In the Shaker: What makes a drink 'a twist on a classic'?

Putting a twist on a classic is about a lot more than simply switching the odd ingredient; when it’s done well it’s about a time, a place, a sensibility… Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller pick some of their favourite variations


How many times have you read the phrase ‘a twist on a classic’ on a drinks menu? There’s a reason that we all look at tried-and-true standards, imbue them with our own thoughts, and then send them out off into the world as our personal variation on a classic.

Classics are good. Classics work. But when is a ‘twist on a classic’ a way to explain the way that you make the classic more accessible to your specific audience?

Does everyone agree that The Aviation, presented by Hugo Ensslin in his 1917 tome Recipes for Mixed Drinks, is a classic despite the fact that when Harry Craddock included the drink in his 1930 compilation The Savoy Cocktail Book he forgot to add the essential sky-blue ingredient crème de violette? Well, we think so.

We’ve seen it revived on menus in New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Rio, Athens – you name it. But think about it: Craddock’s unintentional ‘twist on a classic’ also became a classic. There is likely a simple explanation for this: crème de violette was not, and is not, that easy to procure outside of major metropolises. And some people find a hefty splash of maraschino a bit overwhelming.

What we're drinking

We’re busy sipping in the land Down Under this time, and found our way into the Gin Palace in Melbourne, which boasts more than a dozen ways to twist a Martini. This adaptation of Harry Craddock’s Orange Cocktail is a great excuse to revisit how many ways you can enjoy an orange aside from wedges and juice. The gin is infused with orange zest, as well as dry and sweet vermouths, for about a week. Then it’s stirred with Angostura Bitters and garnished with an orange twist, of course.

Rules’ Brian Silva thinks so, and consequently crafted an Aviation Twist that appeals to his own sensibilities as well as those of his discerning clientele.

A twist can involve more than a subtraction or addition of an ingredient. Hidetsugu Ueno of Bar High Five infuses vodka with basic English breakfast tea then shakes it with a teaspoon of tea liqueur (oolong tea liqueur works a treat here).

The real ‘Ueno secret’ is that he rinses the ice in his shaker with four atomiser sprays of bianco vermouth to impart a subtle sweetness and complexity. Yes, it is a twisted classic Vodka Martini, but at the base of its bones, Ueno’s Black Tea Martini is a Vodka Martini, done Tokyo-style.

The White Lady may have started as a noxious mix of Cointreau, crème de menthe and lemon juice crafted by Harry MacElhone before he emigrated from London’s Ciro’s Club to Tod Sloan’s New York Bar in Paris. It was at ‘sanc roo doe noo’ (as the cognoscenti named the place) that MacElhone came to his senses circa the 1920s and presented expat Americans and local Parisians with his frothy gin concoction.

At the base of its bones, Ueno’s Black Tea Martini is a Vodka Martini, done Tokyo-style

Fast-forward to 2009 or so, and the White Lady was twisted into the Earl Grey MarTEAni by Pegu Club doyenne Audrey Saunders. Her version offered New Yorkers the aroma and palate of bergamot citrus with every sip of this creamy gin classic, garnished with a lemon twist. Jared hijacked Audrey’s original recipe a couple of years later, honing it for a London audience by infusing his gin with the multi-citrus complexity of Lady Grey tea and lightly spraying the finished drink with a lemon twist but not sinking the twist into the presentation.

So, when you call your latest creation ‘a twist on a classic’, think about the reasons behind your use of this phrase. If it qualifies, then by all means, enjoy. If not, find another way to explain its close relation to a classic. Who knows? You might have invented a ‘future classic’.

Earl Grey MarTEAni
Adapted from Audrey Saunders, Pegu Club, New York, 2009

Glass: Chilled cocktail glass
Garnish: Lemon twist
Method: Emulsify egg white in a shaker then fill with ice and other ingredients. Shake hard and strain.

45ml Earl Grey tea-infused
Tanqueray Gin
30ml simple syrup
25ml lemon juice
1 egg white

Aviation Twist
Adapted from Brian Silva, Mixing in the Right Circles, 2016

Glass: Chilled cocktail glass
Garnish: Cherry
Method: Shake and strain.

60ml Plymouth Gin
7.5ml fresh lemon juice
5ml Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Black Tea Martini
Adapted from Hidetsugu Ueno, Bar High Five, Tokyo, 2009

Glass: Chilled cocktail glass
Garnish: None
Method: Spray the vermouth over ice cubes in a mixing glass. Add the vodka and tea liqueur, then stir and strain.

45ml English tea-infused vodka
5ml tea liqueur
4 sprays vermouth bianco

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