Cocktail & Other Recipes Cocktail Type Classic

24 Classic Cocktails You Should Know How to Make

The essential two dozen for cocktailing correctly.

Margarita
Margarita Image:

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

Do you know how to make a proper Manhattan? Or the all-time bartender favorite, the Negroni? Certain cocktails are so ingrained in the cocktail canon that you should try making them at least once—and consider memorizing the recipes for your favorites.

Yes, there are hundreds of classic cocktails. But few have true staying power. Those that do are drinks as popular in the modern era as they were a century (or two) ago. Not to mention, they frequently form the source of inspiration for dozens of riffs, so it’s good to get familiar with the originals.

Rather than limiting ourselves to merely the 10 top classic cocktails, we’ve gone ahead and extended the list to a full two dozen. Even so, this is by no means an exhaustive list; it’s merely a starting point for exploring the classics. You’re sure to find favorites both old and new among these time-honored drinks.

Everyone has their preferences, but no matter whether your go-to is gin, tequila, or rye whiskey, the drinks listed here transcend predilection. They are the classic cocktails every self-proclaimed cocktail lover should get to know. There’s a perfect time and place for each and every one of them.

  • Manhattan

    Manhattan cocktail on circular tray garnished with brandied cherry

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    No one knows for certain who created this cocktail or where. Despite its mysterious history, it likely came into being sometime around the 1880s as a combination of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and aromatic bitters. While many bartenders today substitute bourbon for rye, there’s nothing like the original.

    Get the recipe.

  • Negroni

    Negroni cocktail garnished with orange peel

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    One cocktail above all others reveals you as a savvy drinker, according to the legendary Gary Regan, who famously said that whether you’re trying to impress a first date or your boss, ordering a Negroni will do it. Born of a happy accident during the early 20th century, this drink was created by Count Camillo Negroni, who swapped the traditional club soda in his Americano with gin. The Negroni’s bitter intensity and easy equal-parts formula have helped make it a favorite among home and professional bartenders alike.

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  • Martini

    Dry Martini garnished with lemon twist

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    The Martini is known for its allure and sophistication, but its origins are muddled at best. The formula appeared in print under several different names around the turn of the 20th century. Made traditionally with gin (although vodka is a frequent substitute), dry vermouth, and orange bitters, it’s a cocktail that ignites the imagination.

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  • Daiquiri

    Daiquiri garnished with lime twist

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    The blender has certainly put its stamp on the Daiquiri, but this profoundly simple drink is at its best when it stays clear of a steel blade. Simply shake up rum, simple syrup and a blast of fresh lime juice, and you have the most perfect of citrusy cocktails.

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  • Old Fashioned

    Old Fashioned cocktail with orange peel

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    The very first definition of the word “cocktail” in print (way back in 1806) described a combination of sugar, bitters, water, and spirit. In other words, this drink is precisely what the word cocktail referred to 200 years ago. Old Fashioned, indeed. It typically calls for bourbon or rye whiskey, but variations abound. In theory, you could swap out the spirit, sweetener or bitters for endless new versions of the Old Fashioned. But the original is so solid, it's definitely where you should start.

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  • Whiskey Sour

    Whiskey Sour cocktail with Angostura bitters garnish

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    “Egg white or no?” is the most important decision you’ll need to make with this cocktail. When the recipe for this cocktail first appeared in 1862 in the famed Jerry Thomas Bartender’s Guide, it called for an egg white to be shaken along with whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup, taming the tartness and giving the drink a richer texture. In modern times, however, it’s common for the egg to be left out. Our suggestion: Try it both ways and find out which you prefer.

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  • Tom Collins

    Tom Collins cocktail garnished with lemon wheel and maraschino cherry

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    A likely descendent of the gin punches of the 19th century, this mix of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and club soda tastes like a spiked sparkling lemonade and goes down just as easily. With no special equipment needed to make it—it’s built right in the same glass you drink it out of—this is one simple, cooling cocktail you’ll be glad to know how to make on a hot summer afternoon.

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  • Sazerac

    Sazerac cocktail garnished with lemon peel

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    Ever been to New Orleans? If so, then you’ve probably had this cocktail. Created in the mid-1800s at the Sazerac Coffee House in the storied Crescent City, the Sazerac is a complex concoction that starts with an absinthe rinse. Rye whiskey (originally cognac, but that swap happened pretty early), bitters (most often Peychaud’s), and a sugar cube create a boozy yet fragrant sipper.

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  • Paloma

    Paloma cocktail with lime wheel

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    It may get overshadowed by the Margarita stateside, but this is Mexico’s favorite cocktail. Drink snobs will tell you the tequila should be joined in the glass by freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and club soda, with a squeeze of lime, but we’ve tried it both ways and can assure you that the standard way of making the drink, with grapefruit soda (and, yes, that same squeeze of lime) is every bit as delicious and a whole lot easier.

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  • Moscow Mule

    Moscow Mule cocktail in copper mug garnished with lime wheel

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    Said to have been created in the 1940s as a way to introduce Americans to vodka, a then-uncommon spirit, this simple three-ingredient cocktail is an easy mix of vodka, lime juice, and spicy ginger beer. It’s perhaps most notable for the vessel it’s traditionally served in, an eye-catching copper mug.

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  • Sidecar

    Sidecar cocktail with sugared rim and orange twist garnish

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    It’s now common practice to sip cognac neat. It sure does shine that way. But you’ll gain a new appreciation for the remarkably versatile French spirit after you try it in this citrusy cocktail, a mixture of cognac, fresh lemon juice, and the orange liqueur Cointreau. Don’t balk at the sugar-coated rim: It’s there to mask the Sidecar’s wicked tongue.

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  • Martinez

    Martinez cocktail garnished with orange twist

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    This cocktail is widely considered the precursor to the modern Martini, but the family likeness isn’t particularly close. The Martinez calls for gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and Angostura bitters, rendering a flavorful and sweet-leaning cocktail that bears only a hint of resemblance to its dry-vermouth relation. Try it side-by-side with a Martini and see if you can find the common thread between the two.

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  • Pimm's Cup

    Pimm's Cup cocktail garnished with mint sprig and strawberry

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    An abundance of garnishes is the name of the game with this cocktail that often resembles a bouquet of garden-fresh produce. Gin-based Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur combines with lemon juice and ginger ale in a glass topped with everything from cucumber slices to various fruits, plus a mint sprig. Add a sprinkle of powdered sugar if you’re feeling particularly festive.

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  • Pisco Sour

    Pisco Sour cocktail garnished with Angostura bitters

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    The Pisco Sour is so popular that both Chile and Peru claim it as their national drink. Little wonder: It’s a tart, frothy masterpiece of pisco (the unaged grape brandy native to those two countries), lime juice, simple syrup, and an egg white. Three drops of bitters finish it off to create an aromatic and aesthetically pleasing refreshment.

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  • French 75

    French 75 cocktail in champagne flute with lemon twist garnish

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog 

    This most festive of cocktails, named for a piece of French artillery used in World War I, calls for a Champagne topper to the shaken mix of gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. The bubbly element renders it an ideal drink for New Year’s Eve or similar celebrations, but it’s a great way to kick off an ordinary weekend brunch as well.

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  • Mint Julep

    Mint Julep cocktail with mint sprigs

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog 

    This bourbon cocktail is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, sure. But drinking it shouldn’t be relegated to just one day a year. The blend of whiskey, simple syrup, and muddled mint leaves, most frequently served in a julep cup over crushed ice and sporting a mint sprig topper, is a fun way to cool down on any hot day.

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  • Last Word

    Last Word cocktail garnished with brandied cherry

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    One of the few classic cocktails with origins that can be traced with certainty, the Last Word was first served at the Detroit Athletic Club around 1915. A flavorful mix of gin, herbaceous green Chartreuse, sweet maraschino liqueur, and tart lime juice, this polarizing cocktail may not be for everyone, but its many fans are a truly devoted bunch.

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  • Irish Coffee

    Irish Coffee cocktail served in glass mug and topped with whipped cream

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    There aren’t many reliably delicious ways to get both your caffeine and booze fixes at the same time. The Irish Coffee does the job beautifully. The drink—called Gaelic Coffee in the Old Country—is a blend of Irish whiskey, coffee, brown-sugar syrup, and cream. Pro tip: Whip the cream just enough so that it floats on top of the drink.

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  • Corpse Reviver No. 2

    Corpse Reviver No. 2 cocktail

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    If you like a Last Word, you’re sure to love this cocktail, which features a few similar flavor notes: gin, herbaceous absinthe, tart citrus, and mellow liqueur. It’s an entirely different drink, however. Here, London Dry gin combines with Lillet Blanc, orange liqueur, and lemon juice in an absinthe-rinsed glass. Originally created as a hangover cure, this cocktail is just as likely to send you back into one—in the most delicious of ways, of course.

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  • Mojito

    Mojito cocktail garnished with mint sprigs

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    This Cuban classic calls for combining unaged white rum, lime juice, muddled mint leaves, and sugar before topping it all with club soda. It’s a refreshing drink that provides a blast of flavor to take you straight into the Caribbean tropics, as perfect at a party as it is poolside.

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  • Gin Fizz

    Gin Fizz cocktail

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    This bright and effervescent combination of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, an egg white, and club soda—akin to a Tom Collins plus egg white, or a Gin Sour with bubbles—produces a fizzy, frothy delight. Add orange flower water and a splash of cream, and you’ll get the famed Ramos Gin Fizz, a New Orleans classic and the bane of bartenders everywhere for the amount of shaking required to make one properly. This, however, is the more simple and most classic version of the drink.

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  • Bloody Mary

    Bloody Mary cocktail with celery salt rim, olives, lime, and parsley

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    It’s a hangover cure, a nutritious breakfast, an airport bar staple. This tomato- and vodka-based classic, created in Paris in the 1920s, is one of those drinks every city, every bar, and every bartender makes their own way. If you’ve only ever had it with bottled mix and a fridgeful of garnishes, try a more traditional version with Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and celery salt, plus good vodka and tomato juice. The drink’s balance may surprise you.

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  • Gimlet

    Vodka Gimlet cocktail garnished with lime wheel on circular tray

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    Believed to have been created by British sailors (as many of the oldest cocktails were) as a way to prevent scurvy, this drink mixes a clear spirit, lime juice, and simple syrup to create a refreshing (and vitamin C-filled) cocktail. The original used gin as its base, while the vodka-based variation has since greatly surpassed it in popularity. Either one is worth a spot in your summertime heavy cocktail rotation.

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  • Margarita

    Margarita cocktail with salted rim and lime

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    You’ve probably had a bad Margarita. Or more than one. But when this zesty classic is made correctly—with quality tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice—the drink carries itself upright. The history of the Margarita is deep: Its progenitor, the Tequila Daisy, has been around since the 1930s, when there were no bottled mixes. Or blenders. The drink has come a long way, but finding your way back to its earliest incarnations is key to appreciating it.

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