Like chefs, bartenders spend countless hours each week sourcing top ingredients, perfecting techniques, creating recipes and testing them behind their bars. So after last call or when taking some time off for R&R, they typically reach for drinks that don’t require too much muss or fuss. High quality spirits and fresh ingredients are key, but simplicity reigns.
When traveling, they might go with the local spirit or test the mettle of an unknown barkeep with a classic like a daiquiri or Manhattan. And who knows—sometimes a creative cocktail enjoyed in a new setting will inspire them long after they return.
I asked a few top bartenders I know to share their vacation-inspired drinks of choice, which happen to taste just as great when they’re enjoyed from the comforts of home.
Andrew S. Meltzer’s Strawberry Daiquiri
15 Romolo, San Francisco
“Last February, I was fortunate enough to leave the chilly winds of San Francisco and head to Miami for the 2014 Bacardi Legacy cocktail competition. Our last day in South Beach was spent drinking strawberry daiquiris until the sun set. This is a cocktail that usually doesn’t appeal to snobbish bartenders, but I quickly fell in love and bought a blender when I got home.
This daiquiri is an especially great cocktail for hosts because you can make a batch of 4-6 drinks at one time. This recipe is flexible to other fruits and flavors, and is forgiving enough that a novice drinks-mixer will have difficulty making a bad cocktail. Cheers!”
2 ounces light rum
1 ounce fresh squeezed and strained lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
½ ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar to water), adjust to taste
4-5 frozen or fresh strawberries, tops removed
1 cup cracked ice (no large cubes)
Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Pour into a frozen glass and garnish with sliced strawberries.
Tiffanie Barriere’s Bahama Mama
One Flew South, Atlanta
“I’ve only been out of the country once and it was to the Bahamas for the Minority Chef Summit 2014. In the States, the fruity cocktail Bahama Mama is not the first thing I’d order at a bar, but in the Bahamas, it’s the drink of choice—and it’s yummy! When I arrived, my driver put my luggage in the back, then handed me a Solo cup full of the island’s finest! Bacardi 151 rum, dark rum, coconut and fresh juices never tasted so good!
Now that I’m home, I often drift back to paradise through the glass and make a Bahama Mamma my style: light and dark rum, coffee bitters, fresh orange juice, a splash of coconut water and pineapple juice. This is a tiki-style drink that brings lots of flavors together in a fun and tasty way.”
Bahama Mama OFS Style
1 ounce Bacardi Superior
1 ounce Ron Zacapa
1 ounce fresh orange juice
1 ounce pineapple juice
Splash of coconut water
3 dashes coffee bitters (numerous recipes online or buy El Guapo Chicory-Pecan Bitters)
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake. Double strain over fresh ice. Garnish with an orange wheel. Enjoy barefoot.
Zach Lynch’s Gin Gimlet
Ice Plant bar, St. Augustine
“One drink I always enjoy while on vacation is a well-made gin gimlet—substituting fresh lime for Rose’s lime cordial. This is such a simple cocktail, and after having a few down in Miami to let loose, I’ve decided that it’s also a fun drink to make at home with friends.
Taking such a staple cocktail and adding whatever you want from the herb garden makes it an easy drink to create when relaxing or entertaining at home. It’s even fun to throw on some shaved ice or make a frozen version in a blender. My favorite version has been with thyme.”
2 ½ ounces gin
½ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
1 sprig of thyme, basil or fresh herb of choice (more or less depending on herb)
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or an Old Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a sprig of fresh herb of choice.
Katie Loeb’s Manhattan
Author of Shake, Stir, Pour: Homegrown Cocktails, Philadelphia
“No matter where I travel, I typically order a Manhattan. I can usually get this three-ingredient drink made well.
For me, this drink is all about the proportions, excellent vermouth, good bitters and real—not maraschino—cherries. There are so few ingredients in a Manhattan that once you raise the quality of the three essentials and the garnish, it’s suddenly a drink greater than the sum of its parts.”
2½ ounces bourbon or rye
¾ ounce Carpano Antica vermouth
1 bar spoon of cherry juice from cocktail cherries
2 dashes Angostura bitters
4–5 drops Fee Brothers whiskey barrel–aged bitters (Dispense from an eyedropper—a little goes a long way)
Homemade cocktail cherry
Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice cubes. Stir well. Strain into chilled cocktail/coupe glass to serve straight up, or over fresh ice in a rocks glass to serve on the rocks. Garnish with the cocktail cherry.
Homemade Cocktail Cherries (Makes approximately 1½ pints)
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1½ pounds stem on ripe cherries, rinsed and pitted
2 cups sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
15 cherry pits
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup brandy or cognac
½ cup cherry liqueur (I use Cherry Heering)
½ teaspoon organic vanilla extract
Bring water to boil in a large, shallow saucepan. Add salt. Add cherries, reduce the heat and blanch for 2 minutes. Strain out cherries, reserving poaching liquid. Place cherries in an ice-water bath to stop them from cooking and getting too soft. Strain again and place cherries into a clean, airtight jar
Measure out two cups of the cherry poaching liquid and return to saucepan. Begin heating over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add spices, cherry pits and lemon zest and bring to boil. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 1 hour.
Add brandy, cherry liqueur, and vanilla extract to spiced cherry syrup. Strain the spiced and spiked syrup over the cherries in the jar. Let the cherries age for at least 2 weeks before using. The cherries will soften and take on the flavors of the spices and spirits as they age.
When the cherries are done, they will keep almost indefinitely refrigerated, as long as the liquid in the jar covers the cherries. Cocktail cherries are the perfect garnish for your Manhattans or are delicious muddled into an Old Fashioned.
(Manhattan cocktail photo by Steve Legato, image courtesy of Shake, Stir, Pour: Homegrown Cocktails)