Difford's 20 best cocktails

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Words by:
Photography by: Caricature by Jill DeGroff

I’ve over 360 of my own recipes on this website (around 10% of all drinks) and I’m the first to admit that some are better than others - some I created over 20 years ago.

The following are the ones I’m proudest of. Please email me with your own 20 best recipes and I’ll publish the best collections here on Difford’s Guide (simon@diffordsguide.com)

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Bermondsey Minute
With: Tequila, vermouth di Torino, maraschino liqueur and lavender syrup
We say: Tequila and lavender are a match made in heaven, made more complex with herbal wine notes from the vermouth, aromatised by delicately fruity maraschino cherry.

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Perfectly Straight Blood & Sand
With: Scotch, Islay single malt, cherry brandy liqueur, kirschwasser, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and orange juice.
We say: I'm usually a maximum of five ingredients in a cocktail kind-a-guy but this Blood & Sand riff with seven ingredients is balanced and tasty. If I were in Asia, where the number eight is lucky, then I'd have also used equal parts orange juice and blood orange juice to keep the number of ingredients lucky.

With: Scotch soured with lime (works better than lemon) and sweetened with a touch of chocolate liqueur.
We say: Created after mistakenly taking a bottle of Scotch from the speed well to make a Mulata Daiquiri. It proved a tasty mistake.

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Reversed Vesper & Tonic
With: Gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc, Becherovka liqueur, pomegranate syrup and tonic water.
We say: James Bond named his favourite style of Martini after the beautiful Russian agent Vesper Lynd. This version is 'Reversed' due to the dramatically increased ratio of Lillet Blanc. Fittingly my drink mixes east and west ingredients with the introduction of Becherovka. And where there is Becherovka there should be tonic water.

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Sandy the Showgirl
With: Añejo tequila, mezcal, maraschino liqueur, agave syrup and lavender bitters.
We say: Inspired by Neil Young's 1969 song about a promiscuous woman, Cow Girl In The Sand.

Smokey Joe
With: Sake, cognac, Islay single malt and dessert wine.
We say: Sake sweetened with Sauternes and flavoured with cognac and Islay whisky.

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Special Brew Martini
With: Vodka, aromatised wine, sake and absinthe.
We say: Hopefully it's 'Special'! 'Brew' refers to both the use of Byrrh (pounced beer) and sake (which is brewed). To be a true 'Martini' a cocktail should have both gin and vermouth - we tried gin but vodka worked so much better. Byrrh doesn't qualify as a vermouth as while an aromatised wine it lacks wormwood - an omission made up for in this drink with a dash of absinthe.

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Dublin Minstrel
With: Irish whiskey, Chartreuse Green, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
We say: A riff on the classic Last Word cocktail substituting Irish whisky for gin. Named after Frank Fogarty, a vaudeville performer known as the The Dublin Minstrel. Fogarty is referenced in Ted Saucier's 1951 Bottoms Up! book as introducing the Last Word to the Detroit Athletic Club around 1920 and is possibly who the Last Word was originally named after.

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Suzie Cocktail
With: Pisco, gentaine liqueur, pineapple juice, sauvignon blanc wine and sugar syrup.
We say: Pisco, pineapple and Sauvignon Blanc wine are a match made in heaven, while Suze provides complex underlying gentian bittersweet notes.

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There It Is...
With: Scotch, jenever, maraschino liqueur and blood orange juice.
We say: Genever is basically a blend of whiskey and gin and in this drink combines wonderfully with Scotch as a base to which maraschino and blood orange flavour and lengthen.

Velvet Threesome
With: Calvados, cognac, pisco, Licor 43 and dry vermouth.
We say: A trio of brandies with a dash of herbal vanilla, rounded with vermouth.

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Reggatta de Blanc
With: Pisco, calvados, sauvignon blanc wine, gentaine liqueur and sugar syrup.
We say: "White Reggae" was the second, and seminal, album by the English rock band The Police. The album's French name reflects the heavy influence of the country's products in this cocktail. Happily for approval by my naming committee (Paloma), most of the ingredients are also decidedly "Blanc".

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Spanish Eyes
With: Reposado tequila, aromatised wine, pacharan, mezcal, orange juice and chocolate bitters:
We say: Reminiscent of a Mexican Blood & Sand, refreshing and complex. Why Spanish eyes? Tequila distillers speak Spanish, Byrrh is made close to the Spanish boarder, pacharan is very Spanish, as are the best oranges. Plus my misses is half Spanish so has brown eyes and this drink is brownish.

Smokestack Lightning
With: Reposado tequila, Islay single malt, agave syrup and lime juice.
We say: Margarita-like with a wisp of Islay smoke.

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Damn It Jimmy
With: Sake, light white rum, fino sherry, dry vermouth and sugar syrup.
We say: Delicately flavoured and ever so slightly sweet.

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Left Bank Martini
With: Gin, elderflower liqueur, Chablis and dry vermouth.
We say: An aromatic, dry blend. Modern bartending convention would suggest that this drink should be stirred. However, it's much better shaken. Go easy with the spray of lime zest oils - this delicate drink is easily over powered with any more than a fine mist.

Dry Ice Martini
With: Vodka, dry vermouth and Canadian icewine.
We say: Icewine has fabulously rich concentrated flavours due to being made using grapes frozen on the vine in Canada's harsh and early winters. Thanks to Icewine, despite the name, this Martini is slightly honeyed rather than being bone dry.

With: Cognac, bourbon elderflower liqueur, absinthe and egg white.
We say: The name is a reference to the Parisian district of St-Germain lying on the left bank of the River Seine and also a nod to the use of absinthe and its pre-war ban in France, partly due to the belief that it induced insanity.

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Wood Sap & Sand
With: Mint leaves, Scotch whisky, mastiha liqueur, sweet vermouth and orange juice.
We say: Fresh and refreshing Greek mastiha replaces cherry liqueur in this riff on the classic Blood & Sand.

The Cornichon
With: Blanco tequila, amontillado sherry, Grand Marnier, dry vermouth, chile liqueur and cranberry juice.
We say: A cornucopia of flavours with which to get pickled.

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