There’s an art to mixing a delicious cocktail. Cocktail making, like baking, requires attention to detail, namely, with respect to proportion and exact measurements. While you may l want to leave the minutiae of mixology to the professionals, you can save money and impress guests by mixing your own cocktails.
Every amateur bartender should have a repertoire of basic cocktail recipes. Below, I’ve provided a diverse list of beginner cocktails to help you start your mixology journey.
The quintessential Mexican cocktail, margaritas, are a crowd-pleasing mixed drink that refreshes a spicy plate of tacos, chips, and salsa. This simple margarita recipe is the most basic margarita ingredient upon which all iterations are built.
This recipe blends Blanco tequila with triple sec, lime juice, and agave for a citrusy, sweet cocktail with a spicy alcoholic finish.
An Italian-born cocktail that dates to the early 20th Century, the Negroni is a gin cocktail that blends equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. It’s a fool-proof cocktail because there’s an equal amount of each ingredient.
The negroni has a floral palate with a dry and bitter finish. It’s the first choice for before-dinner cocktails.
Tonic water is a unique cocktail mixer that used to be a malaria medicine. Its key ingredient is quinine, derived from the bark of the South American Chinchona tree, which gives tonic water its distinct bitter herb flavor.
Vodka tonic is the simplest cocktail, pouring tonic water over a shot of vodka and finishing it off with a squeeze of lime. You taste a trifecta of sweet, bitter, and sour.
Another vodka cocktail, Sex on the Beach, is a lusciously sweet and fruity cocktail that blends vodka crème de cassis and peach schnapps with citrus juices.
The orange and cranberry juices create a sunset-colored cocktail, garnished with a maraschino cherry and orange slice. This is a great cocktail for beginners to make, as it’s just a matter of shaking all the ingredients together.
The classiest classic of all, a gin martini is a two-spirit concoction that blends two parts gin and one part dry vermouth in a cocktail shaker. The botanical taste of gin gets a dry, bitter finish from the vermouth. No martini is complete without a few skewered olives for garnish.
Sour cocktails are a popular tradition that dates to the mid-19th century. Whiskey Sours are the most popular variety, consisting of whiskey, citrus juice, and sugar. The key to a good whiskey sour is sticking to a specific ingredient ratio.
This recipe uses bourbon or rye whiskey to combine with lemon juice, a few drops of bitters, and simple syrup. The final piece of this cocktail puzzle is adding an egg white to the mix, creating the characteristic frothy head.
An iconic collaboration between Cuba and the US, the Cuba Libre originated at the end of the Spanish American to honor the independence of Cuba from Spain. Also known as Rum and Coke, the Cuba libre is a simple blend of coca cola and white rum, finished with a squeeze of lime juice.
The Sidecar is a cognac cocktail that dates to the First World War. It blends cognac and triple sec at a two-to-one ratio with a dash of lemon juice. This cocktail combines all three ingredients in a shaker.
The result is a delicate and sophisticated sip that lets the richness of alcohol speak for itself.
The original Gimlet calls for gin, but this Vodka Gimlet replaces the botanical undertones with a neutral spirit. It is a three-ingredient cocktail that mixes vodka with simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice.
You could mistake this cocktail for a simple limeade as the vodka is camouflaged by the other ingredients. You can always use a harsher American vodka like Tito's for a more alcohol-forward gimlet.
By the looks of this drink, you might think it was a Sex on the Beach cocktail. However, it’d only take one sip to set you straight! Tequila Sunrise is a blend of tequila, orange juice, and grenadine that create a gorgeous orange and red color.
The grenadine adds a dry, slightly bitter finish that enhances the orange and agave.
A second beginner cocktail from the Sour family, the Amaretto Sour is a three-ingredient combination of Amaretto, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Amaretto tastes like almond extract with a bitter finish. The bitter finish is the perfect complement to the sweet and sour flavors.
You could also add a shot of bourbon for a boozier cocktail with even more depth of flavor.
For the daring drinker, the Long Island Iced Tea is infamous for being the strongest cocktail you can order. Ironically, it doesn’t have a drop of tea in it. It does have nearly every spirit you can imagine, including gin, vodka, rum, tequila, and orange liqueur.
Miraculously, the strength of all that alcohol is palatable due to a foundation of sour mix and cola.
A classy and highly caffeinated cocktail, the Espresso Martini will get you drunk and keep you awake. It’s the perfect drink to fuel a late night. The Espresso Martini is a vodka martini that blends espresso with coffee liqueur and simple syrup.
The drops of vanilla add a rich finish that compliments the intense coffee flavor.
If you’ve ever been on a beach vacation, you’ve undoubtedly sipped a Pina Colada out of a hollowed-out pineapple or coconut shell. You can recreate the summery splendor of the tropics at home with this classic Pina Colada recipe.
It’s the ultimate boozy milkshake, blending rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, and coconut cream into a frothy, velvety texture.
Named after the founder John Collins, and the original brand of spirit he used (Old Tom gin), Tom Collins is a three-ingredient gin cocktail. It blends two parts gin and one part lemon juice in a high-ball glass, topping it off with ice and soda water.
It’s a refreshing cocktail that’s a good option for sugar-free preferences.
Beginner cocktails are both easy to prepare and delicious, encompassing a wide range of tried-and-true classics. Whether you want a tropical rum cocktail or a classy martini, my list of beginner cocktails has something for every occasion.
Let me know which beginner cocktail you enjoyed the most in the comments below.
Rocco is a Florida State University alumnus with years of bartending and hospitality experience. From slinging hundreds of vodka sodas a night in jam-packed college bars to serving carefully crafted cocktails in upscale restaurants, there’s not much he hasn’t done behind a bar. Now, Rocco shares his knowledge and passion for all things alcohol-related here on My Bartender for bibulous readers everywhere to enjoy.