We live in the era of Bloody Mary and Mimosa hegemony. Our morning drinking options are scarce, reduced to a few perfectly fine (and perfectly boring) brunch cocktails that will give a pleasant enough buzz and little else. It was not always thus. In 19th-century Manhattan, sporting men would start their days with strong helpings of rye whiskey or absinthe. In 1920s London, Prohibition-fleeing ex-pats would gulp down industrial strength pick-me-ups with their bangers and eggs. To this day, Italian signores savor the bitter slap of amaro liqueurs along with their expertly drawn doppios.
Still, morning drinking is a perilous pursuit. A responsible drinker wants to be both soothed and invigorated by a pre-noon libation. He wants a cure for his hangover and a blastoff into the day. He does not, under any circumstance, want to end up in a stupor.
So how do you strike that careful balance? What cocktails best promote the joys of early-in-the-day boozing while steering clear of its ugliest excesses? In order to profile six great morning drinks, we consulted with two of the best: Jack McGarry, bar manager of New York's The Dead Rabbit, and Tom Macy, head bartender at Brooklyn's Clover Club. At last month's Tales of the Cocktail awards in New Orleans (the Oscars of the mixed-drink industry), McGarry walked away with International Bartender of the Year honors and Macy's bar was named Best American Cocktail Bar. Both can conjure the intricate, arcane drinks that populate 19th-century mixology manuals. And both know that sometimes the most satisfying drinks are the simplest, most familiar, and least pretentious.
Here, five of McGarry's and Macy's morning-cocktail picks and a wild-card choice of our own.
One could argue that the oft-ignored sherry cobbler is the most important mixed drink in American history. For much of the 1800s, it was the most popular drink in the country, and its novel requirements – that it be served cold in a tall glass with muddled fruit – brought about the popularity of the drinking straw, the cocktail shaker, and the iced drink. It's also sweet, highly drinkable, and, if made with any skill, delicious.
"It was the Cosmopolitan of its day," McGarry says. "It's a beautifully light drink for brunch-style cocktails, and I always like starting off lighter and moving to the heavier stuff later in the day." At the Dead Rabbit, McGarry makes an updated version of the drink that includes Jasmine tincture, grated nutmeg, and Cremant di limoux, but it still hues to the fantastically straightforward outline of the drink: sherry, a little bit of sugar, some muddled fruit, and crushed ice. McGarry uses Barbadillo Fino sherry, but any dry fino sherry should do.
• 3 oz dry fino sherry
• 2 muddled lemon wedges
• 1/2 oz simple syrup or Demerara sugar
Credit: Getty Images
Strain over crushed ice in a Collins glass. Garnish lavishly with fruit – a lemon wheel, cherries, a pineapple stick, and an orange slice are good options.