A well-stocked home bar is worthless if you don’t know your way around a jigger, shaker, and bar spoon and can’t remember the difference between a Manhattan and a Martini. Thankfully, with a little practice and a few simple mixers and modifiers, a staple selection of base spirits can be transformed into a world of possibilities.
From White Russians and Moscow Mules to Sidecars and Vieux Carrés, here are 30 easy cocktail recipes anyone can master at home.
A whiskey-spiked variation of the Negroni, this American cocktail dials up the richness and complexity of its Italian cousin. The cocktail is three equal parts: Campari, sweet vermouth, and bourbon (replacing the Negroni’s gin). Though bourbon is traditional, many bartenders opt for rye in their Boulevardiers.
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A well-balanced mix of sweet, spicy, and bitter flavors, the Manhattan combines rye whiskey with sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters. Don’t be tempted to sub in bourbon or any other type of whiskey; the bite of the rye is essential for canceling out the sweetness of the vermouth.
Now closely associated with the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep is a refreshing Southern classic, serving a blend of bourbon, simple syrup, and fresh mint over a mound of crushed ice. Pour into a silver Julep cup to keep it cold on a hot summer day.
Ideal for Scottish whisky lovers, this cocktail contains both blended and peated Scotch. The former is shaken with lemon juice, honey simple syrup, and fresh ginger to form the base of the drink before it’s served on the rocks with a peated whisky float. During the cold winter months, this cocktail can also be served hot.
One of the oldest classic cocktails, there are a few schools of thought when preparing Old Fashioneds — particularly surrounding the inclusion of fresh fruit (orange slice) and boozy garnishes (cocktail cherries). In its simplest, and arguably best form, the drink contains a bourbon base, is sweetened with a single sugar cube or simple syrup, and balanced by a generous helping of Angostura bitters. Serve in its eponymous glass with a big ice cube and a lemon or orange twist (or both).
Those seeking historical accuracy may opt for Cognac rather than rye whiskey in their Sazerac, but it is the latter with which this boozy New Orleans classic is now overwhelmingly associated. A splash of simple syrup helps tame the lively, spicy mix of rye and bitters (Peychaud’s, Angostura, or both), all of which is served in an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass with a lemon twist.
Corpse Reviver #2
The better-known of the two Corpse Reviver cocktails, this drink sees a shaken mix of gin, triple sec, lemon juice, and Lillet Blanc served in a chilled, absinthe-rinsed coupe glass. Its spooky name is a historical term for a hangover cure.
So named because its alcoholic kick is said to hit with the strength of a French 75-millimeter field gun, this cocktail started doing the rounds at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in 1915. Simple to prepare, the French 75 tops a base mix of gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice with a generous serving of Champagne.
A refreshing blend of gin, lime, and simple syrup, this drink is believed to have been invented to encourage British Naval officers to consume scurvy-fighting rations of lime juice. Like all drinks containing fresh citrus, the Gimlet is shaken to fully incorporate the ingredients.
Gin & Tonic
Another gin cocktail introduced by the British armed forces for its purported health benefits (the quinine in tonic water was favored to combat malaria), it doesn’t get more simple, classic, or delicious than the Gin & Tonic.
The most customizable of any classic cocktail, all that’s strictly required in this drink is gin and dry vermouth. The ratio of the two can range from wet (equal parts, a.k.a. 50:50) to exceedingly dry (15:1, also known as the Montgomery ratio). Ingredients can be shaken or stirred — the latter is more traditional — and possible garnishes include a lemon twist, olives, or a cocktail onion, which changes the drink’s name to a Gibson.
While it famously appeared in “Meet the Parents,” this straightforward preparation of gin, lemon, simple syrup, and club soda dates back to the late 19th century, when it first appeared in Jerry Thomas’s 1876 “Bar-Tender’s Guide.”
In its most basic form, the Bloody Mary is little more than a glass of vodka-spiked tomato juice. At its most ostentatious, it’s a full meal in a glass, garnished with everything from bacon to fried chicken to hamburgers. Homemade Mary mix is preferred, but store-bought is fine in a pinch.
With its iconic pink hue and close ties to the ‘90s HBO show “Sex and the City,” the Cosmopolitan is a modern classic. Technically speaking, you’ll need lemon-flavored Absolut Citron to make a truly accurate rendition, which also contains triple sec, fresh lime, and cranberry juice.
One of two modern classics invented by London-based bartender Dick Bradsell in the 1980s (the other was the Bramble), the Espresso Martini hits with a one-two punch of caffeine and alcohol, before the blow is softened by sweet simple syrup and rich coffee liqueur.
Combining vodka, ginger beer, and lime, few drinks are as refreshing or simple to prepare as the Moscow Mule. Whether or not the traditional copper mugs make the drink taste better remains up for debate, but the vessel definitely adds a touch of class to the otherwise understated concoction.
Purists may scoff at the Vodka Martini, but this drink is every bit as versatile as its gin counterpart. In fact, vodka’s neutral flavor allows the vermouth to take more of a center stage and lends itself to those who want to drink the mix “dirty” (with olive brine).
Popularized by Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski in “The Big Lebowski,” this rich and decadent cocktail combines vodka with half-and-half (or heavy cream), and coffee liqueur. Velvet smooth, the White Russian drinks like a spiked, creamy cold brew.
Forget sickly sweet, frozen iterations: A well-balanced Daiquiri is one of the finest classic cocktails one can enjoy. Ideal on a hot day, this shaken cocktail blends white rum, simple syrup, and lime juice, and is served with a basic slice or wedge of lime.
Dark ‘N’ Stormy
The only trademarked cocktail on this list, the Dark ‘N’ Stormy is the rum-based alternative to the Moscow Mule. For a legitimate version of the drink, the vodka should be replaced with Gosling’s Black Seal Dark Rum, though all dark rums, admittedly, yield delicious results.
A straightforward entry into the complex world of tiki, this drink has an aged rum base mixed with rhum agricole, lime juice, orgeat (almond syrup), and orange Curaçao. For the best results, steer well clear of the blender (and electric blue mixers).
Fresh citrus and mint are key to allowing this simple concoction to shine. A favorite of Ernest Hemingway, this Cuban cocktail mixes muddled mint leaves with lime, simple syrup, and white rum.
The pride of Puerto Rico, the Piña Colada is as easy to make as its name is fun to say. The shaken mix contains equal parts white rum (preferably from its home island), coconut cream, and pineapple juice, served over a glass of crushed ice.
Offering a spicy addition to the brunch table, this cocktail is one of many worthy riffs on the Bloody Mary, replacing vodka with reposado tequila. Enjoy with a chili-salt rim and as many breakfast quesadillas as you can eat.
Officially America’s most popular cocktail, blanco tequila takes center stage in this tart and tangy drink, with the Mexican spirit shaken with just a seasoning of lime juice and triple sec. While frozen, blended renditions abound, less is always more when it comes to making quality Margs.
A delicious and refreshing Highball, the Paloma matches the savory, vegetal notes of tequila (blanco or reposado) with bittersweet grapefruit soda. For an elevated serving, opt instead for freshly squeezed juice and club soda.
Made from tequila, grenadine, and orange juice, combining the ingredients without mixing creates this visually striking drink, which resembles a picturesque sunrise.
Calling for a few ingredients from the liquor shelf, this little-known brandy cocktail is a great trump card to have in your cocktail repertoire. The brandy-forward mix is seasoned with Maraschino liqueur, triple sec, lemon, and both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. This drink is served in a sugar-rimmed glass and arrives with a long, elegant lemon twist.
Named after the motorcycle attachment and reportedly invented at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, this classic shaken cocktail contains brandy, lemon, and triple sec. Like the Brandy Crusta, the proper serve includes a chilled, sugar-rimmed glass, and a (slightly more modest) lemon twist garnish.
Invented in New Orleans in the 1930s, this potent mix contains Cognac, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and a bar spoon each of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. The boozy combo is stirred over ice and served with a lemon twist.