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10 Classic Cocktails You Must Try

An introduction to the finest cocktails of all time

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There are many cocktails and mixed drinks that you can make, but there are a handful that are necessary to building a true, classic cocktail experience. I am making a distinction in this list between cocktails and mixed drinks. Cocktails by definition are "composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters" and are typically served neat or short and on the rocks. That is, for the most part, what you will find below and many of them are classic cocktails that have been served for a century or more.

This list is intended to be an introduction to those "fancy" cocktails that should be on your "must try at least once" list of drinks.

1. Dry Martini

Classic Gin Martini with Olives
Impstef Studios Llc/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The Martini is typically the first cocktail many people think of when it comes to "fancy" drinks. While many neat drinks are typically referred to as "martinis" and come in every color and flavor imaginable, the true "Martini" is simply comprised of gin and dry vermouth with either an olive or lemon twist garnish.

There are many variations on this simple drink from a Dirty Martini to a Vodka Martini, and there is also a preference as to how "dry" you want your Martini. All of those can be found on the recipe page.

Similar gin cocktails to try:

2. Manhattan

Manhattan
Jacob Snavely/Photolibrary/Getty Images

What the Martini is to gin, the Manhattan is to whiskey. Traditionally this cocktail is made with rye whiskey or bourbon, and often Canadian whisky though traditionalists will choose one of the first two options. Beyond the base spirit, the Martini's dry vermouth is swapped out for sweet vermouth and a cherry is the customary garnish. When you can make one of these first two drinks well you should be able to make the other.

Again, the Manhattan can be made to order depending on your preference and it is a staple cocktail for tasting new whiskies.

Similar cocktails to try:

3. Martinez

Fabiola Cocktail Recipe - Cinzano Bianco Vermouth
Photo Courtesy of: © SKYY Spirits

It is said that the Martinez was the inspiration for the Martini and that it was created by "Professor" Jerry Thomas, the most famous bartender of all time in the late 1800's. Though it does not have the immediate name recognition as it's younger counterpart, it is just as important to the cocktail experience because it show the sweeter side of the gin cocktail. Choose a premium gin to mix with the sweet vermouth, maraschino, and bitters for the best Martinez tasting.

Similar cocktails to try:

4. Sazerac

Sazerac Cocktail Recipe - www.cocktailtimes.com
Photo Courtesy of: © www.CocktailTimes.com

The Sazerac may not be for everyone for the simple fact that it does include absinthe (or a substitute) and therefore has an underlying anise flavor, but it is one of those cocktails that I encourage everyone to try at least once. When mixing this drink you do want to take it easy on the absinthe because it can easily overpower the whiskey. However, a well-made Sazerac has the potential to be the best cocktail you have ever had.

The Sazerac is one of the quintessential cocktails of New Orleans, which had a large influence in cocktails over the years. This was proven when in 2008 the Sazerac became the official cocktail of the city.

Similar cocktails to try:

5. Old-fashioned

Old-Fashioned Cocktail - Canadian Mist Whiskey - Tim Laird, Mixologist
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham

The Old-fashioned is another cocktail that is very simple, a great way to experience different whiskies, and essential to completing a cocktail repertoire. It will also introduce you to the bartending technique of muddling because this cocktail is more about the process than the ingredients. You begin by muddling sugar, bitters, and a slice of orange, then add ice and bourbon and stirring the mix. Some people prefer finishing it with club soda while traditionalists skip that touch.

One of the great things about the Old-fashioned is that the fruits and spirit are open to adaptation, just follow the basic formula and have fun with it.

Here are a few examples:

6. Brandy Cocktail

Canne Creuse Cocktail - Pernod Absinthe Cocktail
Photo Courtesy of: © Pernod Absinthe

I include the Brandy Cocktail in this list because it is a good example of the "original" cocktails. When the cocktail was first defined you would order a "cocktail" by spirit such as a Brandy Cocktail, Whiskey Cocktail, or Gin Cocktail and this was the basic formula: spirit, orange liqueur, bitters. It is a nice introduction to the most classic of cocktails and a fine way to enjoy any spirit.

Similar brandy cocktails to try:

7. Margarita

Photo Credit: © Christy Thompson www.justmacros.com

Everyone has heard of the Margarita and like the Martini it now comes in every color and flavor imaginable (see Margarita Madness). The classic recipe is far simpler than many of its modern counterparts and there is no blender involved. The traditional Margarita is served neat and made simply of tequila, orange liqueur, lime and lemon juices, and simple syrup (or a homemade sweet and sour mix).

Why do I include it here when you've likely already had a Margarita? To encourage making one from scratch where you can fully enjoy tequila, orange and lime and because the ultimate Margarita experience does not involve bottles of "margarita mix".

More (non-traditional) tequila cocktails to try:

8. Daiquiri

Obituary Cocktail
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham

The Daiquiri has been dealt a similar fate as that of the Margarita and Martini, though to as large an extent. The original Daiquiri, which was one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite drinks, is a simple mix of rum, lime juice, and simple syrup, shaken and served neat. If a frozen Strawberry Daiquiri or one of the multitude of other flavored drinks that take this name are the extent of your Daiquiri experience I encourage you to give this pure version a chance. I think you will like it.

Similar rum cocktails to try:

9. New Orleans Fizz

Ramos Gin Fizz Cocktail - New Orleans Fizz Cocktail
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham

The fizz is a popular style of drink that began back in the "Golden Age" of cocktails and the New Orleans Fizz (aka Ramos Gin Fizz) is one of the most popular. A favorite of the "Big Easy," was once so popular that during the 1915 Mardi Gras celebration 35 shaker boys worked at once to fill orders at the creator's bar.

The New Orleans Fizz is a great introduction to the qualities that shaking eggs bring to cocktails. It creates a rich, creamy, frothy drink that is simply delicious. The key to a great fizz is to shake until it hurts.

Similar cocktails to try:

10. Mint Julep

Mint Julep - Bourbon Cocktail Classic - Kentucky Derby - Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey
Photo Courtesy of: © Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey

Ahh, the Mint Julep. It is the drink of the Kentucky Derby and one of the best known bourbon cocktails made to date. Like the Old-fashioned, this drink requires muddling, but in this case you are muddling mint and simple syrup. Once the essence of the mint has been release, fill the glass with crushed ice and add your bourbon. It is simple but delightful and can lead you to a variety of other "stick" drinks.

Similar muddled cocktails:

Related Video
Martinez Cocktail Recipe

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