Basic Drinks to Know Before You Try Bartending

Karen Frazier
Bartender pouring cocktail

Every bartender should know how to prepare a variety of drinks in order to run a bar successfully. There are a number of bartender recipes for basic cocktails that customers commonly order, as well as important drink mixing techniques. Learn how to make these drinks, and you'll be well on your way to being prepared to work as a bartender!

Drinks Every Bartender Should Know: 12 Basic Cocktail Recipes

Recipes for a dozen of the most basic drinks you'll need to know as you start bartending are available in the printable below, which functions as a cheat sheet. It includes recipes, ratios, classic garnishes, and even what glass to use. Print it and keep it with you as you study and practice. To view and print, click the image. If you need help, consult this guide for printables.

1. Martini

A classic martini is a thing of beauty. Dry, chilled, and aromatic, it uses just two ingredients, gin and vermouth (plus ice and garnish). Once you've mastered the classic version, you can try simple variations, such as a vodka martini or a dirty martini.

2. Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary is having a moment right now with popular versions containing an array of food garnishes, using bacon flavored liquors, or featuring lots of spice. However, before you can fly, you need to learn to walk, so it's important to learn how to make a classic Bloody Mary with tomato juice, vodka, and some spice. Once you've mastered that, you can start to embellish as your creativity takes over.

3. Old-Fashioned

Made with sugar, angostura bitters, and whiskey (usually bourbon or rye), a good old-fashioned never goes out of style. It's a supremely balanced drink with deep and complex flavors. Once you have the classic mastered, you can start to experiment with some fantastic new ingredients, such as a maple bourbon or flavored bitters such as orange, chocolate, or cardamom, to create new, exciting flavor profiles.

4. Gin and Tonic

Simple, refreshing, and lightly bitter, a classic gin and tonic combines two ounces of aromatic dry gin with four ounces of tonic water and a squeeze of lime juice. It's a great, fizzy summer cocktail, and you can easily vary it with a squeeze of another citrus juice (grapefruit is tasty) or by experimenting with gins that have different aromatic profiles.

5. Kamikaze

The classic kamikaze is a cold, sweet-tart combination of vodka, lime juice, and triple sec that's perfect for sipping. Learn the basic recipe, then try to fancy it up a bit, for example with fresh blackberries.

6. Lemon Drop

Lemon drops are the Johnny-come-lately of martinis, but they're quite popular. With a sweet, tart, lemony flavor, this chilled and shaken cocktail is reminiscent of the candy after which it's named. Want to fancy it up? Drop an actual lemon drop candy in as a garnish, or add some fresh berries.

Classic lemon drop cocktail

7. Long Island Iced Tea

This isn't your grandma's sweet tea. Long Island Iced Tea has been around for a while because it packs such a powerful boozy wallop with five different types of liquor including gin, vodka, rum, tequila, and triple sec or Cointreau.

8. Tom Collins

A Tom Collins is another classic gin cocktail that remains popular, particularly in summer months when people are looking for a refreshing drink. Made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water, it's aromatic, fizzy, sweet, and lemony. Learn the classic, and then add one more drink to your repertoire to create a less aromatic vodka Collins, which is a Tom Collins made with vodka in place of the gin.

9. Manhattan

A Manhattan is a classic martini's darker, sweeter, slightly more complex cousin. Made with rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters, it's been a popular classic for decades.

10. Margarita

Sometimes the only cocktail that will suffice is a tart margarita. The classic version is made with lime juice, triple sec or Cointreau, and tequila on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass. Master the classic before you expand to blended margaritas or fruit flavored versions like a strawberry margarita.

11. Daiquiri

Like the margarita, a classic daiquiri is a drink that is served on the rocks, although it is also popular blended and frozen. This sweet, tart, and refreshing cocktail contains lime juice, rum, and simple syrup. Master the classic, and then expand into frozen and fruity versions, such as strawberry or banana.

12. Gimlet

A classic gimlet is another gin cocktail is made with gin, lime juice, and simple syrup. It's tart and sweet with plenty of pucker power. Once you've mastered the gin gimlet, you can easily vary it by replacing the gin with vodka to make a vodka gimlet.

Gimlet cocktail

10 Popular Drinks Bartenders Should Know

Along with the basics, a good bartender knows how to make the classic versions of the most popular cocktails that are the most commonly ordered in bars around the world.

1. Mojito

The Cuban mojito cocktail is growing in popularity for its sweet, minty, refreshing flavors. Learn the classic recipe and technique first (below) and then branch out to add other flavors such as tropical juices or berries.

Ingredients

  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1/2 lime, cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • 1 1/2 ounces white rum
  • Ice
  • Club soda
  • Additional lime wedges and mint sprigs for garnish

Instructions

  1. Add the mint leaves, lime wedges, and sugar to a cocktail shaker. Muddle.
  2. Add the rum. Shake to mix.
  3. Pour into a rocks glass half filled with ice. Add the club soda. Stir.
  4. Garnish with lime wedges and mint sprigs.

2. Negroni

A traditional negroni is a thing of beauty; it's a flavorful blend of gin, Campari, and vermouth. It's also one of the most popular cocktails in the world, so if you're behind the bar, you'll likely encounter it sooner rather than later.

Negroni cocktail

3. Whiskey Sour

Next to the old-fashioned, the whiskey sour is the world's most popular whiskey cocktail, so it's important that a bartender learns this blend of whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup.

4. Moscow Mule

The classic Moscow mule is all over cocktail menus these days along with popular variations that add berries, fuit juice, mint, and other ingredients. Learn the classic, and then creatively branch out.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lime, cut into wedges
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 6 ounces ginger beer
  • Ice

Instructions

  1. Squeeze the lime wedges into a mule cup or rocks glass.
  2. Add the vodka, ginger beer, and ice. Stir.

5. Sazerac

The sazerac cocktail was invented in New Orleans, and it remains a popular cocktail, particularly in the United States. It's a unique blend of rye, bitters, and other aromatic ingredients.

6. Amaretto Sour

The sweet and sour amaretto sour remains a popular bar drink. It's easy to make with three basic ingredients: amaretto, sweet and sour mix, and lemon-lime soda garnished with a simple cherry.

7. French 75

This classic cocktail has been showing up on cocktail menus a lot in recent years, so it's helpful to know how to make it.

French 75 cocktail

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice.
  2. Add the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake to chill.
  3. Strain into a Champagne glass. Fill to the top with chilled Champagne.
  4. Garnish with a lemon peel.

8. Sidecar

It may sound old-fashioned, but the sidecar is another classic drink enjoying a renaissance. It's a simple drink made with Cointreau, cognac or armagnac, and lemon juice.

9. Cosmopolitan

The pink-tinted Cosmopolitan is considered a typical girly drink, but it's got great sweet and sour combination of flavors that makes it a popular and commonly ordered cocktail bartenders need to know.

10. White Russian

The white Russian is one of the most popular Kahlúa drinks because it is sweet and creamy. Chances are you'll be asked to make at least one of these cocktails your first night behind the bar. You'll probably also want to know how to make a Black Russian, which is also quite popular.

4 Basic Cocktail Formulas for Bartenders

Classic cocktails like sours, fizzes, and others all have basic formulas you can follow. When you work with the different formulas but switch ingredients, you can create an array of really interesting cocktails with your own personal flare.

Bartender mixing a drink

Sours

Sour cocktails, such as whiskey sours, margaritas, and others, follow a simple formula:

  • 1 part sweet (such as simple syrup, agave nectar, or liqueur)
  • 1 part sour (such as lime or lemon juice)
  • 2 parts strong (a distilled spirit)
  • Shake with ice

You can alter this in many ways. The sky's the limit once you understand the basic formula. For example:

  • Change the sweet to a liqueur such as Chambord or Luxardo cherry liqueur.
  • Change your simple syrup to an infused syrup to alter flavor profiles.
  • Add fruit or herbal flavors to a basic sour by shaking the cocktails with some fresh fruit or herbs before straining, such as raspberries or mint.

Fizzes

Fizzes are mostly sours with some club soda added. For example, a gin fizz follows the classic 1:1:2 ratio for sweet:sour:strong, but it then adds a few ounces of club soda at the end, stirred. The formula for a fizz:

  • 1 part sweet
  • 1 part sour
  • 2 parts strong

Shake with ice and strain over ice in a rocks or highball glass. Stir in:

  • 2 to 4 parts fizzy
  • Fizzy might include club soda, sparkling water, or even flavored soda although you'll want to adjust sweetness if you're using a sweetened soda by adding less of your sweet component.
  • You can add herbs and other ingredients as well. A mojito is an example of a fizz that has mint added.

Old Fashioneds

Most people know about making an old-fashioned with whiskey, but you can make it with other brown liquors (such as Cognac or dark rum) as well. The formula:

  • 2 to 3 dashes bitters
  • 1 sugar cube
  • Splash of soda water

Muddle these three ingredients and add:

  • 2 ounces brown spirit

Stir and strain into a rocks glass.

  • Try using different flavors of bitters, or even a splash of absinthe.
  • Use different types of sugars or flavored syrups.

Martini Style Cocktails

Everyone knows a classic dry martini is gin and vermouth, but the Manhattan and vodka martini are both variations on the classic. The basic formula:

  • 4 parts strong (a distilled spirit)
  • 1 part fortified (a fortified wine)
  • Stirred with ice and served straight up

With the basic formula in place, you can experiment in the following ways:

  • Change dry vermouth for other fortified wines such as Sherry or Port.
  • Use different spirits, such as cognac, armagnac, or a smoky Scotch.
  • Use sweet vermouth instead of dry.
  • Play around with the 4:1 ratio; the original martini actually was more likely a 1:1 mix of gin and vermouth.
  • Add a few dashes of various types of bitters such as orange bitters to enhance and change flavors slightly.

More Bartender Basics

Ready to branch out? There are plenty of great basic bartender cocktails to learn.

Bartenders Need to Master Basic Cocktail Recipes

Every bartender needs to know how to make a nice selection of classic cocktails. From there, he or she can expand in repertoire to include creative variations on the basics before moving on to less commonly ordered drinks in order to offer skilled bar service.

Basic Drinks to Know Before You Try Bartending