Basic Drinks to Know Before You Try Bartending

Updated January 25, 2022
Bartender guy working prepare cocktail skills

Every bartender should know how to prepare a variety of drinks in order to run their bar shift successfully. There are a number of recipes for basic cocktails that customers commonly order and essential 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.

Martini

Martini Cocktail with olive in glass

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

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. In a mixing glass, add ice, gin, and dry vermouth.
  3. Stir rapidly to chill.
  4. Strain into chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with olive.

Bloody Mary

Bloody mary cocktail

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. Once you've mastered that, you can start to embellish as your creativity takes over.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 4 ounces tomato juice
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce Tobasco
  • ¼ ounce horseradish
  • 2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch celery salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Pinch smoked paprika
  • Ice
  • Lime wedge and celery stick for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a highball or pint glass, add ice, vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, Tobasco, horseradish, Worcestershire, celery salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika.
  2. Stir rapidly to mix.
  3. Garnish with lime wedge and celery stick.

Old-Fashioned

Old-Fashioned cocktail

A good old-fashioned never goes out of style, and it's a supremely balanced drink with profound 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 unique, exciting flavor profiles.

Ingredients

  • Sugar cube
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • Splash of water
  • Ice
  • Orange peel for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a rocks glass, muddle sugar cube and bitters.
  2. Add ice, bourbon, and a splash of water.
  3. Stir to mix.
  4. Garnish with orange peel.

Gin and Tonic

 Gin tonic on a table

Simple, refreshing, and lightly bitter, a classic gin and tonic is a great, fizzy summer cocktail, and you can easily vary it with a squeeze of another citrus juice--think grapefruit--or by experimenting with gins that have different aromatic profiles.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces gin
  • Ice
  • Tonic to top off
  • Lime wedge

Instructions

  1. In a highball glass, add ice and gin.
  2. Top off with tonic.
  3. Garnish

Kamikaze

Kamikaze cocktail

The classic kamikaze is a cold, sweet-tart combination perfect for sipping. Learn the basic recipe, then try to fancy it up a bit, for example, with fresh blackberries.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 1 ounce orange liqueur
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Ice
  • Lime wedge

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, vodka, orange liqueur, and lime juice.
  2. Shake to chill.
  3. Strain into rocks glass.
  4. Garnish with lime wedge.

Lemon Drop

Classic lemon drop cocktail

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

Ingredients

  • 1½ ounces vodka
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Instructions

  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
  3. Shake to chill.
  4. Strain into chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with lemon twist.

Long Island Iced Tea

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.

Ingredients

  • ½ ounce vodka
  • ½ ounce gin
  • ½ ounce rum
  • ½ ounce tequila
  • ½ ounce orange liqueur
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 4 ounces cola
  • Ice
  • Lemon wheel for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, orange liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
  2. Shake to chill.
  3. Strain into highball glass over fresh ice.
  4. Add cola.
  5. Garnish with lemon wheel.

Tom Collins

Glass Of Fresh Lemon Juice

A Tom Collins is another classic gin cocktail that remains popular, particularly in the summer months when people are looking for a refreshing drink. 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, a Tom Collins made with vodka in place of the gin.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1½ ounces simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Club soda to top off
  • Lemon wheel for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
  2. Shake to chill.
  3. Strain into highball glass over fresh ice.
  4. Top off with club soda.
  5. Garnish with lemon wheel.

Manhattan

manhattan classic cocktail

A Manhattan is a classic martini's darker, sweeter, slightly more complex cousin, and it's a drink that's been a popular classic for decades.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Ice
  • Cherry for garnish

Instructions

  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, rye whiskey, and sweet vermouth.
  3. Stir rapidly to chill.
  4. Strain into chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with cherry.

Margarita

Margarita Glass

Sometimes the only cocktail that will suffice is a tart margarita. Master the classic cocktail before expanding to blended margaritas or fruit-flavored versions like a strawberry margarita.

Ingredients

  • Lime wedge and salt for rim
  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce orange liqueur
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Lime wedge for garnish

Instructions

  1. To prepare rim, rub the rim of the glass with the lime wedge.
  2. With the salt on a saucer, dip either half or the entire rim of the glass in the salt to coat.
  3. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, and simple syrup.
  4. Shake to chill.
  5. Strain into prepared glass.
  6. Garnish with lime wedge.

Daiquiri

Daiquiri Cocktail

A classic daiquiri is served up, 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.

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces white rum
  • 1½ ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Lime wedge for garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, rum, lime juice, and simple syrup.
  3. Shake to chill.
  4. Strain into chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with lime wedge, if desired.

Gimlet

Gimlet cocktail

A classic gimlet is another gin cocktail that'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.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces gin
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Lime wheel for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, gin, lime juice, and simple syrup.
  2. Shake to chill.
  3. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice.
  4. Garnish with lime wheel.

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 worldwide.

Mojito

Two Mojito Cocktail Drinks

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

Ingredients

  • 8-10 fresh mint leaves
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 ounces white rum
  • Ice
  • Club soda to top off
  • Mint leaves and lime wedge for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, muddle mint leaves with a splash of simple syrup and rum.
  2. Add lime juice, rum, and remaining simple syrup.
  3. Shake to mix and chill.
  4. Do not strain, pour into highball glass.
  5. Top off with club soda.
  6. Garnish with mint leaves and lime wedge.

Negroni

Negroni cocktail

A traditional, and its riffs, Negroni is a thing of beauty; it's a balanced blend of spirited ingredients but 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.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Ice
  • Orange peel for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a mixing glass, add ice, gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.
  2. Stir rapidly to chill.
  3. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice.
  4. Garnish with orange peel.

Whiskey Sour

Whiskey Sour Cocktail

Next to the old-fashioned, the whiskey sour is the world's most popular whiskey cocktail, so it's crucial that a bartender learns this classic.

Ingredients

  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces whiskey
  • 1 egg white
  • Ice
  • Cocktail cherry and orange slice for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, add whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white.
  2. Dry shake for approximately 45 seconds to mix ingredients and create a froth.
  3. Add ice to shaker.
  4. Shake to chill.
  5. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice.
  6. Garnish with cocktail cherry and orange slice.

Moscow Mule

Moscow mule alcoholic cocktail in copper mug

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

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Ice
  • Ginger beer to top off
  • Mint sprig and lime wedge for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a rocks glass or copper mug, add ice, vodka, and lime juice.
  2. Top off with ginger beer.
  3. Stir to mix.
  4. Garnish with mint sprig and lime wedge.

Sazerac

Traditional Sazerac cocktail

The Sazerac cocktail is from New Orleans, where it remains a popular cocktail.

Ingredients

  • ¼ ounce absinthe rinse
  • Ice
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 3-4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • Lemon peel for garnish

Instructions

  1. Chill a rocks glass.
  2. Rinse chilled glass with absinthe, discarding the rest.
  3. In prepared glass, add ice, whiskey, bitters, and simple syrup.
  4. Stir to mix.
  5. Garnish with lemon peel.

Amaretto Sour

Amaretto Sour Cocktail

The sweet and sour amaretto sour remains a popular bar drink. It's easy to make and garnished with a simple cherry.

Ingredients

  • 1½ ounces amaretto liqueur
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Ice
  • Orange slice and cherry for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, amaretto liqueur, simple syrup, and lemon juice.
  2. Shake to chill.
  3. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice.
  4. Garnish with orange slice and cherry.

French 75

French 75 cocktail

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

Ingredients

  • 1½ ounces gin
  • ½ freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Prosecco to top off
  • Lemon ribbon for garnish

Instructions

  1. Chill a Champagne flute.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, add ice, gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
  3. Shake to chill.
  4. Strain into chilled flute.
  5. Top off with prosecco.
  6. Garnish with lemon ribbon.

Sidecar

Sidecar Cocktail

It may sound old-fashioned, but the sidecar is another classic drink enjoying a renaissance.

Ingredients

  • Lemon wedge and sugar for rim
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce orange liqueur
  • 1½ ounces Cognac
  • Ice
  • Orange twist for garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. To prepare rim, rub the rim of the martini glass or coupe with the lemon wedge.
  3. With the sugar on a saucer, dip either half or the entire rim of the glass in the sugar to coat.
  4. In a cocktail shaker, add lemon juice, orange liqueur, Cognac, and ice.
  5. Shake to chill.
  6. Strain into prepared glass.
  7. Garnish with orange twist, if desired.

Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan cocktail

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

Ingredients

  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce cranberry juice
  • ¾ ounce orange liqueur
  • 2 ounces citron vodka
  • Ice
  • Lime wedge for garnish

Ingredients

  1. Chill a martini glass or coupe.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, add lime juice, cranberry juice, orange liqueur, citron vodka, and ice.
  3. Shake to chill.
  4. Strain into chilled glass.
  5. Garnish with lime wedge.

White Russian

White Russian Cocktail

The white Russian is one of the most popular Kahlúa drinks because it is sweet and creamy. Chances are a guest will order 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.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In a rocks glass, add ice, vodka, and coffee liqueur.
  2. Top off with heavy cream.
  3. Stir if desired.

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 flare.

Bartender mixing a drink

Sours

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

  • 1 part sweet (ex., simple syrup, agave nectar, or liqueur)
  • 1 part sour (ex., lime or lemon juice)
  • 2 parts strong (ex., 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 muddling fresh fruit and/or herbs before adding cocktail ingredients.

Fizzes

Fizzes are mostly sours with some club soda added. For example, a gin fizz follows the classic 1:1:2 ratio for sweet to sour to strong, but it then adds a few ounces of club soda at the end, stirring to mix it all together. 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 muddled mint.

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 in a rocks glass and add:

  • 2 ounces brown spirit

Stir and drop in an ice cube. 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 (distilled spirit)
  • 1 part fortified (fortified wine)
  • Stir with ice and serve 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 was actually 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, you can expand in repertoire to include creative variations on the basics before moving on to less common drinks ordered at a bar so you can offer skilled service. Now that you have this list, familiarize yourself with the most common cocktail ingredients to keep on hand so the bar is always stocked.

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Basic Drinks to Know Before You Try Bartending