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Four is a magic number …

OK, I know that isn’t how the song goes, but when it comes to cocktails, some of the most popular drinks use equal parts of four ingredients. When using the right ingredients, the resulting drink can be well-balanced like a properly made table, while using the wrong ones will give you a figurative pile of lumber.

It’s important to have a few of these in your cocktail portfolio, to experiment with and maybe even make into your own modern classic! So just in time for the fourth month of the year, here are some of the most popular classics and modern classics using four ingredients in equal measure.

While its name suggests I should end with it, I will start with the Last Word, since in the early days of my discovering well-made cocktails, it was a favorite. It’s a bit of a tell that someone is sticking their toes in the world of craft for the first time, so to speak, if they order a Last Word. This isn’t to suggest it’s a beginners’ cocktail, though. The unlikely combination of gin, green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and lime juice is a bold and funky mix of aggressive flavors. According to David Wondrich in Imbibe!, the recipe shows up in 1915 on the menu of the Detroit Athletic Club, and is attributed to monologist and vaudevillian Frank Farrell. This blast from the past is a pricey home cocktail to make, though; expect the ingredients to run just less than $150 total—and your guests will certainly drink you out of them once they get a taste!

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Chartreuse, green
  • 1 ounce of Luxardo maraschino
  • 1 ounce of lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a cherry if desired.

Another classic that uses four equal parts of ingredients (plus a dash of absinthe, but who’s counting?) is the ever-popular Corpse Reviver No. 2 from The Savoy Cocktail Book. Inventor Harry Craddock states that “four of these in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again!” True. Bear in mind the Kina Lillet in the recipe would have been more bitter than Lillet Blanc that most people now use in it, so you can use Kina L’Aero D’Or or Cocchi Americano instead for a more accurate reproduction. Feel free to use Curacao instead of the triple sec for a richer drink.

  • 1 ounce of dry gin
  • 1 ounce of triple sec (Craddock used Cointreau)
  • 1 ounce of Kina Lillet (see above)
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice

Shake; strain into a cocktail glass that has been rinsed or spritzed with absinthe, lightly. No garnish needed, but some people like a cherry or lemon zest.

Another cocktail with which I was enamored in my early days of drinking, and which has undergone many strange and complicated iterations over the years, is the Singapore Sling. While the Raffles Hotel in Singapore gets the attention for this one, Wondrich points out in Imbibe! that the drink was ubiquitous in Singapore years before the hotel claims it was created there. Ignore all the other recipes you see in cocktail books; the real McCoy is equal parts of the four ingredients. Feel free to adjust the proportions to your preferences as you go, of course.

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Cherry Heering
  • 1 ounce of Benedictine
  • 1 ounce of lime juice

Build this one in a tall glass; add soda or mineral water, and stir gently.

Being a sling, it’s going to need some bitters as well; I like four to six dashes of Angostura. No garnish needed, but a cherry flag is fun, and traditionalists like a spiral cut lime zest.

Now onto a couple of “modern classics” that I frequently make behind the bar, starting with the Paper Plane. Sam Ross invented this one just more than 10 years ago in New York, and it quickly became a “must-know” drink if your establishment attracts cocktail nerds.

  • 1 ounce of bourbon
  • 1 ounce of Amaro Nonino
  • 1 ounce of Aperol
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; no garnish is necessary, but I usually use an orange zest. Don’t skimp on the expensive Nonino! Although this drink can be made with, say, Averna, it won’t be the same.

You can see the pattern developing here: one part of a strong spirit, two parts of liqueur, and one part of citrus. This becomes a template for creative substitution, or in bartender parlance, “Mr. Potato Head” cocktails.

Next up is the Naked and Famous. Joaquin Simó, who came up with this one while at New York’s Death and Co., calls it “the bastard child of a classic Last Word and a Paper Plane, conceived in the mountains of Oaxaca,” according to a feature online in Imbibe magazine.

  • 1 ounce of mezcal
  • 1 ounce of Chartreuse, yellow
  • 1 ounce of Aperol
  • 1 ounce of lime

This one can also be made as a mezcal Paper Plane just by subbing the spirits, but the lime and yellow Chartreuse pair better with mezcal, so it’s worth doing it this way. Although Simó made it with Del Maguey Single Village Chichicapa mezcal, that’s a pricey ingredient that’s better enjoyed neat, in my opinion. Any decent mezcal will do.

This little list is by no means exhaustive, and I know I am leaving some people’s favorites out (looking at you, Blood and Sand!), but I chose these ones specifically for their particular balance and widespread appeal. They are also the drinks that people like the most at cocktail parties in my experience, especially the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Paper Plane. As a bonus, the recipes are easy to remember and measure. You don’t even need a jigger, really—just a small shot glass or anything like it will do in a pinch!

So, yes, four is a magic number—when it comes to cocktails, at least.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

“Dr.” Eli Perkins was arrested by a California sheriff and a platoon of deputized vigilantes in 1882 and summarily sentenced to “hang by the neck until dead” for a number of crimes, the least of which was “quackery.”

This is a partial transcript of his last medicine show, taken by a surreptitious stenographer wearing a false mustache. Whether the sentence was carried out or not is unknown. Needless to say, all medical advice below should be eschewed.

Ladies and gentlemen, gather ’round. I, the one and only Dr. Eli Perkins, offer you the latest in cutting-edge medicine from Paris and New York City, as well as folk remedies from the Cherokee medicine men and from the Ascended Masters of K’un-Lun.

Now … don’t be shy! Step up, and tell me what ails you.

Stenographer’s note: Obvious plant approaches the stage with exaggerated limp.

“Esteemed doctor, I suffer from fatigue, and injuries from the war. Is there any hope to restore my condition?”

Why, my good man, you just need some of this imported Vin Mariani! Chock full of the wonder medicine of the Andes, coca leaf! Here, let me mix in some gall of the Western diamondback rattler, known for its quick strike, and some monkey adrenal gland, and there you go!

The “doctor” muddles a mixture together and hands it to the “patient,” who immediately begins performing calisthenics for the bemused audience.

Now then, for the harshest cases such as my friend here, this mixture is available for purchase in the bottle. Now … is anyone here suffering from the common cold, the grippe, influenza or consumption?

A few hands reluctantly rise.

Excellent, excellent—I mean not for your unfortunate conditions, of course, but because I have simple cures from the science of Mixology ready to give you a fast cure! I have here a selection of the finest Smashers, Franklin Peculiars, Radiator Punches, Vetos and Timberdoodles ready to mix and fix!

You, sir—the one with the cacophonous cough! Step right up for my famous hot toddy! This combination of spirits, sugar and water is just the thing for your sad state. Science has proven that with the addition of sugar, the harsh spirits have a foil on which to act, sparing your constitution from its deleterious effects and bolstering your strength! Beware of doctors pitching false toddies without sugar, merely trying to save a penny at your expense.

Perkins throws a lump of sugar into a mug with some hot water. He beats it with a “toddy stick,” which resembles a small baton. Then he adds a goodly slug of Scotch whisky. The consumptive man takes a sip, and although scalding his mouth, he seems somewhat contented.

You see! The toddy is the remedy of kings! Now, you ma’am, you seem a little down in the countenance. A “Whisky Skin” for you!

Perkins takes a paring knife and removes the zest from an entire lemon. He puts it into a flagon with more of the same whisky and the water at a boil. The seemingly healthy woman also scalds her mouth, but also seems to perk up after a few sips.

No sugar needed for that one; she’s as healthy as a filly! Now, for the apple of my eye …

Perkins points to a pretty young lady in the crowd.

… an apple toddy!

He begins again with a lump of sugar and boiling water, beaten with a toddy stick, and after adding some apple brandy, places a baked apple in as well, and beats the whole thing in the mug until well smashed. The young lady sips with delight after carefully waiting a moment.

Now, gather ’round, people, for the greatest heights of mixological science, the great Professor Jerry Thomas’ Blue Blazer!

Perkins mixes Scotch and boiling water in a silver mug with a handle and lights it with a match; as the blue flame rises in the fading twilight, he pours it into a second mug. As he pours back and forth—leaving, it seems, a little in each mug at all times—he becomes more courageous in the descent of the flaming liquor.

Right before he can serve it into the dainty tea cups with lemon peel and sugar applied, he is tripped by the man doing calisthenics nearby (still apparently under the influence of coca leaf). The flaming liquid spills and lights the trailer ablaze. The crowd disperses as gunpowder and liquor ignite. Perkins, his shirt engulfed in blue flames, makes a run for another man’s horse to escape. Deputies are in pursuit.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled cocktail column.

For the previous recipes, while all in the public domain, I owe a great debt to David Wondrich for his masterful presentation of them in his opus Imbibe! All fancies aside, the toddy is not approved by any medical doctor for curing any ill.

If you would still seek comfort in any of the hot drinks mentioned, the recipes in their ancient form will certainly work as listed. I prefer to marry the toddy and Whisky Skin together. My preferred method at home is using a pot-still whisky, preferably from Scotland or Ireland if possible, with some raw sugar and a lemon peel. American whisky, cognac and even rums work well, too; actual apple brandy is a real treat if you can find it. I grew up—in my bar career, I mean—using honey as the sweetener and a squeeze of lemon dropped in with the hot water, basically like you would with tea. Maybe it’s a New England thing.

As the desert has gotten this outrageous amount of rain, welcome as it is from locals, I have been getting plenty of calls for hot drinks, and specifically toddies. This truly is a drink that you can make any way you like. Want to add star anise, or a cinnamon stick? Who would object? Honey, agave, sugar? Just no stevia, please, for chrissakes! Most craft bars these days have a house recipe, and nearly every bartender has an opinion on the matter. Feel free to choose your own adventure.

Please, however, do not make the Blue Blazer, or risk the fate of Eli Perkins … fair warning. Oh, and as much of a “restorative” as Vin Mariani might have been, it’s been illegal for some time, but you can still buy its nearest relative—in red-and-white cans and glass bottles—pretty much anywhere.

Stay dry people! Just not too dry.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

One of the most common questions I get behind the bar—after, “What’s your favorite thing to make?” (answer: money, duh)—is, ‘What is your favorite cocktail?” This seems like an innocuous-enough question, but to answer it honestly and frankly is difficult.

What defines someone’s favorite cocktail? Is it the cocktail one drinks the most often? Is ice-cold vodka with cheese-stuffed olives really anyone’s favorite cocktail, or just a “go-to” to help someone unwind after a long day? By that logic, my favorite cocktail is a boilermaker. A beer and a shot is hardly a cocktail in any modern sense of the word, however, unless you do it the way we occasionally do after work—that is, taking a slim shot-glass of bourbon, and dropping it into half a glass of pilsner. It’s a powerful way to end a shift.

That’s not what anyone wants to hear, though. I generally respond immediately by saying it’s the daiquiri, since it’s the cocktail I drink the most frequently, and certainly one of my all-time favorites.

Depending on my audience, I sometimes hear their respect for me and my bartending abilities crash to the floor like a tray of drinks. One of the customers (a lady, usually) will emphasize what they’re all thinking: “A daiquiri? Really?!”

Yes, really.

To some people, a daiquiri is something consumed from a foam cup or tacky plastic “yard” on Bourbon Street, the Vegas Strip or anywhere else it is socially acceptable to consume frozen, sweetened stock-car fuel. Others will know better, and for the rest of you … well, it’s time to enjoy one of life’s true pleasures.

Dale DeGroff resurrected the term “mixologist” to separate what he was doing from the beer-and-highball jockey down the street (but please don’t ever call me a mixologist; even DeGroff now regrets bringing the term into modern parlance). Similarly, I wish I had a simple way of letting people know that the daiquiri I consume is a far different animal than what they expect. Classic daiquiri, real daiquiri, fresh lime and sugar daiquiri—none of these seem to quite do the trick. So usually, I just use my old “Try it; if you don’t like it, I’ll drink it” routine. I rarely get to drink it.

This is a drink with a long and storied history. The conventional story—the one Bacardí rum promotes—has to do with a mining venture in Southeastern Cuba at the turn of the 20th century. A mine engineer named Jennings Cox was entertaining friends when he ran out of gin. Believing, incorrectly, that alcohol and citrus prevented malaria (and perhaps other tropical diseases), he substituted Cuban rum. Another engineer, named Pagliuchi, claimed to have come up with the name by referencing the local place name. The story continues that Admiral Lucius W. Johnson brought the drink to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., and it spread throughout the nation from there. The same club even has a room named after the drink. (There is another drink named after the club, but that is for another time.)

Other sources differ slightly on the naming, including Basil Woon’s When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba, which I first learned about in an article on the Difford’s Guide website. To paraphrase, Woon states that the mine’s engineers were enjoying the new cocktail at the bar at Santiago’s Venus Hotel when Cox himself named it. Difford also references a drink called the “canchanchara,” a sort of rum punch with lemon and honey, as a possible predecessor of the daiquiri.

It seems unlikely to me that this mining engineer was the first one to combine rum, lime, sugar and ice. Aside from the “canchanchara,” a drink about which I must admit my previous ignorance, I was certainly aware of “grog.” Not to be confused with Trader Vic’s better-known Navy Grog (a heady mixture of three rums, including an over-proof rum, lime, grapefruit and allspice), grog was a mixture of diluted rum, water and lime consumed by British sailors. Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon, in the mid-18th century, gave strict orders that all rum rations should be mixed with water. He did allow for sugar and lime to be added, if the sailor had the funds for such purchases. Sounds like a daiquiri, no? In fairness, some sailors were drinking rum and water, and it was still “grog” … and it’s probably fair to assume nobody had ice. It became a staple of the British Navy.

Back to the daiquiri: Cox certainly had plenty of documentation, including both witnesses and the handwritten recipe in his journal (from Bacardí by way of The Alcohol Professor website:)

  • 6 lemons
  • 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • 6 cups of Bacardí rum
  • 2 cups of mineral water
  • crushed ice

Well, it sure sounds like a party, but it doesn’t really sound like a daiquiri. Picking up on the drink where David Wondrich does in Imbibe!—at the Army and Navy Club, and then onto Hugo Ensslin, who has the drink as “The Cuban Cocktail” in his Recipes for Mixed Drinks from 1917—we get this recipe:.

  • 1 jigger of Bacardí rum
  • 2 dashes of gum syrup
  • Juice of half a lime

OK, now this sounds like a daiquiri! It’s a bit on the dry and boozy side, and the gum is unnecessary … but we’re nearly there. I also agree with Wondrich that the Bacardí rum we know in the U.S. is not best for a daiquiri; it doesn’t have enough body or funk. I am fond of saying that the only way to get two bartenders to agree on the best rum for a daiquiri is to shoot one; I, in the absence of true Cuban rum, prefer Wray and Nephew, a Jamaican over-proof white rum with lots of funk. One of those babies is sure to get your night going. Rums from Panama and Nicaragua are great daiquiri rums, too, and many swear by the rich demerara rums of South America or the agricoles of former French Colonies, or … well you get the idea.

As far as the recipe goes, the most common one is certainly:

  • 2 ounces of the rum of your choice
  • 1 ounce of fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce of simple syrup (1:1)
  • Shake, up in a coupe

I actually prefer a half-ounce of simple syrup, and I am not alone. At home, I use a teaspoon of superfine sugar, and it’s divine—a much racier drink without the polymerized simple mouth feel. This is one drink that can be made beautifully at home by nearly anyone; in fact, it may be better to make at home: Squeezing limes à la minute is much better for the finished product. Most bars can’t juice on the spot, for logistical reasons, and the super-fresh lime offers a noticeable flavor difference.

As my bar manager said when it was 115 outside with humidity creeping up into the 30s: “It’s daiquiri weather.” Sure enough.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

It was during a steady shift at the bar not long ago when a guest and I engaged in cocktail talk. She gushed over the Vesper. I compared it to the sitcom The Big Bang Theory—as in it’s super-popular but I personally think it sucks. Nothing against Lillet, but why on Earth would you adulterate perfectly good gin with that boring monster known as vodka? Just order a martini.

Her response was so hilarious I almost dropped my shaker: “Well, you know that you have the French 75 on the menu wrong. It’s a cognac drink!”

Now, the bar team who put the menu together and I know a thing or two about cocktail history, but I restrained myself. As perhaps the last crusader for putting cognac in a Sazerac, I told her this would be a great chance for me to challenge my preconceived notions and do actual research.

As with all crises of the soul, when I first feel my confidence rattled, I turn to God … and when it comes to cocktail history, that would be David Wondrich. Paraphrasing from his article for Liquor.com, the French 75 was basically a name given to a combination of Champagne, lemon, sugar and either gin or cognac that has been popular ever since there’s been Champagne, lemon, sugar and either gin or cognac. But he also states specifically that Charles Dickens enjoyed a combination of Old Tom gin, champagne, lemon and sugar—in my beloved Boston, of all places. This makes gin the frontrunner, in my opinion, as this was well before the Great War and the artillery gun.

Next, I turned to the venerable Savoy Cocktail Book, which I have on my phone, thank you very much, where it is listed as a gin cocktail. Further research: An article for Mental Floss by Clair McLafferty revealed that the drink was first mentioned in 1919 in Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABCs of Mixing Cocktails, where the cocktail was listed as the result of a substitution of champagne for soda in a Tom Collins. Using Occam’s razor, and being a lazy “Mr. Potato Head-ing” bartender, I knew this to be the correct answer.

In other words, my friend at the bar was wrong, in that both versions of the drink have some evidence on their side; therefore, to say gin is “incorrect” is, well, incorrect.

Try the drink for yourself. It’s OK with cognac. But with gin, my gosh, it’s good. It should ideally be enjoyed as a hangover remedy or as an aperitif. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s right.)

I implore you: Don’t use the Google recipe of 2 ounces of champagne, 1 ounce of gin, 1/2 ounce of lemon juice and two dashes of simple syrup—unless you want to feel like you got hit by that actual gun. Try this instead:

1 1/2 ounces of gin

1/2 ounce of lemon juice

1/2 ounce of simple syrup

Shake, pour into a coupe, and top with dry sparkling wine.

I actually prefer this drink on the rocks, but I figured someone would come for my head if I put that in the recipe. You could also roll like Charles Dickens and try it as a punch bowl—using Old Tom gin.

Since we’re on the topic … what the heck is Old Tom gin? If you are a cocktail geek, you probably think it’s an artisanal gin aged in barrels to a nice golden brown. Well that is the “fault” of Dave Wondrich. He partnered up with the distillery Ransom in the mid-00s to try to bring the style back. As near as I can tell, Old Tom is simply a Victorian style of gin that was forgotten after Prohibition and replaced by London Dry. In fact, British companies like Tanqueray and Hayman’s have started to make them again from old recipes—and they’re unaged.

According to legend, when gin, aka “Mother’s Ruin,” was an epidemic in England, you could look for a bar with a tomcat on the sign to get your fix. Also, according to legend, you could put your pence into a sort of “vending machine” built into a wall. Once the money was dropped, a bartender on the other side would pour the stuff right into your mouth through the cat’s paw, or, ahem, other anatomy.

Anyway, it’s a softer, lighter and sweeter gin. Have a Collins with it, and again, thank me later. For Pete’s sake, though, don’t use one of those barrel-aged jobs in a Collins or a gin and tonic. Use them in a Martinez or Bee’s Knees, but never in a drink with bubbles, or a dry martini.

Regardless, you should be drinking Old Tom. If it was good enough for Jerry Thomas, it’s good enough for me. Go make your bartender smile.

And Now, a Little Housekeeping

• Jerry Thomas, aka “The Professor,” was the O.G. rock-star bartender who wrote The Bon-Vivant’s Companion and wore diamonds behind the bar like a boss.

• David Wondrich wrote for Esquire about cocktail history before that was a “thing.” If you read my stuff and don’t own a copy of Imbibe, please remedy that immediately.

• The Vesper was invented by Ian Fleming’s character James Bond in the book Casino Royale. Yes, 007 is awesome, but the drink is no martini.

• A Tom Collins is what you should be drinking by the pool if you don’t want a daiquiri:

1 1/2 ounces of gin (unaged Old Tom or London dry)

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of 1:1 simple syrup

Soda and ice; tall glass, please!

• Use the aged Old Tom in a Bee’s Knees instead:

2 ounces of aged Old Tom; Ransom is a good one

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce of honey syrup

• Honey syrup is either equal parts honey and water, or two parts honey to one part water, depending on whom you ask. Oh, and 1:1 simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water (usually by volume).

• A “Mr. Potato Head drink” is, in common parlance, when you substitute an ingredient or two in a popular drink, while keeping the proportions the same. So, for example, if you take off the cowboy hat (bourbon) and put on a sombrero (tequila), it’s a brand new thing. Excuse the prosaic analogy. The margarita is a Mr. Potato Head, as are many other nice cocktails, so it’s not a derogatory term. Lately, mezcal has been the King Potato, but if you order a mezcal Negroni, I will give you a dirty look—but the Boulevardier, another Mr. Potato Head Negroni variation with rye or bourbon, is delicious.

So there you go. See what happens when you challenge me on cocktails? You get a rambling rant in return. I’m mostly kidding; feel free to come and throw a gauntlet down anytime. It will keep me honest. Now, go enjoy some fizzy gin drinks, everyone.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails