10 Classic Cocktails every bartender must know how to make perfectly!

Think James Bond. Think Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Think Nick and Nora Charles. Think Carrie Bradshaw. Cocktails are as much a part of their story as...their story. Bottled beer or box wine just won't cut it. When you want to go upscale, a cocktail is just the thing.

Cocktails have a history all their own. While folks had been drinking fermented things (beer, wine, ale) for centuries, the first hard spirits appeared in London in the 17th century. To offset a grain surplus in 1688, King William of Orange encouraged distillation of the extra grain by reducing taxes on the process. A year later, there were 500,000 gallons of spirit available. "Cheers!"

Since then, we've seen the rise of everything from British gin and Italian vermouth, to Kentucky bourbon and Russian vodka. With those heady ingredients came an industry all its own, namely, the creation of drinks based on them. Bartenders need to know hundreds of recipes; you only need to know ten of the most classic cocktails. Here they are.


It's not called "old-fashioned" for nothing: it's one of the earliest mixed drinks in history, dating back to the late 1700s, and perhaps the first to carry the name "cocktail." There are many variations on it (whiskey? rum?), and many places who claim it as their own, but here's one of the more classic recipes.

2 tsp. simple syrup (or a single sugar cube)
1 tsp. water
2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 C ice cubes
1 jigger (1.5 fluid ounces)
1 slice orange
1 maraschino cherry

Combine the simple syrup (or sugar cube), water and bitters in a whiskey glass. Add the ice cubes. Pour bourbon over the ice, then garnish with the orange slice and cherry.


There are tons of back-stories on the creation of this famous drink, but the most fun one is that is was created for a party thrown by Jennie Churchill (mom of Winston) in 1874 to celebrate Samuel J. Tilden's gubernatorial victory in New York. The party was held at the Manhattan Club. Tilden later made a presidential run, but lost. At least, he had this drink to console him.

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
2 1/2 ounce bourbon
Dash bitters
1 maraschino cherry
Twist of orange peel

In a mixing glass, combine the vermouth, bourbon and bitters with 2-3 ice cubes. Stir gently, so as not to bruise the spirits. In a chilled cocktail glass, place the cherry and strain the liquid over it. Rub the edge of the glass with the orange peel and twist it over the drink to release the fragrant oils (DON'T drop it in).


This popular drink made its way to the U.S. around the '30s and '40s, perhaps inspired by earlier Prohibition-era runs across the border. One story has it being created by an Irishman, running a bar in Tijuana, who grabbed the wrong bottle one night. The drink he accidentally created was dubbed the "Tequila Daisy." ("margarita" is the Spanish word for "daisy). The cocktail took off in a big way during the 1970s, when it became the unofficial drink of spring-breakers everywhere. Here's a more refined version.

Lime wedge, plus 2 wheels for garnish
Coarse salt (for glass rims)
4 ounces white tequila
2 ounces Cointreau
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice

Run the lime wedge around the rims of 2 rocks glasses; dip in salt. In a shaker, blend tequila, Cointreau and lime juice. Fill with ice, shake thoroughly until chilled (about 15 seconds). Fill glasses with ice and strain liquid into them. Garnish with lime wheels.


Apparently, it began as a prank in 1874 that spread across the country. Someone would run around town, spreading scandalous rumors courtesy of a mythical gent named "Tom Collins." When said slandered person would show up at the local pub to find the dude, he'd be directed to the next watering hole (bartenders were cruel in those days). And on it went. Eventually, a drink was created, so when that exhausted local would appear, asking for "Tom Collins," he'd at least get a refreshing libation.

1 1/2 cups ice + 1 cup ice
2 fluid ounces gin
3/4 fluid ounces lemon juice
1/2 fluid ounce simple syrup
2 fluid ounces club soda
lemon wedge

Fill a Collins glass with 1 1/2 cups ice and put in freezer. Now, combine gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a shaker. Add 1 cup ice, shake until chilled then strain into the chilled glass. Finish by topping with club soda and garnishing with a lemon wedge.


Even though we associate this drink with "Sex and the City," it actually dates as far back as the 1930s. It sort of languished until various bartenders during the 1970s experimented with the basic recipe for a Kamikaze (vodka and lime juice).Today, it ranks as one of the top classic drinks out there.

1.5 fluid ounce vodka
1/2 fluid ounce Cointreau
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 1/2 fluid ounces cranberry juice
Twist of lime for garnish

Pour liquid ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lime.


There are several conflicting stories around how this iconic drink got its name. The most enduring one seems to date from the early 20th century, from using gin and Martini & Rossi vermouth. These days, vodka martinis have overtaken the gin version as the most popular. James Bond put this drink on the cultural map with his insistence that it be "shaken, not stirred."

3 fluid ounces vodka (you can also substitute gin)
1 fluid ounce dry vermouth
1 cup ice cubes
3 olives (on a toothpick)

Mix the vodka and vermouth in a mixing glass. Add the ice, stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the olives.


The drink reportedly sprang to life in 1905 when a bored engineer by the name of Jennings Cox who was working in Cuba, began experimenting with the handy local ingredients of sugar, rum and lime. It's since evolved into multiple variations, like "strawberry" and "frozen." But this is the super-easy classic.

2 ounces white rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled glass.


It dates back to 1919, when Count Camille Negroni, who had gotten a taste for hard stuff while working as a rodeo clown in the American west, asked his Italian bartender to up the ante on the tamer "Americano." It was a quiet classic for decades, but since the 1990s has taken its place as the new "It" drink.

1 ounce gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce Campari
Orange twist for garnish

Pour the liquid ingredients into a chilled old-fashioned glass, over ice. Garnish with the orange twist.


A Belgian bartender created this drink in 1949, in honor of Perle Mesta who was then the American ambassador to Luxembourg. Just another perk of the job, apparently.

1 ounce vodka
1 ounce Kahlua

Pour both ingredients over ice in a chilled Old-Fashioned glass.


In 1938, it became known as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. But it had long been associated with genteel Southern life long before: in 1784 literature, it appears as a stomach remedy. There are plenty of arguments over exactly where and when it was first invented, but let's not get into a duel over it. Here's a recipe for the classic Southern concoction.

10 fresh mint leaves, plus sprig for garnish
1 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Seltzer water
Crushed ice
2 1/2 ounces Kentucky bourbon

In the bottom of an old-fashioned glass, place the mint leaves and top with the sugar. Muddle until the leave begin to break down. Add a splash of seltzer. Fill the glass 3/4 full with crushed ice, then add the bourbon. Add another splash of seltzer, stir, then garnish with mint sprig.

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