Cocktails You Should Know How To Make

Learn how to make a Manhattan once and for all

#Adulting: You pay your bills. You buy your groceries. You throw dinner parties. You've stocked your bar. Now it's time to learn to make a proper drink. If you know these five cocktails, says Kevin Burke, bar manager at Denver's Colt & Gray, you can make just about anything, from other classics to your own riffs.

① Old-Fashioned

The old-fashioned is sexy and easy: Take a cube of sugar, muddle it in a rocks glass with two or three dashes of Angostura bitters, then add ice and two ounces of whiskey. Which whiskey? "This is a great template to explore the nuances of American whiskey, Scotch and even aged rums," Burke says. He also says the rye old-fashioned is currently the most popular drink at Colt & Gray. 

② Manhattan

Perhaps the king of whiskey cocktails, this classic is a mix of two parts whiskey to one part sweet vermouth, plus a couple dashes of Angostura bitters. Stir this drink with ice and serve it up with a cherry. Mix things up by using other brown spirits; sub Scotch for bourbon or rye, and you've got a Rob Roy. Or trade out the vermouth for other aromatized wines; Burke suggests Bonal, Dubonnet or an off-dry sherry.

③ Martini

Martini enthusiasts are often exacting about their specs, and everyone's specs differ. For a dry martini, try five parts gin to one part dry vermouth and maybe a dash or two of orange bitters; however, I prefer a one-to-one ratio of gin to vermouth. Build your cocktail in a mixing glass over ice and stir—James Bond had to insist that the drink be shaken, because that's not the norm. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a lemon twist.

 ④ Daiquiri

Once you've mastered the daiquiri, you've mastered the sour, so you can apply this recipe to the spirit of your choice. Build a daiquiri with four parts rum, two parts fresh-squeezed lime juice and one part simple syrup. (Make simple syrup by mixing one part sugar and one part water, then boiling it until combined.) Shake the mix over ice and strain it into a coupe. Like a sweeter drink? Try a ratio of 2:1:1. Sub whiskey for rum for a whiskey sour, tequila for a Tommy's-style margarita.

⑤ Margarita

The margarita is technically classified as a daisy cocktail: a sour cocktail sweetened with liqueur. Start with four parts tequila, two parts fresh-squeezed lime and one part triple sec, then shake over ice. Apply that same ratio to cognac, lemon and triple sec for a sidecar; vodka, cranberry plus lime, and triple sec for a Cosmopolitan. These all tie back to the Jack Rose, built with applejack, lemon juice and grenadine.

Laura Shunk is a food and travel writer and noodle addict who spent a year researching Asia's food culture. Follow her on Instagram at @laurashunk.