Mixology masterclass: classic cocktails that every gin lover should know


In the vast and tasty landscape of spirits, few hold as much allure and versatility as gin. Its botanical infusion of juniper berry, coriander seed, angelica root, and citrus provide a distinctive flavour profile that is the foundation for countless cocktails. From tried-and-true classics to innovative blends, gin cocktails have woven themselves into the fabric of mixology. They feature on menus across the globe, and bars dedicated to the spirited elixir have become a standalone category. So, pull up a bar stool and settle in as we explore three classic gin cocktails with insights from Cassandra Eichhoff, one of South Africa’s top mixologists and the director of Cape Town’s European Bartender School.

The classic Martini

No discussion about gin cocktails is complete without paying homage to the iconic Martini. It’s deceptively simple, yet it requires a skilled hand. Since its inception, the Martini has been synonymous with sophistication and 007-like refinement. Like many cocktail origin stories, its exact history is murky at best. But what is agreed upon is that the Martini is an evolution of a gold-rush-era Martinez, which in turn was an evolution of the mighty Manhattan.

With just gin, dry vermouth, and an optional dash of bitters, there’s no room to hide in a classic Martini. The ratios must be perfect, the ingredients should be well chilled, and it should always be garnished with a lemon twist. And lastly, contrary to Mr Bond’s famous order, a Martini should always be stirred instead of shaken to prevent excessive dilution.

Cassandra’s top tip: the Martini is designed to be consumed at a cold temperature. The secret to a great Martini is temperature and dilution control.

The Italian legend

Cocktail trends come and go, but the Negroni never seems to go out of style. For over 100 years, it’s been the drink of choice for everyone, from royalty and socialites to cocktail connoisseurs and barflies. It’s a complex cocktail with just the right balance of spicy, bittersweet, and herbaceous flavours, and the recipe is the same as it was over a century ago.

As the story goes, the Italian Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender at his local haunt for a twist on his usual Americano. He instructed the bartender to replace the Americano’s soda water with gin and garnish it with an orange slice instead of the usual lemon. The bartender obliged, the Negroni was born, and cocktail history was made. The secret to a Negroni is its equal-parts formula of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. It’s a classic recipe that’s spawned many a cocktail as well as endless riffs on the original Negroni.

Cassandra’s top tip: find out what the customer prefers and then tweak the ratios based on their palate. Along with temperature and dilution control, the perfect Negroni should be stirred with an orange zest expressed over the drink but garnished with an orange slice that serves as a snack at the end of the drink.

The timeless thirst-quencher

Remember earlier when we spoke about the many murky origin stories of cocktails? Well, the Tom Collins sets a new bar. Legend has it that this gin-infused classic started life as a John instead of a Tom. It was first mixed as a punch bowl by a man aptly named John Collins. Ol’ John worked as a waiter at London’s Limmer’s Hotel during the 1820s when punch was all the rage. Another legend says the inventor was a foul-mouthed American named Stephen Price, who ran another bar further down the road.

To confuse things even more, the John Collins was traditionally made with a sweeter style of gin called Old Tom. So, John Collins eventually became known as Tom Collins, and to confuse things even further, a modern-day John Collins is now made with bourbon. Wait, what now? But apart from all that, the Tom Collins is a blend of everything that makes cocktails good – sweet, sour, spirit, and soda. The Tom Collins might not be as trendy as some modern-day cocktails, but for those in the know, Ol’ Tom will always have a place amongst the cocktail greats.

Cassandra’s top tip: a great Tom Collins is made with chilled ingredients and should have the perfect amount of dilution before it’s topped up with soda water.

Bar wisdom from a mixologist

We were lucky enough to get Cassandra’s thoughts on gin’s enduring legacy. She says, “Gin made a huge comeback over the last decade due to its rich history and versatile mixing abilities. It’s not a heavily regulated spirit, meaning the distillers can truly express their craftsmanship and artisanal approach to the production process. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the gin category grow from mass-production to small-batch focus and associate its flavours with a worldwide range of botanicals, shifting the focus from juniper-forward gins to expressions that highlight local ingredients like African fynbos. Gin’s versatility appeals to both bartenders and consumers, as it offers a diverse array of taste experiences.”

Hendrick’s perfect serve

Speaking of taste experiences, Hendrick’s has been producing some of the world’s finest gin since 1886. It’s known for its unique infusion of cucumber and rose petals, which create an elegant and refreshing gin. A Hendrick’s G&T is always made with the finest tonic water, plenty of ice, and three thinly sliced rounds of cucumber. According to Cassandra, Hendrick’s was one of the first brands to introduce the rose and cucumber combination, and was the driving force behind the popular afternoon teatime gin trend.


As you can see, classic gin cocktails are more than just drinks; they’re windows into history, culture, and craftsmanship. So, whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or a curious newcomer, raise a glass to the timeless art of mixology and the endless possibilities of gin.

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