20 Classic Cocktails Every Drinker Should Try

An Introduction to the Finest Cocktails of All Time

Brandy cocktail
Claire Cohen

Some of the best cocktails were created over a century ago. These are the timeless favorites that have tantalized and whetted the palates of generations of drinkers. Remember that martini you enjoyed last night? Imagine a younger version of your grandma sitting down and enjoying that exact same drink!

A Foundation for Great Cocktails

Sure, the modern cocktail scene is filled with many great drinks that will astound and amaze the most refined palates. Yet, these classic cocktails have stood up to...MORE the tests of time, survived Prohibition, and witnessed amazing changes in the booze that is poured into them. We keep going back to them, and for very good reasons: they are simply great drinks.

You will notice that this list is not filled with mixed drinks. No, the majority are "cocktails" in the strictest and most traditional definition.

Follow the recipes in their traditional form, then experiment and tweak them to your own liking. Drinks are not a one-size-fits-all experience and these are simply a foundation that you can use to build a true appreciation for everything the cocktail world has to offer.

  • 01 of 20
    Classic Martini
    Claire Cohen

    The martini is often the first cocktail many people think of when it comes to "fancy" drinks. While many "up" drinks are referred to as "martinis", there is only one original.

    The true dry gin martini is simply comprised of gin and dry vermouth. It often comes with a dash of bitters and either an olive or lemon twist garnish. It is that simple, yet it is a pure delight and a must-have on any drinker's cocktail journey.

  • 02 of 20
    Manhattan
    Claire Cohen

    What the martini is to gin, the Manhattan is to whiskey. It is that simple, but is it really? Whiskey is complicated and many different whiskeys have been poured into a Manhattan over the years.

    Traditionally, it would have been rye whiskey. That fell out of favor (and production) for a large part of the 20th century, so Canadian whisky found its way into many Manhattans. For years, bourbon became the go-to whiskey and today's resurgence of rye gives us a taste of the original.

  • 03 of 20
    Old fashioned
    Claire Cohen

    The old-fashioned is another cocktail that is very simple and a great way to experience different whiskies. It will also introduce you to the bartending technique of muddling and it is more about the process than the ingredients.

    One of the great things about the old-fashioned is that the fruits and spirit are open to adaptation. Using the basic formula, you can put a fun, new twist on this old-time favorite.

  • 04 of 20
    Mint Julep
    Claire Cohen

    Ahh, the mint julep. It is the drink of the Kentucky Derby and one of the best-known bourbon cocktails ever created. Like the old-fashioned, this drink requires muddling mint and simple syrup and features your favorite bourbon.

    How long has the mint julep been around? Cocktail historian David Wondrich has traced it to the American Revolution. All of the details are in the second edition of his book, "Imbibe!" and this revelation may just make the julep the oldest cocktail.

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  • 05 of 20
    Mojito
    Claire Cohen

    If rum is more your style, grab your muddler and mix up a refreshing mojito. This classic drink is much like the julep and it's been enjoyed by rum fans since before Prohibition.

    The mojito is easy to make and everyone puts their own spin on it. However you go about it, it's hard to resist that tempting combination of muddled lime and mint on a hot summer day.

  • 06 of 20
    Margarita
    Claire Cohen

    Everyone has heard of the margarita and, like the martini, it now comes in every color and flavor imaginable. The classic recipe is far simpler than many of its modern variations and there's no need to dust off the blender. 

    The traditional margarita is served up and made simply of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. If you really want to appreciate tequila in a truly impressive drink, then take a moment to enjoy the ultimate margarita experience.

  • 07 of 20
    Daiquiri cocktail
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    Similar to the margarita in style, age, and the number of variations available, the classic daiquiri is an excellent drink for any occasion. In its original form, it requires just three ingredients and is one of the best ways to test out a new rum.

    The daiquiri is thought to be from the late 1800s. It was likely created in Cuba to "doctor up" the local rum and served as a medicinal drink. It has remained popular all these years and has had many dedicated fans, including Ernest Hemingway.

  • 08 of 20
    Tom Collins Cocktail
    S&C Design Studios

    Straight from the pages of the first bartending guide, the Tom Collins is one of the few highballs among the must-have classics. It's a drink that has stood the tests of time and is a great way to show off your favorite gin.

    Traditionally made with an old style of gin like Old Tom, Plymouth, or genever, this drink can be poured with any style of gin you like. If you prefer, the collins family of drinks also includes whiskey, vodka, tequila, or rum. They're all fantastic and refreshing.

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  • 09 of 20
    Classic Martinez Cocktail - Gin Martini Recipes
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    ​When we're talking about the great gin cocktails, the Martinez is at the top of the list. This classic actually predates the martini and is often thought to be the grandfather of its more popular counterpart.

    The Martinez is incredibly simple and if the martini is too dry for your taste, this is a recipe you'll want to try. It combines a premium gin with sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur, giving it a deep, semi-sweet flavor with just a hint of cherry.

  • 10 of 20
    Brandy cocktail
    Claire Cohen

    The brandy cocktail is a perfect example of the "original" cocktails. "The Balance and Columbian Repository" of 1806 defined a cocktail as "...a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters."

    In the early days of the bar, you would order a "cocktail" by the spirit—brandy cocktail, whiskey cocktail, gin cocktail—using a liquor, orange liqueur, and bitters formula. The brandy version is a nice introduction to this classic mix.

  • 11 of 20
    The Classic Brandy Daisy Cocktail
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    The daisy family of cocktails is another classic formula in which you can change up the base spirit. While you might enjoy a whiskey or gin daisy, the brandy daisy remains a favorite.

    Brandy is, of course, the centerpiece of the recipe, though this one does add a hint of rum. In classic daisy form, you'll also pour curaçao, simple syrup, and lemon juice before topping it with soda. It's quite fascinating.

  • 12 of 20

    Sidecar

    Classic Sidecar Cocktail Recipe
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    If you browse any number of classic bartending guides, you will notice that sour drinks were very popular back in the day. These were simple mixes that found that perfect balance of sweet and sour.

    Among the most famous of sours is the sidecar, a classic brandy cocktail, though some people prefer to pour whiskey instead. This one may have come from the World War I era and you can think of it as a margarita for brandy.

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  • 13 of 20
    Classic Whiskey Sour Cocktail with a cherry
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    Whiskey has its own sour recipe and it's just as easy and invigorating as any other. Like the sidecar, it uses lemon for the tart taste, though this recipe prefers simple syrup rather than an orange liqueur.

    The whiskey sour is the ideal venue for your favorite whiskey and an excellent way to sample new brands. If you want to give it a luscious mouthfeel, shake an egg white into the mix.

  • 14 of 20
    Sazerac
    Claire Cohen

    The Sazerac may not be for everyone for the simple fact that it includes absinthe, which adds an underlying anise flavor. Despite this, it's highly recommended that everyone try a Sazerac at least once.

    The best Sazerac experiences happen when the drink finds that perfect balance between a great rye whiskey and the absinthe. It is a very simple drink and one of the famous cocktails of New Orleans. In 2008, it even became the official cocktail of the city.

  • 15 of 20
    New Orleans Fizz
    Claire Cohen

    Another popular cocktail from the "Big Easy," the New Orleans fizz (or Ramos gin fizz) dates back to the "Golden Age" of cocktails. It was once so popular that during the 1915 Mardi Gras celebration, 35 shaker boys worked at one time to fill orders at the creator's bar.

    The fizz is a popular style of drink and this recipe is a great introduction to the qualities that eggs bring to cocktails. It creates a rich, creamy, frothy drink that is simply delicious.

  • 16 of 20
    Corpse reviver No. 2
    Claire Cohen

    The early bar had a series of cocktails that came to be known as corpse revivers. These were designed by crafty barmen to help their ailing patrons come back to life after a night of too much revelry.

    A number of those original recipes are long gone and forgotten, but a few have held on through the years. The corpse reviver no. 2 is now the most popular of this classic lot of drinks. If you are looking for a complex, truly elegant gin cocktail, this is it.

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  • 17 of 20
    The Champagne Classic French 75 Cocktail
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    Hints of those sours make an appearance in one the best-known Champagne cocktails. This recipe was inspired by the French military and brought home by American GI's after World War I.

    The French 75 is as delightful as it is simple, The recipe combines gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice for a classic sour base. Yet, it's when the Champagne hits this mix that things really begin to sparkle.

  • 18 of 20
    Classic Negroni Cocktail Recipe
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    Many classic cocktails were designed as aperitifs, to be savored prior to a meal. Among the best of these are recipes that feature the unforgettable Italian bitter known as Campari.

    The Negroni is arguably the most famous of all Campari cocktails. This simple mix of equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth has been making fine dining even finer since the 1920s.

  • 19 of 20
    Brandy Alexander Cocktail
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    If you think that yummy, creamy cocktails are a modern infatuation, you haven't met the Alexander. You might call this the grandfather of all those tempting chocolate martinis, though this recipe is definitely a classic.

    Originally a gin cocktail, the mix of crème de cacao and cream was eventually dominated by brandy. Today, we can enjoy the delicious brandy Alexander along with any dinner dessert and get a blast from the past.

  • 20 of 20
    Bronx Cocktail
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    You will notice a lack of fruity drinks among the classics and most stick to accents of lemon or lime juice. That makes a recipe like the Bronx cocktail a little more unusual and special within the lexicon of old-fashioned drinks.

    The easiest way to remember the Bronx recipe is to think of it as a perfect martini with orange juice. It's an amazing blend of flavors and it may surprise you that the bartender who created it didn't drink himself.

Wait... Where's the Vodka?

You may have noticed that there is not a single vodka cocktail in this list and there is a very good reason for that.

The bar grew up in America and early bartenders did not use vodka like we do today. In fact, many of them may not have even heard of it. Vodka did not become a hit in America until the 1930s and 40's when drinks like the white Russian and Moscow mule hit the bar scene. Even then, vodka didn't become really popular for a few decades.

Brandy, gin, rum, and whiskey were the base liquors of the original bar. Even tequila was not widely available and the margarita (dating to around 1938) was not common outside of areas near Mexico unless a tourist brought the idea of the drink home.