Whether you're planning for a party or simply wondering what to order during your next night out on the town, knowing the most common and popular cocktails makes ordering and serving a breeze. Cocktails typically contain one or more types of liquor along with several mixers, such as fruit juice, citrus juice, mint, honey, bitters, soda, and/or cream.
Popular Gin Cocktails
Gin is delicious and aromatic because it is a spirit distilled with botanical infusions including flavors such as coriander, juniper, and citrus peel. Gin was popular in speakeasies during Prohibition, but its popularity declined after the 21st Amendment went into effect, possibly because the quality of the bathtub gin served during the Noble Experiment was so poor. It's seeing a resurgence in modern cocktails as craft distillers make delicious gins with proprietary and interesting botanical aromatic profiles that mixologists love to use to make an array of flavorful cocktails.
The martini may be the best known and most beloved gin cocktail of all time. A traditional martini is made with two simple ingredients: gin and dry vermouth. It's classically garnished with an unstuffed Spanish olive. The martini is a stirred cocktail; it's not shaken because shaking can over-aerate the finished product, changing the silky mouthfeel of the martini. Martinis can be very dry, with just a spritz of vermouth or they can be wet, with as much as equal parts of gin and vermouth. It's said Winston Churchill liked his martinis so dry, they were straight gin. Martinis are always served cold and up in a chilled martini glass.
- The classic martini is a combination of gin and vermouth, stirred, with an unstuffed Spanish olive garnish.
- The dirty martini uses olive brine. Because the dirty martini contains olive juice, it needs to be lightly shaken in order to mix the brine with the alcohol. To do this, stir it in the shaker with ice for about a minute, and then cover and shake it with the ice for 10 seconds.
- One of the botanicals sometimes used to infuse gin is tea, so the Earl Gray martini combines tea with the botanicals of a nice, dry gin.
- The Gibson is a martini with a different garnish. To make a Gibson, make a classic martini and garnish it with a cocktail onion instead of an olive.
- A cucumber martini can be made with gin, because the flavor of the gin and the flavor of the cucumber complement one another.
- The vesper martini was James Bond's martini of choice. It's a combination of dry gin and dry vodka and instead of vermouth, it uses Lillet blanc, a dry French apéritif. It's garnished with a twist of lemon.
The gimlet is a classic gin sour, made with equal parts sweet and sour (simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice) to two parts of dry gin. It's shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice and served up in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
The Gin Sour
A gin sour is similar to a gimlet in that it's a classic sour with gin; however, the formula varies here because instead of lime juice and simple syrup for the sour mix, you use freshly squeezed lemon juice. It contains equal parts simple syrup and lemon juice to two parts of London dry gin. Shake it in a cocktail shaker with ice and serve it straight up in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.
A gin fizz is a gin sour with soda water or club soda added. It's served on ice in a highball glass with either a cherry or a lemon wedge as garnish.
A gin rickey is gimlet with club soda or soda water added. Serve it in a highball glass on ice with a lime slice as garnish.
Gin and Tonic
The gin and tonic, or G&T as it is colloquially known, is a simple combination of aromatic dry gin and bitter tonic water. The ratio of gin to tonic water varies depending on the person making it and the person drinking it, so if you have a preferred ratio, discuss it with your bartender. The classic G&T is served in a highball glass with a lime wedge or slice as garnish.
The Tom Collins is similar to a gin fizz. It is a classic lemon sour mix with club soda, but it's served in a collins glass on ice with a classic "flag" garnish, which is a cherry and an orange slice or wedge.
The Negroni is a beautiful, sunset-colored gin cocktail that gets its coloring from Campari, a vividly colored apéritif infused with aromatics and herbs that has a characteristically bitter flavor, and sweet vermouth, a sweeter version of the aromatized and fortified wine with a red color. A traditional negroni calls for equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. It's stirred and served on ice in a rocks glass, garnished with an orange slice.
More Good Gin Mixed Drinks
Additional tasty and popular gin drinks include:
- Gin madras - This cocktail is made with cranberry juice and orange juice served on ice in a lowball glass
- Pimm's cup No. 1 - This quintessentially British summer cocktail includes Pimm's liqueur, fruit juices, and spices mixed in a pitcher and served on ice.
- Singapore sling - This is a sweet, fizz cocktail made with brandy, fruit juices, sloe gin, and liqueurs served in a tall glass garnished with a cherry.
- Sloe gin fizz - This cocktail is similar to a gin fizz, but it's made with sloe gin. Serve it on ice in a rocks glass garnished with an orange slice or wedge.
Top Fruity Rum Mixed Drinks
Rum is a crowd-pleaser due to its smoky sweetness, and it's a staple in tropical-themed drinks. Rum, in part, owes its versatility in cocktails to its many incarnations and how its flavor profile varies around the world. It's made from molasses or sugar cane, and it can be dark, light, spiced, or flavored. Rum is frequently associated with tropical drinks because it has been made for centuries in places where sugar cane is grown such as Cuba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and elsewhere.
Rum also became associated with sailing vessels and pirates because it was popular on ships, both in casks as a beverage and as a preservative for fruit juices to help prevent scurvy.
There are dozens of ways to make a daiquiri, but the classic daiquiri is a rum sour that contains equal parts sweet and sour (simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice) with two parts rum (usually light rum, but it's interesting with dark or spiced rum). The classic daiquiri is shaken with ice and served up in a chilled cocktail glass garnished with a lime wedge.
Because rum blends so well with so many fruits, the standard daiquiri has been varied frequently and is now offered as a frozen, blended drink as well.
- Strawberry daiquiris are the most popular type of fruit daiquiri, made with strawberries, sugar syrup, lime juice, rum, and ice.
- The rum runner frozen daiquiri is a boozy mix of a bunch of different types of fruits and liqueurs including blackberry brandy, banana liqueur, lime juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine.
- Other tropical fruit daiquiris, such as banana and mango daiquiris are also popular frozen blended rum drinks.
The mojito is a classic fizz cocktail made with mint, rum, lime juice, simple syrup or sugar, and soda water. It's served shaken on ice in a highball glass with a garnish of mint. The mojito originated in Havana, and in recent years, craft cocktail makers have taken pleasure in offering twists on the traditional mojito by muddling other fruits with the mint such as berries or topical fruits.
The caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil. It's made with cachaça, which is Brazilian rum. It's a simple combination of muddled lime (half of a lime) and simple syrup (¾ ounce) with two ounces of cachaça, shaken with ice and strained into a chilled rocks glass straight-up.
No discussion of popular cocktails could exclude the brilliant and tasty piña colada, a delicious combination of pineapple, rum, and coconut cream from Puerto Rico. It's served either frozen and blended or on the rocks in a hurricane glass.
Punch has a long and storied history as the oldest known type of cocktail. The East India Company invented punch in the 18th Century as a way to preserve citrus juices aboard sailing ships. The original punch was a combination of rum, citrus, and spices. Today, rum punch remains a tropical mainstay, with everyone enjoying their own preferred recipe.
Hot Buttered Rum
If a tiki drink doesn't sound quite so good when winter's chill is upon you, it's no problem. You can still enjoy a rum drink with a delicious hot buttered rum. It's a sweet combination of a buttery, dairy-based batter, rum, and hot water sure to chase the chill from your bones.
Types of Popular Tiki Drinks
Rum is the primary spirit used in tiki drinks, which are tropical themed "exotic" drinks based around delicious tropical rum. Chances are, if you order a drink with a paper umbrella in it, it likely has rum as an ingredient.
- Bahama mama - This tropical cocktail is made with coconut rum, coffee liqueur, and pineapple juice served on the rocks.
- Blue Hawaii - As blue as a Hawaiian sea, the blue Hawaii is a Hawaiian drink that includes pineapple juice, sweet and sour mix, rum, and blue curaçao served on ice.
- Cuba libre - This is a classic cocktail that is easy to make, with cola and lime. Serve on ice in a highball glass with a lime garnish.
- Hurricane - This tropical flavored cocktail was invented in New Orleans, and it quickly became a modern classic. It contains lime juice and passion fruit syrup served on ice.
- Dark and stormy - The national cocktail of Bermuda, the dark and stormy is an enticing combination of dark rum and ginger beer served in a highball glass on the rocks.
- Mai tai - While the mai tai is considered a popular tropical tiki drink, it was actually invented in San Francisco by Jules Bergeron who later became known as Trader Vic. The classic cocktail is a combination of white and dark rum with orgeat syrup (or amaretto), curaçao, and lime juice.
- Zombie - Thezombie cocktail is another American invention created in a tiki bar in Los Angeles by a man named Donn Beach. It's a potent combination of light and dark rum, curaçao, cocktail bitters, lemon, lime, orange, and passionfruit juice, and grenadine. Sometimes, it's made even more potent with a float of 151-proof rum.
Popular Tequila and Mezcal Cocktails
Tequila and mezcal come from agave plants grown in Mexico. The sprit is often made by artisan distillers who have crafted tequila and mezcal as a family business for generations. There are slight variations in how tequila and mezcal are made, and they do have flavor differences, but you'll often find them used interchangeably in uniquely Mexican drinks.
The margarita is arguably the most popular tequila cocktail around. A classic margarita is a tequila sour made with equal parts lime juice and agave syrup or orange liqueur with two parts of tequila. It's shaken and served on the rocks in a rocks glass or strained and served straight up in a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with salt. As with daiquiris, the versatility of the base spirit has led to a number of variations on the classic, often frozen and blended with fruit flavors, such as the watermelon margarita.
More Tequila and Mezcal Cocktails
With lots of different types and styles of tequila and mezcal, there are a number of popular cocktails.
- Bloody Maria - This is a variation on the classic bloody Mary served garnished with a celery stalk.
- Juan Collins - A classic Collins, the Juan Collins has tequila or mezcal as the base spirit.
- Tequila sunrise - This beautiful cocktail evokes the sunrise with its orange color from orange juice and red color from grenadine.
- Tequila sunset - This cocktail is similar to the sunrise, but the grenadine floats on top; it's the consummate umbrella drink.
Popular Vodka Cocktails
Vodka wasn't really a thing in the United States for many years, until the stars in Hollywood discovered it in the 1960s and 70s. However, once vodka caught on, it really caught on, and it became the premier spirit used in mixed drinks in America throughout the 1980s and beyond. Because of its clean taste, vodka remains a hugely popular cocktail ingredient.
The vodka martini is a slightly less interesting version of the gin martini. Vodka lacks gin's aromatics, but many people enjoy the clean combination of vermouth and vodka (stirred of course). Classic vodka martinis follow the exact recipe of a gin martini, but with vodka in place of the gin. You'll find a number of other drinks that contain vodka and other flavoring ingredients labeled as vodka martinis, although purists argue that just because it comes straight-up in a chilled martini glass doesn't make it a martini, and true martinis are vodka or gin and vermouth garnished with an olive. However, such purists are few and far between, so if you want to call it a martini, even if it contains ingredients such as Irish Cream, or it's an appletini, go for it. Nobody will judge.
The bloody Mary is the most popular brunch cocktail. A basic bloody Mary is a simple combination of tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce (just a dash), lemon juice, tabasco, and salt. It's garnished with a celery stalk. The classic drink is rolled (mixed by pouring from container to container in a cocktail shaker) and served in a highball glass on the rocks.
However, recent years have brought a trend of ultra-fancy bloody Mary mixed drinks, with each bartender guarding his or her secret ingredients to spice up the classic, such as horseradish, pickle juice, celery salt, bacon-flavored vodka, and more. Another trend in the bloody Mary is the addition of excessive garnishes; skewered shrimp, pizza slices, hamburgers, bacon slices, and sometimes more than one of these things, all poked on skewers and stuck in the drink so it becomes an exercise in excess instead of the beautiful restraint of the original classic. Whichever kind of bloody Mary you enjoy, have it at brunch with a tasty omelet and a side of bacon.
The cosmopolitan has become the girls' night out drink of the 21st century. This may be thanks in part to its pretty ruby color that comes from cranberry juice, but it could also be due to the balanced combination of sweet and tart flavors from the juice, triple sec, and freshly squeezed lime juice. The cosmopolitan is shaken and served straight-up in a chilled martini glass, garnished with a lime wheel.
The kamikaze is a vodka sour made with equal parts sour (lime juice) and sweet (triple sec) with two parts of vodka. It's shaken and either served straight up in a chilled cocktail glass or over ice in a rocks glass. A simple lime twist or lime wedge garnishes it.
The lemon drop is a popular and exciting vodka drink that has grown in popularity. It's a simple vodka sour made from equal parts lemon juice and simple syrup to two parts of citron vodka. The drink is shaken with ice and served straight up in a chilled martini glass with a sugared rim. It's usually garnished with lemon, and in some cases it's garnished with a lemon drop candy.
The Smirnoff company invented the Moscow mule, which is a tasty combination of vodka (2 ounces), tangy ginger beer (4 ounces), and tart freshly squeezed lime juice (½ ounce). The classic cocktail is served on the rocks in a copper mule cup. With the availability of flavored vodkas, as well as fresh, in-season fruits, craft mixologists are creating an array of mule flavors, so there's lots to explore and taste.
Just as it does in a classic martini, vodka replaces gin in the Tom Collins to create a vodka collins. Because vodka is less aromatic than gin, the cocktail has a cleaner taste that some like better than the Tom Collins, and some find it less interesting. It's served in a collins glass on the rocks with a classic flag garnish.
Common Whiskey Bar Drinks
Whiskey, whisky (in Scotland and Canada), scotch, rye, and bourbon are all distilled from a base of grains (rye, wheat, corn, and barley) and then aged in wood to add complexity. While many people like their whisk(e)y neat or on the rocks, whisk(e)y cocktails are also popular.
Some cocktails never go out of style, and the old-fashioned is one of them. These cocktails are made simply with a sugar cube, bitters, some type of whiskey, a splash of water, and ice. The standard garnish is an orange peel.
The mint julep is a type of a cocktail known as a smash that contains muddled mint, sugar, and bourbon. It's served in a rocks glass or sterling silver julep cup with lots of finely crushed ice to keep it super chilled. Mint sprigs are the traditional garnish.
Another classic sour, this time made with whiskey, the whiskey sour contains equal parts sour (lemon juice) and sweet (simple syrup) with two parts of whiskey of your choice. It's shaken and served on the rocks in a rocks glass.
The hot toddy is a tasty winter classic made with honey, lemon juice, tea, and the whisk(e)y of your choice. As the name implies, it's served hot, so it's perfect to chase away the winter chill.
Irish coffee is another chill-chaser. It's a delicious combination of Irish whiskey, coffee, brown sugar, and lightly whipped unsweetened cream that's irresistible after a day spent out in the cold.
The name of this whiskey cocktail reveals its origins; it was invented in New York City in the late 1800s, and it's been a popular martini-style cocktail ever since. The classic Manhattan contains two parts rye whiskey or bourbon to one part sweet vermouth along with a dash or two of Angostura bitters. It's stirred and served straight up in a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon peel garnish.
If you replace the bourbon or rye in a Manhattan cocktail with Scotch whisky (preferably blended), you've got the Rob Roy cocktail. Stir it and strain it, straight up, into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
The Sazerac was invented in New Orleans in the 19th century, and it's a play on the classic old fashioned. It's made with rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters, a sugar cube, and a splash of absinthe that just rinses the glass to coat it with flavor. Serve the Sazerac on the rocks in a rocks glass.
More Popular Mixed Drinks
You'll also find an array of popular cocktails made with liqueurs, brandy, Cognac and Armagnac, and even wine and Champagne.
- Amaretto sour - Amaretto with sweet and sour served on crushed ice, this cocktail offers a nice balance of sweet and tart.
- Sidecar - Created in the 1920s, the sidecar is essentially a Cognac sour. It's made with equal parts sweet (simple syrup) and sour (freshly squeezed lemon juice) with two parts of Cognac. It's shaken with ice and served straight up in a chilled cocktail glass with a sugared rim and a lemon peel garnish.
- Long Island iced tea - With vodka, rum, tequila, gin, triple sec, sweet and sour, and cola served on crushed ice in a highball glass, the Long Island iced tea looks like tea but it has a real kick. Garnish it with a cherry.
- Mimosa - This simple Champagne cocktail is made with sparkling wine and orange juice. The mimosa is a delicious celebratory brunch cocktail.
- Sangria - A Spanish wine punch, fruity sangria is made with red or white wine, fruit, spirits such as Cognac, and cut up fruit.
Most Common Bar Drinks
These are but a few of the many popular cocktails. Some are modern inventions, while others have origins stretching back centuries. With so many flavors and base spirits, you're sure to find a cocktail you love.