Jeffrey Morgenthaler offers up his take on “modern classic” cocktails, as well as an example of one.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is Food Republic’s contributing cocktail editor and the author of the column Easy Drinking. He currently manages the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of  The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique .

One of the hot buzz terms in writing about cocktails these days is “modern classic.” It’s thrown around like pretty much every other worthless term you see when you read about drinks on the Internet. You know, like “master mixologist” or “bespoke cocktails.”

But what makes a modern classic, anyway? Well, I’d venture to throw out a few criteria. First, the drink has to be well known; if the thing is obscure or limited to one region of the world, I’d hardly think it warrants being called a classic. I’d also propose that the drink needs to have a simple, recognizable name. It’s crazy how many people forget that. And then there’s the most important criterion I think the term requires: The drink needs to be able to be made in pretty much any bar in the world. It needs to be flexible, so the proportions can be slightly altered, either intentionally or through simple ineptitude.

There are a few out there that I’d submit for the title of “modern classic.” The Penicillin by Sam Ross comes to mind. The Espresso Martini by Dick Bradsell is another one. And then there’s my favorite West Coast modern classic out there: the Jasmine, by Paul Harrington. Released into the wild at the Townhouse Bar & Grill in Emeryville, California, in the mid-’90s, the drink quickly took on a life of its own through the power of the (now-defunct) Cocktail Time section of the Hotwired website. Here’s the recipe:

The Jasmine cocktail fits all of Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s criteria for being called a modern classic.

Jasmine 
By Paul Harrington

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounce gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce Campari

Directions:

  1. Combine ingredients and shake with ice cubes. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

A fine drink, and certainly one with all of the modern-classic requirements. And as we’ll see, it steps up to the plate with a recipe that can be intentionally altered. I feel strongly that a modern-classic cocktail should be able to give a little here and there and still be recognizable. We should take a look at a couple of examples of how extensible the Jasmine is.

Robert Hess, aka DrinkBoy, looked at Harrington’s recipe and thought — just as I did — that the drink is pretty damn sour. That’s a lot of lemon juice to stand up to just a teaspoon and a half each of Cointreau and Campari.

So Hess made some adjustments to the Jasmine and applied some classic proportions to the drink. The result is not simply sweeter, but also delivers the drink through the mid-palate and bumps up the Campari at the same time. It’s an amped-up version of Harrington’s Jasmine: a big, bold, grapefruity cocktail that punches you in the face with citrus. It’s still a Jasmine; it’s just a Jasmine on steroids.

Jasmine 
By Paul Harrington, adapted by Robert Hess

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Combine ingredients and shake with ice cubes. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

I spent a few years using Hess’s version of the Jasmine, as I found my more adventurous guests really liked the big dose of Campari. And then I read an interview somewhere in which Harrington mentioned that he’d used the Pegu Club Cocktail as a sort of blueprint to riff off of when creating the Jasmine. That kind of stuck with me because I’d been getting very interested in the Pegu Club at the time, as it’s in the same family as the White Lady and the Sidecar.

So I took Harrington’s Jasmine and Hess’s Jasmine, made my own adjustments to the drink along the lines of the ones I’d made to the Pegu Club and voilà: a classic gin sour touched with just a hint of bitter Campari.

Jasmine 
By Paul Harrington, adapted by Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounce gin
1 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon Campari

Directions:

  1. Combine ingredients and shake with ice cubes. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

It may not be exactly as Harrington intended, but as I said, one of the defining characteristics of a modern-classic cocktail is its ability to stand up to being tweaked and altered while still maintaining its identity. I just hope I was able to make Paul and Robert proud.

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