Yes, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of classic cocktails. But a few have special staying power: These are drinks as popular today as they were a century—or more—ago.
We all have our preferences: maybe yours is gin, tequila or cognac; maybe you’re more of a Scotch fan. Set those biases aside and start working through this cocktail checklist. It includes the dozen drinks that any self-respecting cocktail lover absolutely must have tried.
What drink would you add to our list? Weigh in below.
No one knows for certain where—or by whom—this sturdy cocktail was created. Despite its mysterious history, we’re pretty sure it came into being sometime around the 1880s as a combination of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and aromatic bitters. While many bartenders today substitute bourbon (or even rum and tequila) for rye, it’s crucial to taste it in its original format. Garnish side note: No, a maraschino cherry is not required. We, like many a Manhattan fan, prefer an orange twist!
View recipe: Manhattan
One cocktail above all others shows you off as a savvy drinker, says Gary Regan, top bartender and one of our advisory board members: the Negroni. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to impress a blind date or your boss. Born of a happy accident in the early 20th century, the Negroni was created by Count Camillo Negroni, who swapped the traditional club soda in his Americano with gin.
It’s an intense drink, absolutely, but is absurdly simple to make, using equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Embrace the bitter.
View recipe: Negroni
The very first ever definition of the word “cocktail” in print (way back in 1806) describes a combination of sugar, bitters, water and liquor. So when people call this drink Old Fashioned, they mean it! Despite popular opinion (which generally calls for rye whiskey), the concoction can be made with any spirit, any sweetener and any kind of bitters. So try some experimentation: Our recipe is more a blueprint than a fixed plan.
View recipe: Old Fashioned
There aren’t many reliably delicious ways to get your caffeine and booze fixes at the same time. The Irish Coffee accomplishes both tasks beautifully. The drink—called the Gaelic Coffee in the Old Country—is a blend of Irish whiskey, coffee, brown sugar syrup and cream. Try legendary bartender and Liquor.com advisory board member Dale Degroff’s recipe. Or use his tips to make one at home.
It’s now common practice to sip cognac neat. We think it shines 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.
View recipe: Sidecar
We’ve all had bad Margaritas. Usually during Cinco de Mayo blowouts. When the bright classic is made correctly—with quality tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice, the drink carries itself upright. The cloyingly sweet (or, God forbid, blended) ones? They slouch. The history of the Margarita is deep: Its progenitor, the Tequila Daisy, has been around since the 1930s, when there was no bottled mix. Anywhere.
View recipe: Margarita
Purists will say that Scotch should be served neat with little to no water, let alone ice. The Blood & Sand would argue otherwise. This four-ingredient cocktail first appeared in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book and comprises equal parts Scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering and orange juice. It’s all smoke and ease, like an autumn stroll through torched underbrush.
View recipe: Blood & Sand
This Martini isn’t just known for its class and allure, but also as the signature drink of agent 007, the inimitable James Bond. The origins of this classic are muddled—the formula appeared in print under several different names around the turn of the 20th century. Still, the Martini, made traditionally with gin (or vodka, if you prefer), dry vermouth and orange bitters, has legs. Shaken or stirred, it’s a classic worth having an ongoing affair with.
View recipe: Martini
Ever been to New Orleans? If you have, we wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already tried this tipple. It was created in the mid-1800s at the Sazerac Coffee House in the storied Crescent City. The Sazerac is a complex drink, made with an absinthe rinse, rye whiskey (originally cognac, but that swap happened pretty early) bitters (most often Peychaud’s) and a sugar cube. It is at once boozy and fragrant with sweet anise notes.
View recipe: Sazerac
It's a hangover cure; it's a nutritious breakfast. The brunch devout are plenty familiar with this tomato- and vodka-based meal-in-a-glass, created in Paris in the 1920s. If you’ve only ever had it with bottled mix and a fridgeful of garnishes, go simple for a refresher course. Use traditional Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and celery salt, plus good vodka and tomato juice. The drink’s balance may surprise you.
View recipe: Bloody Mary
The Pisco Sour is so popular that both Chile and Peru claim it as their national drink. Little wonder: The concoction is a frothy masterpiece. Combine pisco (an unaged grape brandy over whose true origins Chile and Peru have all but gone to war), lime juice, simple syrup and an egg white, and you’ve got a fine sour drink. Spritz some aromatic bitters over the top, and the result becomes a drink that demands to be fought about.
Intrigued? Watch top bartender and Liquor.com advisory board member H. Joseph Ehrmann show you how to make it in our How to Cocktail video now.
View recipe: Pisco Sour
Mixing your cocktail