Here is a trick for remembering hundreds of cocktails: the sour. A sour is a cocktail made from the following recipe:
- 2 oz spirit
- ¾ oz citrus juice
- ¾ oz syrup
Add these to a shaker with ice, shake, and strain into a glass. You can use any spirit, from whiskey to rum to gin; any citrus (usually lemon or lime). You can even use a different syrup rather than plain simple syrup, such as honey syrup, agave, or maple syrup.
You can create all sorts of fantastic drinks from this basic formula. Or you can up the game a bit with one of two enhancements:
Add an egg white
An egg white does two things to the drink. First, it foams up a bit during shaking, adding a thicker, slightly creamy quality to the drink. Second, the proteins in the egg binds to the tannins present in some spirits, such as whiskey, making the flavor smoother. This is why an egg white is added to a Whiskey Sour.
Add a liqueur
Adding a sweet liqueur to a sour is a great way to bring it to the next level (start with ¾ oz and adjust as needed from there). When you do this, you will typically want to reduce the amount of syrup to ¼ oz, or omit it altogether to keep the sweet and sour flavors balanced.
A Margarita is a tequila-lime sour with orange liqueur added. My Tabs vs. Spaces is the same thing but with Green Chartreuse. A Sidecar is a brandy-lemon sour with orange liqueur. And a White Lady is a gin-lemon sour with both orange liqueur and an egg white added.
If you want to invent your own cocktail, a sour is a fantastically easy place to start. Many of the obvious combinations are already well known, but use an unusual syrup flavor or the right liqueur and there’s no telling what you may discover. Maybe you could try gin and lemon with a rosemary syrup, or tequila and grapefruit with syrup made from prickly pear fruit—in fact, those both sound interesting and I may very well give them a shot.