A truly stunning number of classic cocktails can be mixed using just these five alcohols, combined with non-alcoholic mixers and garnishes. And these are just the classics!
#1 – Vodka
Vodka is a clear liquor usually distilled from grain, though it may be made from any starchy plant matter. Popular brands include Absolut and Stolichnaya.
# 2 – Rum
Rum is distilled from sugarcane by-products and aged. It varies in color from light (clear) through amber to dark. Bacardi and Captain Morgan are two brands you may be familiar with.
# 3 – Gin
Gin is an unaged clear liquor made from various grains, with juniper berries and other flavorings added during the distillation process. Tanqueray, Beefeater and Bombay are all premium gins.
# 4 – Tequila
Tequila is a type of mezcal (alcohol distilled from the agave plant) that is restricted by the percentage and type of agave used and its growing area. Popular brands used for mixed drinks include Sauza and Cuervo.
# 5 – Triple sec
Triple sec is a clear distilled liquor (typically from grain) that has been flavored with orange peel. The original and best-known is Cointreau. Grand Marnier, which uses cognac as a base rather than grain spirits, is sometimes used as a substitute.
Mixers can make or break a cocktail. Make sure that yours are fresh and cold or have been stored as recommended.
- Orange Juice
- Lime Juice
- Sweetened Lime Juice
- Lemon Juice
- Grapefruit Juice
- Pineapple Juice
- Cranberry Juice
- Tomato Juice or V-8
- Tonic Water
- Club Soda
- Simple Syrup: can be purchased commercially, or made by combining 1 part sugar to 1 part filtered water, and stirred to dissolving.
- Grenadine : Pomegranate syrup, red or purple in color.
- Coconut Milk: Available in most supermarkets, in the Asian food section.
Flavorings & Garnishes add that special touch.
- Slices or wedges of lime, lemon and orange.
- Fresh or frozen fruit (bananas, berries, cantaloupe, whatever you like)
- Fresh Mint
- Powdered sugar
- Worcestershire sauce
- Hot sauce
- Maraschino Cherries
Combine 1 ½ ounces vodka, 3 ounces tomato or V-8 juice, ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce, 2-3 drops hot sauce, ½ tsp fresh horseradish and a dash of lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Strain into an old-fashioned glass, garnish with a wedge of lime and/or a stalk of celery.
In a highball glass, combine 3 ounces vodka with 1 ounce of pineapple juice and one ounce cranberry juice over ice.
Pour 1 ½ oz vodka over ice into highball glass, add 4 ounces grapefruit juice and 1 ounce cranberry juice. Garnish with lime wedge.
In a highball glass, place 3 ice cubes and 2 ounces vodka. Add orange juice to fill glass.
Mix 2 ounces vodka, 2 ounces lime juice and 8 ounces ginger ale with ice. Once served exclusively in a copper mug, these days a highball glass is the norm.
Mix 1 ½ ounces of vodka with 1 ounce sweetened lime juice and ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge. Variation #1: Use gin instead of vodka. Variation #2: Use tequila instead of vodka.
Mix 1 ½ ounce rum, 1 ounce lime juice and a tsp sugar. Strain over ice into an old-fashioned glass. Variation: For the frozen drink, add 1 Tbsp triple sec, and the fruit of your choice. Blend with crushed ice until smooth, serve in a hurricane glass with a mint or strawberry garnish.
Crush 2-4 mint sprigs in a glass with 1 tsp sugar and a splash of club soda. Mix until sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime, add 2-3 ounces of rum, and shake with ice. Strain into a highball glass and top with club soda. Garnish with mint or lime.
Mix 2 ounces rum with the juice of ½ a lime. Pour into highball glass over ice and fill with cola. Garnish with lime wedge.
In a blender with 2 cups crushed ice, put 3 ounces rum, 3 Tbsps coconut milk, and 3 Tbsps crushed pineapple. Blend until smooth, pour into a hurricane glass and garnish with fresh pineapple wedge.
Mix 2 ounces gin with the juice of ½ a lemon and a tsp of powdered sugar. Shake with ice and strain into a highball glass. Fill with seltzer.
Mix 2 ounces gin in a shaker with ice and 1 ounce lemon juice and 1 tsp sugar. Shake well and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, and garnish with a slice of orange and/or a maraschino cherry.
Pour 2 ounces tequila into a highball glass filled with ice. Add 4 ounces orange juice. Tilt the glass slightly, and pour ½ ounce grenadine down the side. Tilt the glass back up; the grenadine should be settled on the bottom of the glass and slowly rise through the drink. Garnish with orange slice and cherry.
Rub the rim of a cocktail or margarita glass with lime, then dip in coarse salt. In shaker, mix 3 ounces tequila with 1 ounce triple sec and 2 ounces lime juice. Shake and then pour into the glass. Variation #1: Use sweetened lime juice instead of fresh for a sweeter drink. Variation #2: Make it a frozen drink by putting ingredients into blender with 1 cup ice and mixing until smooth. Garnish with lime wedge.
Mix 1 oz lemon juice, ½ tsp sugar and 1 ½ ounces of vodka in a shaker with ice, strain into a sour glass. You may choose to rim the glass with sugar and garnish with lemon.
In a shaker with ice, mix 1 ½ ounce vodka, ½ ounce fresh lime juice, 1 ounce cranberry juice and ½ tsp sugar. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnished with lime.
Mix 1 ½ ounce vodka, 1 ounce triple sec, ½ ounce fresh lime juice and ½ ounce cranberry juice in a shaker with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lime.
Blend 1 ½ ounces vodka, 1 ounce triple sec and ½ ounce fresh lime juice in a shaker with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with lime or orange slice.
Long Island Iced Tea
Blend 1 ounce each gin, vodka, triple sec, tequila, rum and lemon juice with ¾ ounce simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Pour over ice in a Collins glass, top with cola and garnish with your choice of citrus slices.
Pour 1 ½ ounce of vodka and 1 ½ ounce triple sec and the juice of one lemon wedge into a shaker with ice. Strain into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass, garnish with lemon.
Vodka & Tonic
Pour two ounces vodka into a highball glass over ice. Fill with tonic water, garnish with lemon. Variation #1: Replace the vodka with gin.
Once you’ve got these classics down, there is a whole world of more complicated drinks. You may often find, however, that the old classic standbys are just what you’re looking for.