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What Are the Best Alcoholic Cocktails by Type?

bartender making cocktails

So you’re probably wondering – what are the best alcoholic cocktails I should try? Well, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we break down the top cocktail options by type, talk about their history and discuss what it is that makes each one special.

Introduction to the World of Alcoholic Cocktails

People have been mixing drinks throughout history, but a cocktail was mentioned for the first time in print in 1806. A New York Bartender mixed a spirit, sugar, water and bitters for a newspaper editor who then praised the cocktail in a column.

Bartenders continued to experiment with mixing drinks and Jerry “Professor” Thomas published the first cocktail process book called “The Bartender’s Guide.” Cocktails gained even more popularity once ice became more readily available.

The Prohibition era slowed down their progress yet cocktails made a big comeback thanks to some key historical figures. For example, Ernest Hemingway often wrote about his love for mixed drinks. In the 1960s and 70s, the famous “shaken, not stirred” martini line from the James Bond film series launched cocktails even further.

Today, cocktails are a global phenomenon and you can find them in every bar. Drink-mixing has evolved into a real art and Bartenders continue to come up with new and unique cocktail recipes every day.

With so many cocktails available, they’re often divided into diverse types based on ingredients, preparation techniques, regional influences and other aspects. Let’s look at some of the best alcoholic cocktails by type.

Classic Cocktails Everyone Should Know

Some cocktails have stood the test of time and have been around ever since cocktails first rose to popularity. The combination of simplicity and sophistication they offer has allowed them to earn their place as timeless favorites. If you want to order a classic cocktail, these are some of consider some of these combinations:

Negroni

The legendary Bartender Gary “Gaz” Regan said that whether you want to impress your date or your boss, ordering a Negroni will get the job done. This combination has been around since the early 20th century and is known for its bitter intensity and the simple equal-parts formula of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.

a negroni cocktail

Martini

Present since the turn of the 20th century, the martini is one of the most iconic cocktails in the world. It’s made with gin, dry vermouth and orange bitters but Bartenders may sometimes substitute gin with vodka to create the popular vodka martini.

The ratio of gin and dry vermouth is 2:1 but some people prefer it with even less vermouth. That’s how a dry martini was created. By ordering an extra dry martini, you’ll get a drink with very little to no vermouth added.

This drink is so popular that it even has its own martini glass that was designed to keep the drink cold without the use of ice. It was created during the Prohibition era to also allow quick disposal in case of a raid.

The former U.S. president Barack Obama likes it extra-shaken. This variation of the drink is called the Presidential Martini.

Margarita

Made with tequila, triple sec and lime juice, there’s no doubt the margarita is one of the most popular classic cocktails. It can be served with ice, without ice or blended with ice.

No matter what bar you visit, the Bartender will serve it in a glass with a salted rim. Most often, you’ll receive it in a champagne coupe that’s also called a margarita glass.

While it has numerous origin stories, it’s believed that this classic cocktail was first introduced between 1930 and 1950 in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

The Margarita is the go-to drink for many. “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston named the margarita as her favorite cocktail type.

Old Fashioned

Remember the first cocktail mentioned in print in 1806? This drink is precisely the combination the Bartender in that story came up with. The old fashioned is made with bourbon or whiskey, sugar and bitters and is famous for its complex and robust flavors.

Popular Contemporary Cocktails

Ever since the 1980s, we saw plenty of new combinations being introduced and becoming top choices in bars across the world.

Some of these newer cocktail drinks have become instant hits and a part of pop culture. They were often showcased in movies and TV shows, which helped them become the iconic drinks they are today.

Below are some of the most popular options that have been invented over the past few decades:

Cosmopolitan

Known for its vibrant pink hue, the cosmopolitan is considered one of the more stylish choices among cocktail drinkers. The combination of vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and lime juice was popularized in the 1990s by the hit TV show, “Sex and the City.”

a cosmopolitan cocktail

Espresso Martini

The espresso martini is the sleepy person’s response to the original martini. Like many other contemporary cocktails, it puts together a spirit and coffee flavors.

It features vodka, coffee liqueur and a shot of espresso, offering you a perfect balance between fuel for the day and relaxation for the evening.

To add some visual appeal, Bartenders often garnish the drink with coffee beans. Sometimes they also use a twist of lemon zest.

While there are many stories about the origin of this drink, its creation is often credited to Dick Bradsell. He said that with so many coffee machines around in the 1980s, coffee was always on his mind. Since it was all about vodka at the time, he came up with the idea to mix the two drinks.

Negroni Sbagliato

In this variation of the classic Negroni cocktail, gin is replaced by prosecco to create a combination with lower alcohol content. It’s made with equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth and prosecco and is often served with a slice of orange.

The cocktail exploded on social media when “House of the Dragon” star Emma D’Arcy purr-expressed her liking for “Negroni… Sbagliato… with prosecco in it.”

Appletini

Another modern cocktail that incorporates the term “martini” into its name is the appletini. It was originally called “Adam’s apple martini” to reference a Bartender named Adam who invented it in 1996 at Lola’s West Hollywood restaurant.

The appletini is made with vodka, apple juice, lemon juice and apple schnapps. Bartenders sometimes opt to add vermouth, as in a regular martini.

One of the more popular versions of this drink is rumpletini, which substitutes vodka with light rum.

Seasonal and Trendy Cocktails

The change of seasons brings new weather and wardrobe, as well as the perfect time to consider introducing new seasonal drinks into your cocktail mixing. You can make use of the freshest ingredients and find the perfect flavors for that particular time of year. Below you can find trendy options for each season:

Moscow Mule

Made with vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime, the Moscow Mule can serve as a great refreshment on hot summer days. It offers a combination of spicy, sweet and strong flavors.

It’s usually served in a special mule cup made from copper, which helps preserve the drink’s cold temperature.

Although many would consider it a summer drink, the Moscow Mule is also appropriate for winter holidays due to its gingery flavor.

a moscow mule cocktail

Aperol Spritz

If you’re someone who prefers a bubbly springtime cocktail that’s quick to prepare, you can’t go wrong with Aperol spritz.

This cocktail was first created in Italy during the 1910s. It is typically a combination of Aperol, prosecco and soda water. These ingredients give it a fresh bittersweet taste and the famous golden orange sunset look.

Pumpkin Spice Martini

Looking for a perfect cocktail for the fall season or Thanksgiving? Try pumpkin spice martini.

Nothing spells the fall season like pumpkin flavors and this creamy drink is all about those. It combines vodka, pumpkin spice liqueur and a splash of Irish cream. It’s often garnished with cinnamon or nutmeg.

Many people like to compare this drink to pumpkin pie and even have it as a part of their dessert.

Hot Toddy

Once colder weather arrives, you may prefer a warm drink that can help you fight off a cold. Well, what if we told you a hot toddy is the perfect drink for this purpose?

A classic hot toddy is made with whiskey, hot water, honey, lemon and spices like cinnamon or cloves. As such, it’s the best drink to keep you warm and cozy during chillier months.

Mixology-Inspired Craft Cocktails

Cocktail drinkers should know that Bartenders and Mixologists aren’t the same thing. The latter use their mixology skills to craft unique and complex drinks. A good Bartender also knows how to create new drinks, but that’s not their main duty.

The world’s most famous Bartenders often experiment with different flavors and some of the drinks they’ve created have become classics over time.

Below you can find drinks that fit this category and showcase the artistry of mixing drinks:

Penicillin

Made with two kinds of Scotch, fresh lemon juice, ginger and honey syrup, the Penicillin is one of the biggest representatives of the modern cocktail revolution.

Adding citrus and a sweet element to a dry Scotch creates a more approachable and refreshing drink.

Created by Sam Ross at NYC’s famous Milk & Honey bar in the mid-2000s, this cocktail quickly spread around the world. The inventor opted for this name to reference the medicinal properties of the cocktail’s ingredients.

a penicillin cocktail

Left Hand

Another creation of Sam Ross, the Left Hand is on many bar’s menus. This innovative cocktail was created as a love child of Negroni and Manhattan. It’s made with bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth and chocolate bitters.

Ross named this drink after a yacht Joseph Pistone used in the operation against the Bonanno crime family in the 1970s and 1980s.

Another variation of this drink is called the Right Hand and it replaces bourbon with gin.

Horsefeather

Often referred to as the “whiskey cocktail for those who don’t like whiskey,” this drink combines whiskey, ginger beer, fresh lime and a few shakes of bitters.

Due to the similarity between ingredients, people also call it a whiskey spin on the Moscow mule.

Grilled Piña Colada

This cocktail includes some extra steps to elevate the classic piña colada. It’s made with rum, pineapple slices, coconut cream and lime juice, but involves somewhat unexpected moves such as grilling the pineapple. Sugar and salt are added to complete the flavor.

Signature Cocktails

Some cocktails we associate with specific bars or individuals who made them. These drinks are not that easy to find but offer unique flavors that will be ingrained in your memory for a while. Our top picks for signature cocktails are:

Vesper

We already mentioned James Bond in this article. While famous for his “shaken, not stirred” martini, this fictional character launched another drink in “Casino Royale” called the Vesper.

However, Ian Fleming said it was his friend, Ivar Bryce, who first came up with the gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc combination.

Lillet Blanc contains significantly less alcohol than gin and vodka and was introduced to add some balance to the drink.

While Bond’s motto of “shaken, not stirred” is often used, there’s often debate on how this drink should be prepared. Many Bartenders prefer to stir it to avoid diluting the drink with ice.

a vesper cocktail

Aviation

The Aviation is a classic cocktail that has recently made a comeback as a signature drink in many modern bars. It’s made with gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon juice and is famous for its pale blue color.

In his legendary “The Savoy Cocktail Book”, Harry Craddock created a variation without crème de violette. Many Bartenders serve it this way as this violet liqueur can be hard to find.

Hemingway Daiquiri

As you might have guessed, this unique daiquiri variation is named after the famous author, Ernest Hemingway. But did you know that it was also specially created for him when he visited the El Floridita bar in Havana, Cuba?

The Hemingway Special combines white rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit and lemon juice. Although he didn’t create it, this drink is considered a specialty of Dale DeGroff, who happens to be one of the most popular Bartenders today.

Old Cuban

Audrey Saunders, one of the world’s most famous Bartenders, invented the Old Cuban in 2001 while working in an NYC restaurant called Beacon. She came up with this drink when experimenting with a mojito foundation.

This combination of aged rum, Champagne, simple syrup, lime juice, mint leaves and Angostura bitters has since become a classic.

Some people call it an older sibling to mojito, due to a more sophisticated taste.

Best Alcoholic Cocktails by Type: Final Thoughts

With so many options to choose from, finding a cocktail that you like isn’t difficult. Explore new drinks in the category that matches your preferences or think about getting out of your comfort zone and trying something completely different.

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