Classic cocktails stand the test of time and taste

Mar 13, 2016 by Alene Keenan

What exactly is a classic cocktail, and why does it matter to a yacht stew?

Classic cocktails stand the test of time. In the early 1800s a cocktail was defined as any concoction containing “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”

Over time, liqueurs, fortified wines, and various garnishes were added. Interestingly enough, many classics contain ingredients based on old-fashioned remedies for sicknesses that we now cure with injections or pills.

The Martini, Bloody Mary, Old Fashioned, and Mimosa are standards at just about any bar. New recipes and new versions will always be around, but a true “classic” meets a set of criteria to earn that title. Ubiquity, practicality, reputation, and endurance are factors. The drink must have traveled beyond the bar and city where it was invented, it must be relatively easy to make at any decently equipped bar, it must have found wide acceptance, and it must stand the test of time.

Unfortunately, many times owners and guests stick to their tried and true standby drinks. But why not offer them some new options, starting with these 10 standard drinks. Most bars have their “signature” way of preparing these classic drinks so why not experiment and come up with some of your own?

The following 10 cocktails go in and out of fashion, but they always come back into style:

The Cosmopolitan

Popularity of this drink has surged in the last 20-30 years (yes, it has been around longer than some yachties!!) Some people say it was invented in Miami, some say Minneapolis, but most everybody agrees that the addition of citrus vodka is associated with famed Rainbow Room master mixologist, Dale DeGroff, The King of Cocktails, who formalized the recipe in the ‘90s.

The drink was popularized by Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City fame, the rest is history.


Southern Florida is Mojito Territory. White rum, fresh lime juice, fresh mint, a little sugar and a little soda water equals crisp and clean with a relatively low alcohol content. The key to a proper Mojito is to “spank” or slightly crush the mint leaves to unlock just enough of the oil to enhance the drink. Too much crushing adds bitterness to the drink.

Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake himself reached out to indigenous peoples of Cuba in 1586 in search of a cure for dysentery and scurvy. This tropical favorite has been around for a long time. American author, Ernest Hemingway was known to have quite a liking for this drink.

Mai Tai

The Mai Tai is a Polynesian/Hawaiian drink made popular during the height of the Tiki Bar craze in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  It was featured in the Elvis Presley film, Blue Hawaii. There are more than 10 documented recipes of the mixture of light and dark rum, orange curacao, lime juice, and orgeat (almond) syrup. Whether it is credited to Trader Vic’s or Don the Beachcomber,

California is most likely the birthplace of this popular cocktail.

Mint Julep

Bourbon is considered the quintessential American spirit. Like jazz music, it was invented here. Its origins go back to the 18th century. Simple and refined, it is symbolic of the  American South, where bourbon was born. It is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and the version served at Churchill Downs has been around since 1938. About 120,000 are served each year during the Derby. The recipe contains Bourbon, powdered and granulated sugar, plenty of mint and a splash of water.


The national drink of Brazil is claimed to have come from a remedy used to treat the Spanish flu in 1918. Wherever it came from, it is steadily gaining in popularity. Made with Cachacha, a Brazilian sugar cane distillate, some versions of which are over 100-proof, the recipe magically hides all taste of the alcohol. And therein lies the danger, and the seduction—of this drink. The classic recipe is 1 lime, 2 bar spoons of fine sugar, 2 ounces Cachaça.


The Margarita is probably one of the most popular tequila drinks made in the United States.

There are many fruity variations, but it is best at its’ simplest, with fresh lime, tequila, and triple sec. Served with or without salt, and up or on the rocks, its origin traces back to the 1930s or 1940s, somewhere between Tijuana and Ensenada. One story says that it was named after screen siren Rita Hayworth. Her name before she became Rita Hayworth was Margarita Cansino.

Pina Colada

The tropical Pina Colada of white rum, crème of coconut and pineapple juice is one of life’s guilty pleasures. Simple, exquisite, and decadent, this popular, this drink is one to enjoy poolside or even better, oceanside. It was invented at the Beachcomber Bar at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. Since 1978 Puerto Rico has honored the cocktail by celebrating National Pina Colada Day each year on July 10th.

The Manhattan

The Manhattan has been described as complete, complex sophistication in a glass. One of the most classic expressions of American bar culture, it was invented at the Manhattan Club in the 1870s, and comes in 3 versions: Sweet, Dry, and Perfect containing bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and a cherry or lemon for garnish.

Long Island Iced Tea

Long Island Iced Tea is one strong drink that never seems to go out of style. Containing rum, vodka, gin, silver tequila and triple sec, this drink is finished with sweet and sour and topped with cola to give it the color of tea. The origin is debatable, but the earliest known version was in 1920.


The Appletini adds a twist to the classic dry martini. Vodka, not gin is the base, and Apple Schnapps replaces dry vermouth is the complementary spirit. Finished with a bit of sweet and sour and garnished with a slice of green apple, it was featured in the Disney movie, Enchanted. A version made with poisoned apples was presented to the character Giselle in an attempt to harm her.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at and on Contact her at


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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