6 Must Know Classic Cocktails

Written by Seb  /  Edited by Natalia  /  Design by Andy

So you want to get into cocktails – What are the six essential cocktail recipes every cocktail enthusiast needs to be able to make?

With thousands of classic cocktails already out there, and new recipes being added to the global cocktail catalog every year, where are you supposed to start when you want to learn the art of cocktail making? 

Well, never fear, we’ve selected the six must know cocktail recipes for you to begin your journey into the world of making perfect mixed drinks every time.  

Why these six recipes? 

Although these recipes don’t cover every cocktail making technique, they do cover the skills that you will use most often. Namely shaking, stirring and building. Plus, the essential subset of shaking, the ‘dry’ shake, used to produce beautifully rich foams. 

Secondly, these are simple recipes, in terms of the number of ingredients. Recipes with only a few ingredients are in fact some of the hardest to make well consistently. They not only require high quality ingredients, they also demand perfect techniques  and understanding of not only what, but how each process is implemented. This means that if you can perfect these recipes time after time, you’ll be able to make any other cocktail perfectly too. 

The final reason for choosing these six recipes is the creativity and variations that can be brought to each of them once the classic is mastered . There may only be six recipes here, however, in real terms these are six categories, not just individual recipes. By unlocking these six recipes you’re actually unlocking an infinite number of different potential drinks. 

With this in mind, let’s get into the recipes. 

The Dry Martini

Dry martini with olives and twist
Dry martini with olives and twist

You can’t have a list of ‘must know’ cocktails and not have the Dry Martini in that list. It’s not as old as some, but its fame is almost second to none. At its core is a combination of gin and dry vermouth, stirred down with ice to make the ingredients icy-cold and add the all important water that’ll open up the flavours too. Knowing the exact moment when the perfect amount of dilution has been stirred into a cocktail is a fundamental cornerstone of making great cocktails. One that sadly, even many professionals are still yet to master. 

To be clear, there is no ‘perfect’ Dry Martini. There’s only the Dry Martini that’s perfect for you at that moment. Whether that means switching in vodka for the more traditional gin. Adjusting the ratio between vermouth and spirit. Garnishing with a lemon twist, or an olive. Or maybe neither, or maybe pickled onions instead. Or maybe you want to switch out the Dry Vermouth for a different fortified wine like sherry, or Lillet Blanc.

Get stirring, get tasting, get practicing! 

The Collins

Most likely originating from an old London punch recipe of the early 1800s, the Collins is basically boozy lemonade. Its most famous version is called Tom, and is made with gin. However, the beauty of the Collins formula is that it can be applied to any base spirit. Cognac, Rum, Vodka, the choices are yours. 

The drink is built. Simply put, the ingredients are added directly to a tall glass in which it will be served. Fresh lemon juice and sugar create a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. A spirit of choice is added for flavour and complexity, while a splash of sparkling water opens up all the flavours and keeps the drink light, refreshing. 

The Collins base allows for far more creativity than just switching out the spirit. Different sweetening ingredients can be used, such as honey or a flavoured syrup like vanilla. Fresh berries and other fruit purees can be folded in and even fresh green herbs can add another dimension. There are no limits, so get the original locked down and then get creative. 

The Manhattan

Older than the Dry Martini, and nearly as famous, the Manhattan is a cocktail of Rye Whisky, sweet vermouth and bitters. 

Like the Martini, beyond using quality ingredients, its success comes down to finding the perfect dilution point through stirring ingredients with ice before straining the ingredients into a cocktail glass for serving. The de facto Manhattan recipe these days is the ‘Sweet’ style. Two measures of whisky to one measure of sweet vermouth stirred with a dash of aromatic bitters such as Angostura Bitters all finished off with a Maraschino Cherry. 

However, as with the Martini, all of these elements are able to be adapted to create unique drinking experiences. From using different combinations of Whiskeys, bitters and garnishes, to unique ratios of sweet vermouth and whiskey, splicing together both sweet and dry vermouths, or even replacing vermouth altogether with Amaro.

The Sour

Although the Daiquiri is the ‘Sour’ style recipe we’ve used countless times over the years to explain the importance and subtleties of balancing a cocktail and just how good three ingredients can taste, we’ve pick the classic ‘Sour’ here instead because you get two techniques for one if you use egg white or aquafaba to give your sour a delicious rich foam. 

The version that immediately comes to mind is the Whiskey Sour, however the truth is, you can ‘sour’ any spirit you like. The sour ‘base’ is made with a combination of spirit, lemon and sugar, at its most basic level. The magic ratio for these ingredients is 2:1:½. Two parts of spirit, one part of fresh lemon juice and half a part of sugar or ‘rich’ simple syrup. The fourth vital element needed to bring the other three into balance is water, added through shaking the ingredients together with ice. 

Two other ingredients are now ubiquitous to the sour. Bitters and egg white. Aromatic bitters, such as Angostura, add complexity to a sour while the egg white is added to create a rich, luxurious mouth feel and a white, fluffy, cloud-like head. To get the very best foam, we’d recommend implementing a ‘Dry’ and ‘Wet’ shake. The ‘Dry’ shake is where the ingredients are shaken together without any ice to whip air into the mixture before adding ice and completing a ‘wet’ shake to chill and add water. 

For those who’re not a fan of, or cannot ingest egg white, you can use Aquafaba. This is the liquid left from cooking garbanzo beans / chickpeas. The easiest way to get hold of it is by finely straining out the liquid from tins of unsalted garbanzo beans / chickpeas. Use about 1 oz or 30ml of Aqufaba for every egg white needed. 

Once you have the classic Sour locked down, you can try variations. Using a base of gin, switch out sugar for orange liqueur to make a classic White Lady, or Raspberry Syrup in place of sugar for one of the world’s most loved cocktails, the Clover Club.

The Old Fashioned

As true a definition of a ‘cocktail’ as is possible, being a combination of alcohol, water, sugar and bitters. In the case of the Old Fashioned, we’re traditionally talking about Bourbon, but there isn’t a whisky brand out there these days that doesn’t have an Old Fashioned recipe. Beyond that in fact, almost every aged spirit has a version of the Old Fashioned somewhere in its drinks repertoire, and to be honest, why not! Rum Old Fashioneds, Cognac Old Fashioneds even aged Tequila or Bacanora Old Fashioneds! Well made, they can all be great.

As you work your way through these six essential recipes, you should be starting to see a pattern. These classics are ‘route’ recipes., of which thousands of variants have been born. That’s because recipes that use only a few ingredients are not restrictive as they might seem at first, but allow almost unlimited innovation. Don’t want sugar in your Old Fashioned? Use Honey, or Agave Nectar, or maybe marmalade, vanilla syrup, maple syrup, the choices are endless. Maybe you want to switch out Aromatic Bitters for a citrus bitters or a chocolate bitters. When you start to think about the possibilities, you quickly realise how endless the different potential combinations are.

Try our honey and chocolate twist the Hyde’s Honey Old Fashioned

The Margarita

Year after year ranked as the most popular cocktail in the world, the Margarita is a simple cocktail that’s a relative of the ‘Sour’. Tequila is the base spirit, lime replaces lemon as the citrus and orange liqueur replaces sugar. Then like the sour, it’s traditionally shaken to make it cold and add the essential water content. 

While the ‘Sour’ has a ratio of 2:1:½ , the classic Margarita can be made with a 2:1:1 ratio. The liqueur used to bring the lime acidity into balance is half as sweet as sugar or ‘rich’ simple syrup, and therefore twice as much is needed, giving you that 2:1:1 ratio. 

From here you can blend it, add fresh berries, make it smoky with Mezcal in place of Tequila, the number of bolt-on ingredients is only limited by your imagination. However, to still call whatever you create a Margarita, make sure your base spirit is agave, there’s orange to sweeten and lime for acidity, we even kept to this philosophy with our Skinny Margarita recipe!

Try making the Smoky Pineapple Margarita


As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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