It's holiday party time, and that means lots of festive cocktails to cheer in the season.
To keep things simple and classy, it's best to make -- or order -- one of a few signature drinks, says Derrick Turner, head bartender at Harding's, an upscale restaurant and bar in New York City.
The Old Fashioned
The first is an Old Fashioned. It's easy to make, and only takes 4 ingredients.
Start with a sugar cube, 5 dashes of Angostura bitters, and a little soda water. Make a nice little paste in your glass, then "get your muddler, just muddle it out" until you get granulation, Turner says.
Don't have a muddler? No worries: Just use a teaspoon of granulated sugar instead of the cube.
Add 2 ounces of bourbon, stir, and you're done.
It's perfect for a night with your buddies, Turner says. "Nice dinner, nice steak, Old Fashioned."
The Manhattan is a bit more complicated than an Old Fashioned, but it's an elegant, classic drink, says Turner.
To make one at home, take 3 dashes of Angostura and 3 dashes of Peychaud's bitters, then put in a half ounce of sweet vermouth, and 2 ounces of rye whiskey.
Just be sure to use quality liquor, Turner advises. The drink is spirit-heavy so "you taste your vermouth, you taste your rye," he says. "You taste everything."
The Tom Collins is "the best drink you can make that's most versatile in my opinion," says Turner.
It's a simple mix of a half ounce of simple syrup, a half ounce of lemon juice, 2 ounces of gin, and soda water.
But you can do anything to a Tom Collins, Turner says. You can add lavender or mint. Instead of regular syrup, try agave or honey. Or trade lemon juice for something seasonal like blood orange. Let strawberries macerate at the bottom and you have a Strawberry Tom Collins. Add champagne and it's a French 75. Garnish with cherry, a lemon, or both.
"It's a fun cocktail to know," he says. "You can really play with [it]."
It's great for gentlemen or ladies, and you can drink it with a straw, Turner says. It's "lemonade on steroids."
The Vesper is an easy drink to make, and handy to know, says Turner. It's "the yang to the yin of the Manhattan," he says. "Keeping this cocktail in your back pocket is always a sure way to impress your guest."
Just combine 3/4 ounce of vodka, 2 ounces of gin and a 1/2 ounce of Lillet Blonde in a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon peel and you're done.
It's "almost too good, too simple, to be so damn tasty," he says.