10 Classic Cocktails You Must Try

An Introduction to the Finest Cocktails of All Time

Dirty Martini on Bar with Bottles in Background
Eric Hood / Getty Images

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!

Sure, the modern cocktail scene is filled with great drinks that will astound and amaze the most refined palates. These classic cocktails, however, have stood up to the tests of time, survived...MORE Prohibition and seen amazing changes in the booze that is poured into them.

For very good reasons, we keep going back to them. They are simply great drinks!

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

A Foundation for Great Cocktails

While only 10 of the best drinks have been chosen, this is only a beginning. There are many more classic recipes that deserve to be on this list, we just have to start somewhere. If by chance, you have yet to dive into the classic cocktail scene, these will give you a taste of what to expect.

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 scene has to offer.

  • 01 of 10
    Classic Gin Martini with Olives
    Few cocktails will beat the classic Gin Martini. Cappi Thompson/Moment/Getty Images

    The Martini is often the first cocktail many people think of when it comes to "fancy" drinks. While many 'up' drinks are typically referred to as 'martinis' and come in every color and flavor imaginable, there is only one original.

    The true Dry 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!

    There are many variations on this simple drink, including a Dirty Martini and Vo...MOREdka Martini. Of course, there is also that matter of how 'dry' you want your Martini, which is up to your personal preference.

    Similar cocktails to try:

  • 02 of 10
    Classic Manhattan Cocktail
    Pick up your favorite whiskey (rye, bourbon, Canadian, whatever) and mix up a Manhattan tonight. Photo Courtesy: © Shannon Graham

    What the Martini is to gin, the Manhattan is to whiskey. It is that simple, but is it really? Whiskey is complicated and you can only imagine how 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 whiskey found its way into many Manhattans. When bourbon got a boost in the last half of the century, it became the go-to whiskey. Now that...MORE rye's back, many fans are rediscovering the original Manhattan. (Like I said, it's complicated!)

    Beyond the base spirit, the Martini's dry vermouth is swapped out for sweet vermouth and a cherry is a customary garnish for a Manhattan. When you can make one of these first two drinks well you should have no problem making the other.

    Again, the Manhattan can be made to order depending on your preference and it is a staple cocktail for tasting new whiskeys.

    Similar cocktails to try:

  • 03 of 10
    Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail Recipe
    It's simple, yes, but the classic Old-Fashioned cocktail is one of the best ways to enjoy a great whiskey. DAJ/Getty Images

    The Old-fashioned is another cocktail that is very simple and a great way to experience different whiskeys. Consider this an essential to completing a well-rounded cocktail repertoire.

    This cocktail will also introduce you to the bartending technique of muddling because this cocktail is more about the process than the ingredients. You begin by muddling sugar, bitters and a slice of orange, then add ice and bourbon and stir the mix.

    While some people prefer finishing the Old-fashioned with club...MORE soda, traditionalists skip that touch. Think of this more as a way to dress up whiskey rather than building a mixed drink.

    One of the great things about the Old-fashioned is that the fruits and spirit are open to adaptation. Just follow the basic formula and have fun with it!

    Here are a few examples:

  • 04 of 10
    Brandy Cocktail
    The Brandy Cocktail is a true classic and a perfect example of the 'original' cocktails. Photo Courtesy: © Shannon Graham

    The Brandy Cocktail in this list because it is a good 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."

    Back in the early days of the bar, you would order a "cocktail" by spirits such as a Brandy Cocktail, Whiskey Cocktail or Gin Cocktail. The basic formula for these was: spirit, orange liqueur, bitters.

    The orange liqueur would be the...MORE 'sugar' element and shake or stir with ice would add the 'water'. It is a nice introduction to the most classic of all cocktails and a fine way to enjoy any high-end liquor.

    Similar cocktails to try:

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10
    A Fresh Margarita
    A fresh-made Margarita is easier than you may think and it's far better than those bottled margaritas. Fuse / Getty Images

    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 counterparts and there is no blender needed. Some drinkers (myself included) would even say that it is the best 'margarita' you will ever have!

    The traditional Margarita is served up and made simply of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. That's it!

    Why do I include it here when you've likely already had a Margarita?...MORE To encourage everyone to make one from scratch! This cocktail is one of the most abused drinks out there and I cringe every time I see one of those bottles of "margarita mix" walking out the liquor store.

    If you really want to appreciate tequila in a really great drink, then take a moment to enjoy the ultimate Margarita experience!

    You will also find that the original Daiquiri has been dealt a similar fate and I encourage you to revisit this classic as well.

    More simple tequila cocktails to try:

  • 06 of 10
    Classic Sazerac Cocktail
    The Sazerac is back! A little rye whiskey and a touch of absinthe are required. Kevin O'Mara/Moment/Getty Images

    The Sazerac may not be for everyone for the simple fact that it includes absinthe that adds an underlying anise flavor (though it is minimal). Despite this fact, I encourage everyone to try a Sazerac at least once in their drinking life.

    The best Sazerac experiences happen when the drink finds that perfect balance between a great rye whiskey and absinthe. The absinthe is only used to rinse the glass, so it is not overwhelming.

    Beyond that aspect, the Sazerac is made in a very similar manner to the...MORE Old-fashioned. A sugar cube is saturated with bitters, smashed, then the whiskey is stirred in and the drink is strained into the rinsed glass.

    It is a very simple drink and has the potential to be the best cocktail you have ever had. The Sazerac is also one of the famous cocktails of New Orleans and in 2008 the Sazerac became the official cocktail of the city.

    Similar cocktails to try:

  • 07 of 10
    New Orleans Fizz - Classic Cocktail Recipe
    The New Orleans Fizz is a famous gin cocktail and this thick drink is a pure delight. Brian Leatart/StockFood Creative/Getty Images

    The fizz is a popular style of drink that began back in the "Golden Age" of cocktails and the New Orleans Fizz (aka Ramos Gin Fizz) is one of the most popular.

    A favorite of the "Big Easy," this drink 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 New Orleans Fizz is a great introduction to the qualities that shaking eggs bring to cocktails. It creates a rich, creamy, frothy drink that...MORE is simply delicious. The key to a great fizz cocktail is to shake until it hurts!

    Similar cocktails to try:

  • 08 of 10
    Mint julep
    Andrew Scrivani / Getty Images

    Ahh, the Mint Julep. It is the drink of the Kentucky Derby and one of the best-known bourbon cocktails made ever created.

    Like the Old-fashioned, this drink requires muddling and in this case, you will muddle mint and simple syrup. Once the essence of the mint has been release, fill the glass with crushed ice and add your favorite bourbon.

    It is simple, delightful and refreshing. Once you get the hang of working the muddler and lightly bruising the mint, you will find the Mint Julep to be one of...MORE the easiest drinks to make. It's no wonder it has remained a favorite for years!

    How long has the Mint Julep been around? A recent finding by cocktail historian, David Wondrich, points 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!

    Similar cocktails to try:

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    Corpse Reviver No. 2 Cocktail
    The gin version of the popular classic, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is a cocktail you will remember. Photo Courtesy: © Shannon Graham

    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 out 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, then this is it! The mix includes an...MORE aromatized wine (Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano) with lime juice and orange liqueur. Even absinthe makes a brief appearance here.

    When the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is carefully crafted, it is a thing of beauty and a drink that you will not forget anytime soon!

    Similar cocktails to try:

  • 10 of 10
    Between the Sheets Cocktail
    A classic and popular rum sour, the Between the Sheets cocktail is one you have to try. Fotosearch / Getty Images

    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.

    The list of tours is endless and includes favorites like the Sidecar and Whiskey Sour along with those Margaritas and Daiquiris discussed above.

    One of the best sours that are often overlooked takes on the suggestive name of Between the Sheets (or Maiden's Prayer). She certainly is a sexy little...MORE drink!

    The recipe is extremely easy and showcases the close relationship that brandy and rum had in many classic drinks. Quite simply, you will pour equal amounts of brandy, rum, and triple sec, add a little lemon juice, shake it up and you're done!

    Similar cocktails to try:

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 probably did not use or had even heard of it. Vodka did not become a hit in America until the 1930's 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.