in winter, which means you might not be able to get great quality oranges during the rest of the year. Instead, you may be showered with berries all summer long. As such, we recommend switching out your winter orange peel for a summer blackberry garnish until the end of summer. In the same vein, as we head into fall you can start to use an apple or roasted pumpkin slice, or perhaps even a fragrant cinnamon stick.

Give more depth to a Tom Collins with blood orange juice

In the mood for a twist on a Tom Collins?  The classic drink is made with lemon juice, gin, simple syrup, and club soda, but how about using orange juice instead of lemon juice and rosemary simple syrup instead of the plain kind?

Other than that, everything is the same, including the proportions. So next time you want to make a Tom Collins, follow a classic recipe and simply use orange juice instead of lemon juice. Just make sure to make the rosemary simple syrup ahead of time, as it will need refrigerating. To prepare it, combine 1 part sugar with 1 part water, and add 3 sprigs of rosemary, heating the mixture until the sugar has melted. Then refrigerate until it's time to use it.

Spice up a gimlet with fresh thyme

Two of the key criteria that make a classic cocktail are simplicity and limited ingredients. If that is indeed the case, then the gimlet, made with gin, lime juice, and simple syrup, is a true classic. Even so, it lends itself quite well to a number of variations. Try using vodka instead of gin, as well as a few sprigs of thyme, which you can mix into the bottom of the shaker with the vodka, lime juice, and syrup before shaking everything thoroughly.

You can enjoy this recipe yourself by following our traditional gimlet recipe and adding the thyme to your shaker. Another herbaceous and effective variation on this drink is the cucumber gin gimlet, which keeps the gin and only adds cucumber, chopped and mixed, to the bottom of the shaker. This one can even be served with a cucumber garnish instead of the traditional lime, just to give a hint of what's to come.

Uprade an old fashioned with peaches

We've mentioned elevating an old fashioned with different spirits and various fruits, but there are many wonderful things peaches can do for an old fashioned. Not only do they make a great garnish, but they can also appear in the form of peach simple syrup or as peach schnapps.

If going for the first option, you can make your syrup by sprinkling sugar over peeled and sliced peaches before mixing them together lightly and refrigerating them overnight. The next day, strain out the peaches and any remaining clumps of sugar. Then stir this concoction into your regular old fashioned. Alternatively, you can keep things quick and easy by skipping the overnight syrup recipe and just adding a peach slice into the bottom of your glass with some sugar and an orange slice before pouring in the ice and bourbon. Lastly, you can add some peach schnapps to the cocktail at the same moment as you add the whiskey or bourbon. Just remember that this will create a much sweeter cocktail than the norm.

Turn a French 75 into a mirto by incorporating mirto liqueur

The French 75 may be a perfect drink as it is, but that doesn't mean you can't make a lateral move just to switch things up. This is best achieved by incorporating a little-known liqueur called mirto into the drink. There are so many different liqueurs being produced in small batches all around the world, and it would be a shame to let them all go to waste. Mirto, for one, is made on the Italian island of Sardinia, from the macerations of the berries of the myrtle tree in pure alcohol. It yields a flavor similar to juniper with hints of eucalyptus, so it pairs well with the floral profile of the French 75.

To magically turn your French 75 into a Mirto, follow our French 75 recipe using gin and add the Mirto in place of the syrup. And because this is supposed to be an elevated take, go whole hog by splurging on the best bubbly you can get your hands on.

Spice up a bloody mary even more with Ancho Reyes liqueur

Bloody marys, with their Tabasco sauce, pepper, and sometimes horseradish, are already pretty spicy as it is, so if you want something with even more of a kick, you'll have to pull out the big guns, which in this case consist of Ancho Reyes liqueur.

This spirit is made by steeping sun-dried ancho chiles in a cane spirit for six months, so remember to use it with caution if you're not inured to spicy ingredients. To incorporate this liqueur into your bloody mary, you can follow our already spicy bloody mary recipe and stir it in with the vodka, tomato juice, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, hot sauce, and jalapeño. Add as much as you're comfortable with, and if you think the spice might end up overwhelming you, ditch the hot sauce and horseradish for now. You can always add them next time.