Classic cocktails: popular, timeless and the basis of any great cocktail menu. So, why not put your own twist on these serves? Not only does this allow you to be creative, but it also offers your customers something new and makes your venue stand out! Leading bartender, Ben Potts of Beaker and Gray, Miami, has been shaking up cocktail classics for years, and he gives us the inside scoop on how to create a successful twist on a classic.

In recent years, drinking habits have changed dramatically. Ordering cocktails, especially well-made ones, has seen a relatively recent revival in the beverage world – at least here in the US. Over the last 10 years or so, guests have started ordering Old Fashioneds, Manhattans (without ice crystals), and Negronis. People are a lot more savvy and knowledgeable when it comes to ordering a drink. They know what they want.

Humble beginnings

In the mid-2000s, when I first embarked on my voyage into world of bars, if a customer wanted “something different” you’d douse your shaker with a healthy helping of grenadine to “make it red” and call it a day. Over time, the city started to demand a little more creativity.

On my first shift, I remember being taught the golden ratio that is bestowed upon all young, aspiring cocktail bartenders: two-one-one. The older bartender, who was training me at the time, opened my eyes with one of the simplest iterations of this universal truth with a Daiquiri. He explained you have to balance the sweet with the sour, and that if you change or add ingredients to alter the flavour, that balance must be maintained. From that day, and moving forward through my career, I’ve always applied that maxim to all cocktails.

Shaking it up

Classic cocktails are cocktails that have stood the test of time. They aren’t part of a trend or something that has gone out of fashion; they are simply cocktails with serious staying power. They will always be found somewhere on every good cocktail menu around the globe. The twist on a classic is where each bar is able to put their own individual stamp on a well-known and popular cocktail. This is where the flair of the bartender is shown. The individuality of the twist on the classic allows the customer to try new flavour combinations and possibly new spirits. This is where you get the chance to upsell when creating your serve.

Now, with a renewed confidence in the craft of the cocktail, customers are feeling more adventurous about what they order and from whom. This was, and is, because most of the entry-level cocktails, for new cocktail drinkers, are classics or twists on classics. Twisting a classic is a great way to introduce guests to new spirit combinations and encouraging them to order something they have never tried before. It’s also a great way to expose guests to spirits they might not be familiar with or to a more premium brand that could further enhance the drink. For instance, say you have a house Margarita with your tequila. It’s probably a fantastic drink that your guests order frequently, but let’s say someone wants something different. At my bar, we offer a Margarita variant with passion fruit, Thai chili syrup, and DON JULIO TEQUILA, which is an upsell for us, and it’s ordered almost as often as our house Margarita.

Mastering the twist

A twist can be as simple as a single substitution. For example, take a Negroni and substitute the gin for ZACAPA 23 RUM, from Guatemala, and you have a delicious new cocktail, which some people call The Man About Town. Or, you can add an ingredient or two and change the drink that way. For instance, take a classic martini cocktail, with TANQUERAY LONDON GIN, dry vermouth, and orange bitters, and modify it with a spoonful of a lighter-bodied amaro or fruit liqueur for an interesting alternative. There are also compound substitutions, infusions: the list is endless. Some would even argue that all cocktails are twists on the basic classics. This flexibility allows you to experiment with different flavour profiles to enhance the myriad of spirits we have available. It is important, however, when making twists on classics, or any cocktail for that matter, to ensure the cocktail is balanced after the substitution or addition. For instance, if you substitute orange liqueur for agave in a Tommy’s Margarita, you have to make sure you either decrease the quantity of sweetener or increase the sour to ensure balance is maintained in both the flavour and the level of alcohol. Whatever direction you choose to take with your twists on classics, keep your guest in mind as you try to wow them with your creativity and style.

Martini Italiano

The twist – The original martini cocktail with added liqueur and grapefruit cordial.

40ml TANQUERAY LONDON GIN

15 ml Dry vermouth

15 ml Grapefruit liqueur

15 ml Aperol

2 Dashes grapefruit bitters

(2.9 standard drinks*- 3.6 units per serve)

METHOD

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Garnish with a grapefruit twist

Spicy Maracuya

The twist - The timeless Margarita, replacing the liqueur with Thai chili and adding passion fruit.

40 ml DON JULIO TEQUILA

25 ml Thai chili syrup

15 ml Passion fruit juice

15 ml Lime juice

(1.5 standard drinks*- 1.2 units per serve)

METHOD

Shake all ingredients in a shaker

Strain over regular ice into a garnish-rimmed double rocks glass

Garnish with a lime wheel

Man About Town

The twist - The traditional Negroni, using rum instead of gin.

25 ml ZACAPA 23 RUM

25 ml Liqueur

25 ml Sweet vermouth

(1.7 standard drinks*- 2.3 units per serve)

METHOD

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass

Strain over a large ice cube in a double rocks glass and express the oils

Garnish with an orange peel

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(*One standard drink contains 8g of alcohol)