Because I seldom meet my readers, they’ve been kind enough over the years to ask on social media how I prepare the cocktails to which I allude so often. The following recipes offer meticulousness instead of originality. These are the liquors and instruments I stock at home; when I go out the ingredients and choices change. In other words, should you visit Soto Manse and ask for a Manhattan, this is how I’ll prepare it unless you inform me otherwise. For sophisticated palates, buy a copy of Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, as indispensable an appendage to the author of Lucky Jim, The Green Man, and The Old Devils as the journals of Virginia Woolf, Wallace Stevens’ letters, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s hair.
A few notes:
* A martini with vodka is a vodka martini and acceptable nomenclature. Ordering a “gin martini” is redundant, like ordering a “Coca-Cola soft drink,” requesting “a soft pillow,” or saying, “Let’s watch a bad Cate Blanchett movie.”
* Contrary to expectations, I limit home cocktail imbibing to Sundays and Thursdays, possibly Fridays if I stay in. Otherwise alcohol consumption consists of two to three glasses of a cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or shiraz.
* Rare is the afternoon or night that I’ll drink more than one martini—and never at home. I don’t recommend anyone drink more than one Manhattan or Old Fashioned. This indicates that you’ll insist on dessert, enthralling me with your monologues about dating trouble.
Gin and tonic:
The classic Soto highball. These days I don’t expend good gin — no more Hendricks for these babies. Pour two fingers of Aviation or Bombay Sapphire gin over a dozen thumb-sized, three finger-sized, or one cube-sized piece of ice in long thin glass. Add one finger of Fever Tree tonic water. Stir gently. Squeeze a pinch of lemon.
Here we are. One and a half to two fingers of Hendrick’s or St. George gin into shaker half full of ice. Add a bottlecap’s worth of Cinzano or Tribuno Extra Dry vermouth. When feeling frisky, substitute St. Germain elderflower liquor. Depending on solidity of ice, shake; if less dense, stir. Pour into bone-chilling martini glass, stemmed or unstemmed (if not bone-chilling, let fresh ice sit in glass for a minute). Add lemon twist. If possible, change glasses as martini warms in enervating South Florida sunlight.
Two fingers of Bulleit Rye or Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight bourbon whiskey into shaker half full of ice. Add a bottlecap’s worth of Cinzano or Tribuno sweet vermouth. Depending on taste for acerbity, add four to six drops of Angostura Aromatic Bitters or two drops of same and three drops of Bittermens Orange Cream Citrate. Pour into Schott Zwiesel or Schott Zwiesel-esque tumblers, although a stemless martini glass will do.
Evan McGarvey introduced me to this tart concoction on a hot July afternoon in Chicago nine years ago. Like the Manhattan, the sidecar is not a cocktail to get hammered on; it’s an ideal drink to prepare you for dinner or perhaps other stronger drinks (don’t mix too many, though!). The key ingredient is cognac or brandy; I use Courvoisier. Pour a cup of your preference into a mixer. Add half a cup of Cointreau or triple sec, preferably the former. Dribble a quarter cup of Rose’s Lime Juice; you may prefer less. For dinner parties or to treat yourself special after a grueling day reading Robert Lowell bios by the pool, dip the rim of your glasses into lemon juice and sugar. In hotter climes sitting outside, I caution you against this move: flies will love your meticulous attention to their palates.
I don’t keep Campari at home: I haven’t acquired the taste for its thin brackishness. I use Aperol, lighter on the alcohol content but a good sport with gin. Pour a finger or finger and a half into a shaker. Add a finger of Boodle’s Gin. A splash of Dolin vermouth. Stir furiously. You may add club soda if you like. Pour over large ice cube in glass. A delicate aperitif.