Classic cocktails typically feature one star spirit that’s considered central to the drink’s identity. It can dictate where the beverage appears in a cocktail book or on a bar menu, and is a major factor in attracting — or dissuading — guests from ordering it. But as bartenders continue to push the limits of mixology, more and more programs are spotlighting split-base cocktails, which use two different spirits as the foundation of their builds.
And yes, there’s already a slew of well-known split-base cocktails, including classic examples like the Between the Sheets (made with Cognac and white rum) and the Cameron’s Kick (starring Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky). However, bartenders are looking outside this established category and applying the strategy to classics that weren’t always given this treatment to add complexity to their builds. When two spirits truly complement each other, combining them can help build layers of flavor and structure. For example, many recommend zhuzhing up a Margarita by subbing half its tequila with mezcal to add some smoky depth.
The mix-and-match possibilities of the technique are essentially endless, so we asked 11 bartenders their favorite way to employ the pro trick, whether it’s with a typical split-base cocktail or a riff on a classic. Read on to discover the best split-base cocktails.
The best split-base cocktails, according to bartenders
- Martini with aquavit and gin
- Mai Tai with rum and agricole
- Vieux Carré
- Bow & Arrow with bourbon and mezcal
- Margarita with tequila and mezcal
- Old Fashioned with whiskey and rum
- Sazerac with Cognac and rye
- Highball with gin and Cognac
- Cameron’s Kick
- Spicy Margarita with tequila and mezcal
“Recently, my go-to split-base for cocktails has been aquavit and gin. While these two bases share some botanical similarities and styles, their distinct qualities result in a unique blend of flavors and mouthfeel when combined. This combination works great in Martinis or shaken citrus cocktails.” —Sondre Kasin, principal bartender, Gracious Hospitality Management (Cote NYC, Undercote NYC, Cote Miami)
“I’m a Mai Tai fan through and through. I like to split the base with a Jamaican rum like Smith & Cross and an agricole like Clairin Milot from Haiti. It’s a combo of rich, funky notes with awesome fruity and grassy notes from the agricole. That combined with orgeat, one of my all-time favorite ingredients, makes the Mai Tai my favorite split-base cocktail.” —Collin Griffith, beverage director, Corrida, Boulder, Colo.
“At Library by the Sea, our favorite split-based cocktail would be the Vieux Carré with its rye and Cognac split base. Here, the nice, spicy punch from the rye is rounded out by the Cognac, and the woodiness of both are balanced and enhanced by the herbs, aromatics, and sugars of the Benedictine and sweet vermouth. Add in more bitterness and you end up with an amazingly well-integrated and rounded cocktail, especially given the number of ingredients (and ingredients in the ingredients). We also love recommending it with one or more original ingredients from our vintage spirits library.” —Jack Allen, bartender at Library by the Sea, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
“The Bow and Arrow, created by Scott Teague in 2015 at Dutch Kills, has a split base of 1 ounce bourbon and 1 ounce mezcal. It’s combined with .75 ounce pineapple juice, .75 ounce lime juice, and .5 ounce of cane sugar syrup, then shaken and served in a coupe with cinnamon shaved on top. It’s fun to see bourbon and mezcal paired together; it always catches people by surprise. The combination of smoke and whiskey are often associated with Scotch, and as someone who doesn’t reach for Scotch often but still loves smoky flavors, it’s a brilliant combination. This cocktail has opened anti-bourbon people to bourbon, and anti-mezcal people to mezcal. Counts as a win in my book.” —Rhys Williams, bartender, New York
“Using a split base is a great way to meld flavors of different spirits without taking away the integrity of the cocktail. It uses two quality ingredients that complement each other with subtle nuances. A very easy example would be a Margarita. Most people enjoy the classic with tequila while others enjoy a smokier version with mezcal at the base. At our Lobby Lounge & RawBar, we have a cocktail called La Ranchera that blends both preferences with a split base of 1 ounce blanco tequila and 1 ounce mezcal, and also a split of citrus between grapefruit and lime. All of this together with a ginger cordial as the sweetener gives the drink a nice blend of both spice and smoke.” —Grant Sceney, creative beverage director, Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
“My favorite split-based cocktails always involve whiskey and rum. Not only are they both typically aged in oak — unless we’re talking about the clear and/or young versions — but the vanilla and caramel notes that whiskey pulls from the barrel are very in sync with the molasses and toasty sugar cane that rum brings. A navy-strength aged rum like Stroh or Smith & Cross mixed with a 10-year-old bourbon like Russell’s 10 year with cinnamon Demerara syrup and Angostura bitters is my go-to snowy or rainy winter evening cocktail.” —Kyle Bobkowski, beverage manager, Crossroads Hotel, Kansas City, Mo.
“The big poppa of all split-base cocktails is the Cognac and bottled-in-bond rye split-base Sazerac. The roundness of the Cognac and the sharp peppery edges of rye work harmoniously together in the cocktail. The spirits together are a perfect reflection of the ‘old-to-new-world’ that is New Orleans.” —Gabe Sanchez, cocktail expert, Midnight Rambler at The Joule, Dallas
“The Bamboo cocktail is a unique and flavorful split-base drink. The combination of sherry and vermouth creates a complex flavor profile, balancing the sweetness of the vermouth with the nutty, dry notes of sherry. The cocktail’s ability to showcase the distinct flavors of both vermouth and sherry while maintaining a lower alcohol content is one of its appealing aspects. It allows for a more nuanced and sippable experience, perfect for those who appreciate the flavors of the ingredients without the heavy alcohol kick.” —Marco Anaya, bar manager, Drink, Boston
“My favorite split-base cocktail is one from Donna’s new fall cocktail menu: the 5th Year Senior. The concoction has a shared base of London dry gin and Cognac that’s mixed with ginger, lemon, elderflower, and a cucumber tonic. The gin lifts out herbaceous notes and keeps the drink light while the Cognac deepens this highball crusher and adds a touch of spice.” —Kaslyn Bos, head bartender, Donna, New York
“My favorite split-based cocktail is the Cameron’s Kick. It combines equal parts blended Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey with .5 ounces of orgeat syrup and .5 ounces of lemon juice. Scotch is very challenging to mix cocktails with, but the addition of the Irish whiskey tones down the Scotch, while the orgeat and lemon provide a much needed brightness.” —Thomas Delasko, general manager, Via Sophia, Washington, D.C.
“One of my favorite split-base cocktails to crush is a spicy Margarita that’s split with tequila and mezcal. The smoke and spice play well with each other. Very crushable drink to be enjoyed year round.” —Mauro Villalobos, beverage director, Superfrico at Spiegelworld, Las Vegas