Here are the top classic cocktails to try! Learn each of the most popular mixed drinks made with gin, vodka, whiskey, rum and tequila.
Want to learn about classic cocktails? Here’s our master list of exactly 15 popular cocktails to make, carefully selected from the best of the best. Make each of them and you’ll get the full gamut of historical drinks that helped to form today’s cocktail culture! Many of these mixed drinks date back to the 1920s, but you’ll find some even older (like the classic Old Fashioned or Daiquiri). Within this list you’ll find iconic popular cocktails based on spirit, and related cocktails listed below it. For example:
- Classic gin cocktails like the Gin Fizz, Tom Collins and Gimlet
- Classic vodka cocktails like the Moscow Mule and Cosmo
- Classic whiskey cocktails and bourbon cocktails like the Whiskey Sour and Old Fashioned
- Classic rum cocktails like the Mojito and Daiquiri
- Classic tequila cocktails like the Margarita
Try each one in the list below, and you’ve got a wide sample of the history of mixology. Then scroll down for an explanation on cocktail families. Let’s get started!
The top 15 popular classic cocktails to try
One of the most classic whiskey cocktails of them all: the whiskey sour! This perfectly sweet tart, balanced whiskey drink dates back to the 1870’s. It's simple to make, featuring whiskey, lemon and simple syrup. Serve it with an egg white foam topping and it's a Boston Sour. A must try!
Related Cocktails: New York Sour, Amaretto Sour, Vodka Sour, Tequila Sour, Pisco Sour
One of the most classic gin cocktails is the gin fizz! The first mention of a fizz was back in 1876, and they became popular in America in the 1900's to 1940's. The gin fizz is tart and classy, featuring lemon, gin, simple syrup, and an egg white foam topping.
Related Cocktails: Tom Collins, Southside, Bees Knees, Gin Sour, Clover Club
The most classic rum cocktail is the daiquiri! This perfectly balanced cocktail stars lime juice, rum, and simple syrup. A classic daiquiri is not frozen at all: it's served straight up in a cocktail glass and thought to have been invented in the 1800’s in Cuba.
Related Cocktails: Hemingway Daiquiri, Strawberry Daiquiri, Lime Frozen Daiquiri
The most classic tequila cocktail of them all: the margarita! Likely originating in the 1930's, the margarita is one of the most classic sour cocktails: drinks that feature liquor, sweetener and citrus. The classic recipe is tequila, lime, and Cointreau, and it's perfect in its simplicity.
Related Cocktails: Mezcal Margarita, Jalapeño Margarita, Skinny Margarita, Beer Margarita, Cadillac Margarita, Paloma
The most classic vodka cocktail: the Moscow mule! This classic cocktail was born in the 1940’s: made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime and always served up in a copper mug. Why the mug? The coolness of the glass when you sip makes it taste ice cold. Try all the great Moscow Mule variations!
Related Cocktails: Mexican Mule, Watermelon Mule, Cider Mule, Mezcal Mule, Kentucky Mule, Gin Gin Mule, Dark and Stormy
Another classic gin cocktail is the gimlet! While it became popular in the 1950’s, a recipe was included in a 1930’s cocktail book, so it stems back to at least that far! This classic cocktail features lime juice, gin and simple syrup.
Related Cocktails: Vodka Gimlet, French Gimlet, Basil Gimlet, Cosmopolitan
One of the most classic sour cocktails of them all is the Sidecar! The story is that it was invented around 1918 by an army captain who drove around in a motorcycle sidecar. It’s a complex, layered drink: warm, crisp, dry, and rich all at once! It features Cognac, lemon juice, and Cointreau and a sugar rim.
Related Cocktails: Vodka Sidecar, Bourbon Sidecar, White Lady, Between the Sheets, Corpse Reviver
Here's one of the most famous classic cocktails there is: the Old Fashioned! This classic whiskey cocktail dates to the early 1800’s, before the words classic and cocktail were even said next to each other. It's quick and simple, using a sugar cube, bitters, and bourbon whiskey for a truly timeless drink.
Related Cocktails: Sazerac
Another classic gin cocktail is the Negroni! This 1920's Italian cocktail is equal parts refreshing, bitter, and complex: a drink that you’ll want to sit with and savor a while. Made with Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, the flavor can be polarizing. We prefer it as the Boulevardier (whiskey instead of gin) or the Negroni Sbagliato (Prosecco instead of gin), both of which are a more balanced drink.
Related Cocktails: Boulevardier, Old Pal, Americano, Mezcal Negroni, or Negroni Sbagliato
The martini is one of the most iconic cocktails of all time. People have been drinking it for a century. With one sip it announces itself: crisp, cool, searing, and spirit-forward. It’s seeped in tradition, and there’s no cocktail that has the amount of variations. The classic is simple: just gin and dry vermouth. But there are lots of famous spins (see below).
Related Cocktails: Dirty Martini, Vesper Martini, Lemon Drop Martini, Cucumber Martini, Pomegranate Martini, Watermelon Martini, Espresso Martini, French Martini
Here's another classic gin cocktail: the Tom Collins! The first mention of this tall highball drink was in an 1882 cocktail book. It's a essentially gin sour, a sweet and sour drink made with gin. A cousin of the gin fizz, it’s refreshing and bubbly, impressively loaded with ice in a highball glass.
Related Cocktails: Southside Fizz
Here's a classic champagne cocktail: the French 75! A drink born in the 1920's, it's got a mysterious name and is tangy, bubbly, and a bit botanical. Simply made of lemon, simple syrup and champagne, it's almost like a Tom Collins that replaces the soda water with sparkling wine.
Related Cocktails: The Classic Champagne Cocktail
This classic whiskey cocktail has a long history and has come back into style: the Manhattan! It goes all the way back to the 1870’s, so it’s older than most cocktails (which sprung up in the 1920’s and 30’s). It's got a lot going on: vanilla, oak and caramel notes from the bourbon, sweet and spicy from the vermouth, and bitter and herby from the bitters.
Related Cocktails: Try the classic Martinez: like a gin version of a Manhattan! This version is a little smoother and more balanced.
Here's the other most classic rum cocktail: the Mojito! The origins of the Mojito are cloudy: some say it was invented in the 1500s, others in the 1800's with the birth of the Bacardi rum company. In any case, its place as an iconic Cuban cocktail was solidified by the 1930's when Ernest Hemingway helped to popularize the drink. It's perfectly. balanced with lime, rum and fresh mint and equally as popular today (if not more so).
Related Cocktails: Classic Mint Julep, Caipirinha, Southside Cocktail, Classic Daiquiri
Here's a classic cocktail that's bubbly, citrusy, herbal, subtly bitter and lightly sweet…the Aperol spritz! Also called the spritz veneziano, it's an Italian aperitif: a drink for before a meal. The spritz was invented back in the 1800’s in Italy, but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the Aperol spritz took the form it has today.
Related Cocktails: Americano, Amaro Spritz, Campari Spritz
Major classic cocktail families
Each of these classics falls into a cocktail family. There’s no definite definition of cocktail families; many authors have written books attempting to define exactly what constitutes each. (See this post on Cocktail Families and Formulas for more.) Here are the major cocktail families we’ve found encompass most of the popular classic cocktails:
- Sour cocktails: Mixed drinks made of liquor, citrus, and sweetener. Includes Whiskey Sour, Margarita, Gimlet, Daiquiri, Sidecar.
- Spirit-forward cocktails: Cocktails made only of liquor with no non-alcoholic mixers. Includes Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Martini.
- Highball cocktails: Cocktails that use base alcohol and a larger percentage of mixer, like fruit juice or soda water. Includes Tom Collins, Moscow Mule, Americano, Gin and Tonic.
- Champagne cocktails: Cocktails that use champagne. Includes French 75, Champagne Cocktail.
- Spritzes: Cocktails with a mixer, soda water and champagne. Includes Aperol Spritz.
Classic Whiskey Sour
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: 1 drink 1x
One of the most iconic classic cocktails is the whiskey sour! This popular mixed drink is perfectly balanced with lemon, whiskey and simple syrup.
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon whiskey*
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice
- ¾ ounce (1 ½ tablespoons) simple syrup or pure maple syrup
- Garnish: Orange peel and a cocktail cherry
- Ice, for serving (try clear ice!)
- Add the bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, and syrup to a cocktail shaker. Fill with a handful of ice and shake until very cold.
- Strain the drink into a lowball or Old Fashioned glass. Serve with ice, an orange peel and a cocktail cherry.
*You can use any variety of whiskey, but we prefer it with the sweeter flavor of bourbon.
- Category: Drink
- Method: Shaken
- Cuisine: Cocktails
- Diet: Vegan
Keywords: Classic Cocktails
Drinks by season & occasion
More ways to select drinks: by season and occassion! Browse our lists:
More cocktail recipes
Outside of these popular classic cocktails, there are so many great cocktail recipes to try. In fact, we’ve got over 200 recipes for popular mixed drinks! Here are some of our best cocktail collections:
- By liquor: Try Cognac Cocktails, Grand Marnier Cocktails, Campari Cocktails, Vermouth Cocktails, Champagne Cocktails, Amaretto Cocktails, Wine Cocktails, St Germain Cocktails, and Cointreau Cocktails.
- Fresh ingredients: Try these Mint Cocktails, Orange Juice Cocktails, Grapefruit Cocktails, Cranberry Cocktails, Ginger Beer Cocktails, Coffee Cocktails, Lime Cocktails, and Lemon Cocktails.
Last updated: September 2020