The 30 Classic Cocktails You’ve Got to Try at Least Once in Your Life
There are hundreds of cocktails out there, with new variations on classics popping up every year among trendy bars all across the United States. But who could forget about the classics? The cocktails that were the foundations of the trend—you know, the ones that popped up prior to the Prohibition era or even several centuries before that? For all of the cocktail enthusiasts, and those who just appreciate one from time to time, we have showcased a list of some of the classic cocktails we think you should try at least once in your life. You may just have a new favorite go-to after reading this list.
The Salty Dog
Ingredients: Gin or vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, salt, grapefruit wedge (optional)
Why it’s iconic: The salty dog is essentially the greyhound cocktail (vodka or gin mixed with grapefruit juice) except the rim of the glass is coated in coarse salt. The grapefruit juice gives this cocktail a refreshing quality, which is why it’s best enjoyed in the hot summer months.
Ingredients: Mescal or tequila, fresh grapefruit juice, lime juice, club soda, sugar, salt, grapefruit wedge or lime wedge (optional)
Why it’s iconic: The paloma cocktail is a go-to drink in Mexico. It’s fizzy from the club soda, sweet from the tequila, and even a bit bitter from the grapefruit juice. Fun fact: in Spanish, paloma means dove.
The French 75
Ingredients: Gin, Champagne, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, long spiral lemon twist (for garnish)
Why it’s iconic: This cocktail originated sometime in the 1920s by Harry MacElhone, the founder of the long-standing cocktail bar in France, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The French 75 was then popularized in the U.S. by the legendary bar The Stork Club in New York City.
Ingredients: Rye or bourbon, sugar, angostura bitters, orange slice and twist (optional)
Why it’s iconic: The old fashioned cocktail is arguably one of the most commonly ordered cocktails. In fact, Drinks International conducts a poll annually that surveys bartenders among the world’s best bars, where they’re asked to rank their 10-best selling cocktails. For the fifth year in a row, “nearly 30% of bars polled said it was their number one selling classic cocktail.”
The old fashioned first debuted as we know it today in 1880, but the classic whiskey drink was likely being made well before then, with the word “cocktail” making its first appearance in American newspapers in 1806. A cocktail, back then, was described as a drink that included a spirit with sugar, bitters, and water.
Ingredients: Vodka, Kahlúa, heavy cream
Why it’s iconic: The White Russian is a derivative of the Black Russian drink, which just consists of vodka and Kahlúa. The White Russian is said to have debuted in the 1960s after an individual cleverly added cream to the Black Russian. A resurgence of the drink’s popularity occurred after The Big Lebowski hit theaters in 1998 with several shots of the character, the Dude, sipping on the sweet drink.
Ingredients: White rum, simple syrup, club soda, fresh lime juice, mint leaves
Ingredients: Vodka, ginger beer, lime juice
Why it’s iconic: You can almost always count on getting this cocktail in that signature copper mug. The Moscow Mule has been an American favorite for almost 80 years.
Ingredients: Red wine, apple slices, quartered orange slices, orange liqueur, apple juice, prosecco
Why it’s iconic: Sangria, in Spanish, translates to a mix of fruit and wine. Fitting, yes? This is another timeless cocktail that’s likely been around for multiple centuries. The fruity beverage originally debuted in the U.S. at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
Ingredients: Bourbon or rye, sweet vermouth, angostura bitters, orange bitters
Why it’s iconic: The inception of the Manhattan took place in—you guessed it—Manhattan! The classic cocktail debuted at the Manhattan Club in New York City supposedly around 1880.
Ingredients: Fresh white peach purée, prosecco
Why it’s iconic: This sweet cocktail only contains two ingredients: peach and prosecco. The Bellini was created by the founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Giuseppe Cipriani in 1948. Originally a seasonal drink, this cocktail soon became prevalent on bar menus year-round. However, it’s probably best to order this drink when white peaches are in season for optimal flavor, which is the summer!
Ingredients: Chambord or Crème de Cassis, Champagne
Why it’s iconic: There’s a reason this cocktail has a luxurious name—this Champagne-based cocktail is either sweetened (and spiked) with a high-class, French black raspberry liqueur called Chambord or a blackcurrant liqueur called Crème de Cassis. In other words, this is the kind of cocktail you order at a fancy dinner out on the town.
Ingredients: Gin, vodka, and Lillet blanc apéritif
Why it’s iconic: The Vesper or Vesper Martini was popularized by Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond book series. The cocktail appeared in the 1953 book Casino Royale, with its name attributed to Vesper Lynd—the fictional double agent. You may recall James Bond asking for the Vesper “shaken not stirred.”
Ingredients: Gin, Campari, sweet vermouth
Why it’s iconic: This drink is exactly 100 years old, with its debut occurring in Florence, Italy, in 1919. The Negroni has made quite the comeback in popularity in recent years as well. According to Drinks International “The World’s Best-Selling Classic Cocktails 2019” the Negroni took second place for the fifth consecutive year, with 19 percent of bartenders from some of the world’s most famous bars saying it’s their top selling cocktail.
Ingredients: Tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, hot sauce, salt, black pepper, lemon juice, 1 celery stick, lemon wedge (optional)
Why it’s iconic: The Bloody Mary may be most iconic for its ability to supposedly cure a hangover (a la hair of the dog), which explains why so many people order the drink at brunch. There are a lot of variations to this classic cocktail, but this is a typical recipe!
Ingredients: Tequila blanco, lime juice, agave (or simple) syrup, salt, a slice of lime (optional)
Why it’s iconic: You don’t have to be a cocktail enthusiast to have tried a margarita, thanks to the plentiful (and colorful) margarita mixes you can find in the store. This cocktail is also fantastic when it’s frozen. Boozy slushie, anyone? Yes, please!
Ingredients: Light rum, fresh lime juice, Demerara sugar syrup
Why it’s iconic: Lovers of rum likely enjoy this cocktail above the rest. It’s said to have been invented during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The cocktail was named after the mining town in Cuba that it was created in, Daiquiri. You can order these cocktails shaken or frozen like a slushie and with multiple flavor enhancements.
Ingredients: Bourbon, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, orange slice, and Maraschino cherry (optional)
Why it’s iconic: It’s said that sailors of the British Navy used to drink something similar to the whiskey sour when water was scarce.
Ingredients: Brut prosecco, Aperol, club soda, slices of lime or orange
Why it’s iconic: This cocktail just recently made a comeback in popularity. The drink is said to be one of the most popular apéritifs (an alcoholic drink that helps to stimulate digestion before a meal) in Italy. This drink is perfect for the person who prefers a fizzy and lower-in-alcohol content cocktail.
Ingredients: Citrus vodka, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, cranberry juice
Why it’s iconic: Perhaps you learned about this cocktail during its peak of popularity from Sex and the City on HBO. It’s no question that women who watched this show in the ’90s and early ’00s were in awe of how cool Carrie Bradshaw made ordering this pink cocktail look.
Long Island Iced Tea
Ingredients: Gin, white rum, silver tequila, vodka, triple sec, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, cola
Why it’s iconic: It’s no wonder a Long Island Iced Tea is known as one of the “stronger” cocktails out there—just look at what all goes into it! There are four very different spirits mixed together in this cocktail, and there isn’t a trace of tea in sight.
Ingredients: Irish whiskey, brown sugar, brewed coffee, whipped cream (optional)
Why it’s iconic: Sipping on a glass full of coffee mixed with whiskey may just be one of the most warming drink combinations. Add in a dollop of whipped cream, and you’ve got yourself a creamy cocktail. As one would infer, the first Irish Coffee was made in Ireland, but the first Irish Coffee made in the U.S. is still sold today at The Buena Vista in San Francisco.
Gin & Tonic
Ingredients: Gin, tonic water, lemon or lime wedges
Why it’s iconic: It’s one of the most simple, yet sophisticated, mixed drinks out there. It’s also one of the more lower-calorie cocktails, with absolutely no added sugar or syrups.
RELATED: The science-backed way to curb your sweet tooth in 14 days.
Ingredients: Bourbon, simple syrup, mint leaves
Why it’s iconic: This is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, and it’s traditionally served in a classy silver Julep cup. Patrons have been sipping on this cocktail since the 18th century.
Ingredients: Campari, sweet vermouth, Bulleit rye whiskey, orange peel or twist (optional)
Why it’s iconic: The Boulevardier is actually the Negroni cocktail’s cousin—the only difference is the vodka is swapped out for whiskey. The cocktail was invented during the Prohibition era.
Ingredients: Rum, lime juice, rock candy syrup, Orgeat almond syrup, orange curaçao, mint sprig, and lime rind (optional)
Why it’s iconic: First off, there are a lot of different ways to make this drink, hence the reason why you may see this drink be served in all colors of the sunset. In Tahitian, Mai Tai means “the best out of this world!” Try this sweet cocktail yourself—you can be the judge of that!
Ingredients: Cognac, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, orange peel, and sugar (optional)
Why it’s iconic: This is the classic sour cocktail, which makes the sugar coating on the rim of the glass all that more important!
Ingredients: Gin, simple syrup, fresh lime juice
Why it’s iconic: Would you believe that the gimlet was invented as a means to help sailors prevent getting scurvy (a severe deficiency in vitamin C) while at sea? Cheers to preventive care, or um, cocktails!
Ingredients: Champagne, orange juice, orange slices
Why it’s iconic: Have you ever been to a boozy brunch without mimosas? The mimosa is probably the most basic cocktail of them all, but it’s also one of the most popular of them all. Where the first mimosa was truly concocted is still up for debate—its origins are disputed between a Paris bar and a London club.
Dark ‘n Stormy
Ingredients: Gosling’s Black Seal rum, ginger beer, rum
Why it’s iconic: This drink is the unofficial cocktail of the shipwreck capital of the world, Bermuda.
Ingredients: Gin, egg white, fresh lemon juice, raspberry syrup, raspberries
Why it’s iconic: Known as a pre-Prohibition classic cocktail, the Clover Club was named after a men’s club in Philadelphia. It recently experienced a resurgence in popularity, and there’s even a bar in Brooklyn, New York, that’s named after the signature drink.