Mix your own classic cocktails this summer with recipes from one of Australia’s best bartenders. Anton Forte of Sydney’s Shady Pines Saloon serves up the world’s best cocktails for SBS Food.
Debbie Elkind

1 Dec 2013 - 3:54 PM  UPDATED 17 Dec 2013 - 4:15 PM

The origin of the term cocktail is still widely debated, as are the details of its first published usage, although most reports place it around the start of the 18th century. What we can be sure of is that people all over the world have been happily mixing their drinks for centuries. One early definition, in an American magazine, stated that a cocktail is "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters", a description that more or less holds to this day.

Ironically, the popularity of cocktails increased with the prohibition of alcohol, bringing with it as it did the need to disguise the taste of poorly produced illegal "hooch". Many of our best loved cocktails were invented during this era and flourished in the illegal bars and clubs of major American cities.

"America somewhat single-handedly took up a lot of those great classic drinks, as a result of people trying to disguise horrible bootleg liquor," says Anton Forte, co-owner of the Sydney’s ultra hip American-styled Shady Pines Saloon and Time Out Sydney’s 2010 Bartender of the Year.

"However, there was a whole culture of cocktails and the cocktail hour long before then, with Jerry Thomas publishing The Bon Vivant’s Companion in 1862," he adds.

Thomas, an American bartender, is sometimes referred to as "the father of American mixology", thanks to this seminal work, which helped popularise not only cocktails, but the creative role of the bartender.

"It covers a lot of the early classic cocktails and has a really interesting outlook on how to serve and bartend. It’s really fun for a bartender to look back on now," says Forte.

"Another really influential guy was David A. Embury who wrote The Fine Art of Mixing Cocktails in 1948, which has some super-cool interesting reading in it and a bunch of great classics, including some of the post-Prohibition era classic cocktails."

"More recently, Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology is the modern-day bible for someone like myself – there’s just so much crafty, interesting stuff in there."

When it comes to creating your own cocktails, Forte points out that almost all cocktails are based on a mixture of "some sort of spirit, something sour, and a sweetener’"

"That formula is a really simple way of coming up with great drinks, so long as you don’t get silly and put too much in there. I look at it like Italian food – you always have three great ingredients that shine and keep it simple."

Alternatively, try one of his fantastic recipes for classic cocktails from around the world. "All of these are pretty simple for people to make and involve ingredients you can buy easily. Plus, they’re all delicious."





Caipirinhas, the national cocktail of Brazil, were once virtually unknown outside the nation. However, the drink has become more popular and widely available in recent years, in large part due to the exportation of first rate brands of cachaça.


Singapore Sling

This extravagant cocktail was developed in 1915 by a bartender at the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Scribbled notes for the original recipe are still on display today at the Raffles Hotel Museum.



Mojitos were a favourite drink of Ernest Hemingway and he was a regular patron of La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba, which is credited as the cocktail’s birthplace.



One of the earliest mentions of the Negroni came from the famous filmmaker Orson Welles, when he wrote about the new cocktail in the Coshocton Tribune, saying, "The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other."


Pina Colada

The official beverage of Puerto Rico since 1978, it is claimed that this cocktail originated in the 1800s, when the legendary Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi gave a mixture of coconut juice, pineapple and white rum to his crew.


Pisco Sour

Since 2003, Peru has celebrated a National Pisco Sour Day on the first Saturday of February. When the Peruvian National Anthem is played all Pisco Sours must be finished as a mark of respect.


French 75

Created at Harry’s New York Bar and popularised at the legendary Stork Club, this drink was said to have such a kick it was like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm howitzer artillery piece, also known as a 75 Cocktail in France.


Mint Julep

The mint julep has been promoted in association with the Kentucky Derby since 1938. Each year, an estimated 120,000 juleps are served over the two-day period of the derby.


Pimm's Cup

James Pimm, the owner of a London oyster bar in London, invented Pimm’s in 1823. The original drink was a gin-based drink featuring quinine and a secret mixture of herbs and was served in a small tankard known as a No.1 cup.