15 Common Cocktails You Need to Try
Anish Patel @ 2022-04-18 09:27:15 -0700
There are perhaps more cocktail recipes than there are bartenders in the world, so it can be hard to know where to start.
The best way to get into cocktails is to find the flavors that already appeal to you and try out some classic cocktails that utilize those flavors—or just start with the most common ones.
We’ve put together a list of the 15 most common cocktails, ranging from easy-drinking to boozy, so you can start learning about cocktails right now.
15 Most Common Cocktails
These cocktails have stood the test of time. We’ve divided them into two categories for you: beginner and advanced. Be sure not to skip the beginners—they are classics in their own right.
Start Here: Common Cocktails for Beginners
Highballs are great entryways into the world of cocktails. They consist of the spirit, mixer, and ice in a tall glass. This makes for an approachable drink that won’t be overwhelmed by alcohol. If you’re new to spirits, or if you’re just looking to pace yourself, this is a great jumping-off point.
A screwdriver is a simple, no-frills cocktail made of vodka and orange juice.
It was born out of the 20th-century working class when oil workers in the Persian Gulf started making a habit of adding vodka—discreetly—to their orange juice while they worked.
There were no spoons available, so they stirred the cocktail with screwdrivers they had on hand. It doesn’t sound particularly sanitary, but it certainly is resourceful!
2. Whiskey Highball
The whiskey highball is a classic that’s very popular in Japan.
Traditionally, the cocktail is made with a shot of whiskey over ice and topped with soda water. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to swap out the soda water for ginger-ale, which adds a sweet/spicy note that compliments the whiskey nicely.
3. Tom Collins
Legend has it that there was a man named Tom Collins roaming the streets of New York, moving from bar to bar. He was belligerent and miserable and created quite the reputation for himself.
Some suggest that this was a complete myth, a character created to stir up trouble within different social circles. Regardless of whether the man was real or not, the drink lives on.
A Tom Collins is made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water and served in a tall glass with ice.
The Paloma is another popular cocktail that can be served as a highball or in a low glass.
It has a soft pink hue and a sweet, salty, citrus profile. The drink was named after a Mexican folk song, “La Paloma,” which means “dove.”
To make a Paloma, combine tequila, fresh-squeezed grape juice, lime juice, and agave. Top it off with soda water in a salt-rimmed, tall glass. Garnish with a lime wedge or a grapefruit wedge.
The Margarita is a category all on its own.
Margaritas can be made classic or in over-the-top glasses the size of your head. The drink comes from Mexico, originating in the 1900s. The classic Margarita combines tequila, Cointreau (an orange liqueur), and lime juice. It is served with a salt rim and a lime wedge.
The frozen Margarita took the world by storm in the second half of the 20th century. You can visit the Smithsonian Museum to see the first frozen margarita machine ever made.
6. Gin Fizz
The Gin Fizz comes from New Orleans, Louisiana. Invented in 1888, the cocktail was originally called the New Orleans Fizz.
Egg whites make this drink a “fizz,” giving it a frothy, creamy texture that balances out the tart, citrusy flavor profile.
In a Gin Fizz, you’ll find gin, lemon juice, lime juice, heavy cream, simple syrup, orange flower water, and egg whites. It is served in a tall glass.
The Gimlet is simple but oh-so-classic. It is tart and light, making for an excellent aperitif.
The Gimlet comes from 19th-century medicine, as sailors often used gin to fight scurvy. The traditional concoction was gin and lime juice—nothing more. Mixologists added the lime juice to make the gin more palatable.
History suggests that the cocktail was named after a naval surgeon, Sir Thomas Gimlette, who became famous for treating sailors with scurvy.
Modern recipes incorporate simple syrup into the recipe. The gin, lime juice, and simple syrup are shaken and strained into a martini glass.
Think of the Daiquiri as the Cuban Gimlet.
Served in a martini glass, this cocktail comes from Cuba and uses the ingredients that were available at the time.
Cuban rum, limes, and brown sugar are the original recipe for a Daiquiri, and you may be surprised to hear that they aren’t thrown into a blender with ice. Instead, they’re shaken and strained into a martini glass.
9. Whiskey Sour
The Whiskey Sour has a similar origin story to the Gimlet—it was used by sailors to fight off scurvy. Sailors added all the ingredients to help the whiskey go down easier. Now, it’s loved for its bold bourbon profile offset by citrus and creamy egg whites.
A Whiskey Sour is made of bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and angostura bitters.
Advanced Common Cocktails
Many classic cocktails are booze-forward, meaning their ingredients are liquor, liquor, and more liquor — and maybe a dash of something non-alcoholic to balance the profile out.
They are smaller but more robust and certainly more adventurous. Those with curious palates will want to dive into this list as well.
The Sidecar is a drink dating back to World War I, originating in London or Paris.
Named after the motorcycle sidecar, it is a brandy-based cocktail as smooth as it is tart. After trying the Gimlet, Daiquiri, or Margarita, this is a great next step.
A Sidecar is made with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice served in a martini glass.
2. The Martini
Who hasn’t heard of the Martini? People who love Martinis all eventually settle on their own specific way they like it made. Let’s go over these options.
The Martini is a boozy cocktail of the 19th century. It originally consisted of gin, dry vermouth, and either a twist or olives. Many people enjoy a vodka Martini as well, which will offer a milder profile.
If you don’t enjoy the juniper notes that gin offers, a vodka Martini might be perfect for you. Many people also like a Dirty Martini, which adds olive juice. The briny olives pair with gin very well.
Traditionally, a Martini should be stirred, not shaken. This creates a much smoother mouthfeel.
The Cosmopolitan (aka Cosmo) might just be the youngest cocktail on this list. It was invented in the 1980s and made popular in the 90s when the characters of Sex and the City could be found with one in their hand in almost every episode.
If you’re a fan of the vodka cranberry, this is an excellent cocktail to switch to.
A Cosmo is made of vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry juice and served in a martini glass.
The Negroni originated in 20th-century Italy.
It was the evolution of the Americano, which uses soda water instead of gin. The drink is boozy with cherry and wine notes and a powerful bitter flavor that makes it an acquired taste. It also makes an excellent aperitif.
In a Negroni, you’ll find gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and an orange peel. It is often served in a rocks glass.
5. Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is one of the most popular drinks in the history of cocktails. Its boozy nature is balanced by a sweetness that has turned it into an all-time favorite. Enjoy one after dinner or during cocktail hour.
An Old Fashioned combines rye or bourbon with a sugar cube and a few dashes of bitters. It is served with a large rock and an orange peel.
You could argue that a Manhattan is a play on the Martini, but history may suggest that it’s older than the Martini.
Legend has it that the drink was created at a party at the Manhattan Club, although another story attributes the beverage to a different New York bartender.
Either way, it’s a classic that has stood the test of time. It combines rye, sweet red vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a maraschino cherry. The cocktail is served up in a martini glass.
You’re Now a Mixology Pro
If you made it through this list, you now have a solid foundation in cocktails.
Many of these classics have variations that are just as famous, so if you find one you love, be sure to experiment with the different styles.
On the other hand, if you taste one that you don’t love, you may just need to wait a little while to come back to it. As you try more new things, your preferences will change, and you might find that a drink that was a little too out-there before is just what the doctor ordered today.
Want to try a classic Spanish cocktail? Try Tinto de Verano, a red-wine cocktail made with all-natural ingredients served in a can.