Thousands of cocktails have been created since the first drink was mixed, but only a few have stood up to the test of time. From the 18th-century mint julep and eggnog to the Prohibition-era hurricane and boulevardier, these classics are just that, classic.
Many of these cocktails remain favorites for us today. Others may have been forgotten by the general public, though there are some very interesting drinks worth noting and reviving.
This list is a compilation of recipes developed between the 1700s and the 1930s. However, many of the drinks' stories are disputed, some are based on alcohol-clouded rumors, and some are just the current cocktail community's best guess thanks to diligent research.
Then again, there are many cocktails which maybe should be included here but the stories of their creators or a clear reference as to when they were created are not available.
01 of 05
Before Prohibition, brandy was one of the most popular base spirits and some of the best brandy cocktails were created during this time.
While brandy is a great spirit, it is not used as often today as it was during the first days of the bar. In fact, some of the best brandy cocktails of all time are among this list of classic cocktails.
Many of these drinks treat brandy with a delicate touch, mixing it into simple concoctions that allow the base to shine through. Notice that a number of them feature vermouth, there are quite a few sour drinks, and a few of them even get a little tropical, pairing brandy with rum.
You will also notice that a number of these drinks use flavored brandies such as apple, apricot, and cherry. Be careful when purchasing these brandies today because a number of the options available are more like sweetened liqueurs than brandy infusions. Luckily, there is a resurgence in 'real' fruit brandies and the options available are increasing.
We have listed the cocktails with their main ingredients to make browsing them easier. However, we did not include all ingredients (such as lemon or lime juice when used as accents), so please follow the link to the recipe for a complete ingredient list.
Also, note that many of these recipes have been adapted through the years and may not reflect the exact original recipe.
Classic Brandy Cocktail Recipes
02 of 05
The birth of the Martini and its many vermouth counterparts are the highlight of the classic cocktail scene.
While the martini may be the best-known gin cocktail from the bar's first glory days, there are a number of other great drinks to explore. Gin was just as popular as brandy among the first bartenders and while it was paired most often with vermouth, there are also a few surprises among this list.
These gin classics are, for the most part, simple recipes that allow the gin to be the star. Around the time of Prohibition, with the onslaught of the notorious bathtub gins and other low-quality spirits, the recipes began to include heavier flavors like fruit juices that would mask the undesirable liquor.
Among this list are also a number of cocktails that were originally made with an older style of gin such as Plymouth Gin and Old Tom Gin. While these gins were once relatively unavailable, they are making a comeback so we can taste these drinks as they were meant to be.
Classic Gin Cocktail Recipes
03 of 05
From the days of the American colonies through Prohibition, rum was always a popular cocktail spirit.
Rum has a very long and storied past and was used to create some of the first mixed drinks. Today, we tend to stick rum into the tropical drink category, though there was a time when rum was the liquor of choice. The American colonists imported and produced their own rums and it should not be a surprise that a number of these rum cocktails stem from those days.
While some of these recipes have classical styling, there are a few that begin to take on the tiki-style as well. Tropical fruits began to make an appearance as trade developed and thanks to the rum runners, this was one of the liquors that was most often smuggled into the U.S. during Prohibition.
A look at this cocktail list can give us a good sense of the parallel between rum and the first century and a half of American culture.
Classic Rum Cocktail Recipes
04 of 05
Whiskey is another one of those distilled spirits that have been mixed into drinks almost since the time that it was first distilled. A number of these drinks remain among the most familiar and are still enjoyed today.
The list of classic whiskey cocktails can be complicated because of the different styles of whiskey. You will notice that a number of these resemble the whiskey-vermouth combination of the Manhattan, though they specify the whiskey.
Others build on this popular base and bring in a new flavor or two, which makes it very easy for us to explore the collection without much fuss or extra ingredients. Whiskey was also a popular base for the smash drinks and this gave us the greats like the Old-fashioned and Mint Julep as well.
Also worth noting is the fact that rye whiskey was one of the most popular styles when these drinks were developed. Though good rye was hard to come by for decades in the 1900s, the renewed interest in these classics has led a number of distillers to reintroduce rye to the market.
Today we are lucky enough to have a number of great rye whiskeys to choose from so we can taste these whiskey cocktails as they were intended.
Classic Whiskey Cocktail Recipes
Continue to 5 of 5 below.
- Algonquin - rye whiskey, dry vermouth, pineapple juice
- Blood & Sand - Scotch, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth, orange juice
- Horse's Neck - bourbon, ginger ale, lemon spiral
- Liberal Cocktail - rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Amer Torani
- Manhattan - sweet vermouth
- Sidecar - bourbon (or Cognac), triple sec, lemon juice
05 of 05
Wine and liqueurs were used as the base of classic cocktails quite often and these recipes often gentler than the others, though they keep the same classic style.
Vermouth and sherry are most often seen in this collection and are interesting peaks at a gentler side of the cocktail. Other wines are used as well and all were treated with delicacy, mixed into simple recipes that enhanced the wine's flavors.
Not all drinks were soft, though, and the popular and notorious absinthe made a regular appearance at bars in a few of the drinks below as well as others in the classic collection that we've already visited. There is a non-alcoholic classic here as well.
More Classic Cocktail Recipes