The 4 Best Vintage Cocktails Ever

Four of our favourite classic cocktails you can easily make at home with affordable vintage ingredients.

The 4 Best Vintage Cocktails Ever

It was not long after we decided to set ourselves the challenge of creating classic cocktails, the sort of cocktails that you might have ordered 100 years ago at the bar of the Savoy Hotel, Waldorf-Astoria or even pre-Prohibition at the Detroit Athletic Club for instance, using only vintage spirits and liqueurs and making sure that we tested each one ourselves to ensure the cocktails really did work, that we realised we needed an expert barman to help. So we asked our friend Alessandro Palazzi of the award winning Duke’s Hotel Bar in St James’ London to mix our drinks for us.

After our exhaustive research we can reveal our top four greatest vintage cocktails ever*.

(*further research may be required).

Negroni

Amaro negroni

It is amazing to think that twenty years ago you could order a superb Negroni in any Italian station bar yet it was virtually unheard of in London. I distinctly remember once ordering three separate drinks at a decent bar just so I could mix up a Negroni myself.

Recipe

1 ounce vintage Campari

1 ounce vintage London dry gin (we used Gordon’s from the 1970s)

1 ounce vintage sweet red Martini vermouth

Ice cubes

1 orange peel twist for garnish

Alessandro’s top tips

With fine and rare vintage ingredients, rather than building the cocktail in the glass, chill the cocktail over ice in the mixing glass then serve in a martini glass.

Campari is not the only bitter drink, and because it’s an essential element in a Negroni its price is at an all time high. We tested a variation where we switched out vintage Campari for an ancient Amaro instead. The result is astonishing and this variant has now become my go-to vintage cocktail at home.

Hanky Panky

Hanky Panky

The Hanky Panky is enjoying a welcome renaissance. It was invented over 100 years ago by Ada Coleman of the Savoy Hotel’s bar for Sir Charles Hawtrey. Fernet-Branca enthusiasts can pick up vintage bottles at auction at prices that can fluctuate wildly, but you only need a tiny amount for this cocktail so a single bottle goes a long way. Once opened, remember to store the bottle sealed and away from heat and direct sunlight so as to extend its lifetime.

Recipe

1 ounce vintage sweet red Martini Vermouth

1 ounce vintage dry gin

2 dashes vintage Fernet-Branca

Ice cubes

1 orange peel twist for garnish

Alessandro’s top tips

As with our vintage Negronis, Alessandro chilled the ingredients in a mixing glass and served the cocktail in a small martini glass ‘just like we did in the 1970s’. This serve seems to work particularly well with elegant vintage ingredients.

Alessandro created a refreshing variation by switching out Fernet-Branca for vintage Fernet-Menta (we call it a ‘Menta Panky’) and garnishing with a mint leaf. The mintiness was pleasingly subtle and herbal and this drink will most definitely become a new regular in my home bar.

Goat’s Delight

Goat's Delight

This recipe, which can be traced back to at least 1935 at the Waldorf-Astoria, calls for this cocktail to be garnished with strands of hay. Unfortunately we had no hay to hand on this occasion so we got a cocktail cherry instead.

Recipe

1 ounce vintage Cognac (or vintage Armagnac).

1 ounce vintage kirschwasser

1 dash vintage Pernod

1 dash Orgeat (almond-flavoured) syrup

1 teaspoon of cream

Ice cubes

Alessandro’s top tips

This cocktail was looking beautiful, then the cream and opalescent Orgeat went in to the mix and transformed it into a somewhat unappealingly cloudy grey/brown soup. Perhaps in retrospect the martini glass was not quite right for this one. Also this one would be better shaken not stirred.

I honestly can’t imagine any circumstance that would normally bring me to order a drink with such a silly name nor any drink with a combination of ingredients more appropriate in a Bakewell tart.

However this goat was confusingly delicious despite its appearance and tasted not at all cloudy nor cloying nor cakey on the palate. In fact it was a bright, tight, yet grownup drink. Neither the anise nor the sweet almond nor the cherry flavours were overly dominant and the brandy backbone lent it just the right amount of structure and depth.

The Last Word

The Last Word

The Last Word is a pre-Prohibition concoction from the Detroit Athletic Club that was rediscovered earlier this century. I am reliably informed by Alessandro that ordering this at a bar sets you apart as a cool young thing so I would recommend this as a particularly enjoyable way to impress your date or, much more importantly, your bartender. The Last Word is a headily attractively combination of sharp, sweet and what I would have to call ‘organic matter’. All the spicy pungency of Chartreuse mellows as it continues to age in the bottle, so this is another cocktail that is only improved by using vintage ingredients. This cocktail has now become my favourite for vintage Chartreuse however prices for vintage bottles can be high so why not experiment with less fashionable vintage herbal liqueurs.

Recipe

1 ounce vintage Green Chartreuse (we used a bottle from the 1970s)

1 ounce vintage London dry gin

1 ounce vintage Maraschino liqueur

1 ounce lime juice

Ice cubes

Alessandro’s top tips

My main recollection (this was our last cocktail of the evening) was that we ran out of lime juice so we had it with lemon juice and we had to use modern Maraschino liqueur as I’d forgotten to bring along the vintage bottle sitting on my desk. The Last Word was one of the favourites on the night.

My own more general learning here is to taste each of the vintage ingredients before building the cocktail. Liqueurs with a high sugar content survive seemingly forever and just mellow with age but a dry vermouth for instance gradually loses its fresh vibrancy and becomes terrifically austere.

Think carefully about your gin. The range of flavour profiles in different brands of vintage gins are every bit as varied as modern gins so some trial and error may be required before you find your personal favourites.

Finally, my preference at home is to pre-batch cocktails and chill them ready for emergencies. If you do this add all the ingredients except the fresh elements, any juice and garnish should be added just before serving.