The Cocktails That Started it All

There are seemingly endless cocktail recipes available these days. Restaurants have increasingly crafty drink menus, and pictures of cocktails on Instagram are impossibly culinary. To make those 10 ingredient cocktails work though, they need balance, and the foundation to a perfectly balanced drink lies in a few key cocktail recipes. From these simple recipes you can build entirely new drinks by swapping out syrup flavors, liquors, and liqueurs, and find new ways to introduce acidity and bitterness. (Not to mention they're delicious in their original form. They are classics for a reason after all!)


Sours are a three part drink that create a chuggable flavor by balancing citrus (typically lemon or lime, but not always) with sugar, in equal parts. If a drink is too acidic it will feel biting and astringent - you'll typically feel this towards the back of your mouth by your teeth. If it's too sugary, it will end up overly sweet with a sticky & slimy mouthfeel. Things that will affect the balance are the ratio, of course, but also the pH level of your juice or the Brix level of your sweeteners.

** Brix degrees refers to the amount of sugar in a solution. 1 degree Bx is equal to 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of solution. Most syrups are made at a 1:1 ratio, using equal parts sugar and water, which makes them 50 °Bx

Sours are always shaken, as opposed to being stirred. Any drink with citrus or dairy in the mix should be shaken for best results, because shaking aerates the cocktail. This not only lends to a supple mouthfeel (which is key with cream or egg cocktails), but can actually make citrus taste better! Aeration has many effects on pH, but one of the best effects on citrus juice is that when it is exposed to air, enzymes turn some chemicals in the juice into limonin, adding a slight bitterness which actually helps the drink taste more balanced and less sour.

Recipe: Daiquiri

2 oz light rum

.75 oz simple syrup

.75 oz freshly squeezed lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice until well-chilled. Strain into coupe glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Laying off the sauce? Homemade lemonade is a "sour" build too! 1 oz agave syrup, 1 oz lemon juice, and approximately 4 oz of cold water shaken together and strained into a Collins glass is my personal favorite.

Daisies & Collins

These cocktails took what the sour started and decided they could do it better. A daisy is a sour with the addition of a liqueur, while a Collins is a sour topped with soda.

Originally making a daisy typically meant adding a splash of grenadine to a sour, but over time the grenadine quickly turned to orange liqueur, and now it's open for interpretation.

Recipe: Margarita

1.5 oz Tequila

.75 oz Lime Juice

.5 oz Simple Syrup

.5 oz Orange Liqueur

Mix all ingredients in shaker with ice. Strain into rocks glass (with a salted rim if you like!) over fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Recipe: Tom Collins

2 oz Gin

.75 oz Lemon Juice

.75 oz Simple Syrup

2 oz Soda Water

Mix all ingredients except soda water in shaker with ice. Strain into Collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with a lemon peel for aromatics.


The oldest of old school cocktails, an Old Fashioned is simply your liquor of choice, sweetened with sugar and spiced up with bitters. These drinks are dry and high ABV so they're perfect for sipping over good conversation. Since they don't include citrus, cream, or egg, they should be stirred to preserve the flavors of each ingredient (no aeration here!) and control the dilution.

Recipe: Whiskey Old Fashioned

2 oz Bourbon

.25 oz Simple Syrup

2 dashes Bitters

Add all ingredients to mixing glass with ice. Stir thoroughly until chilled. Strain into rocks glass over a large format ice cube. Express oil from an orange peel swath over cocktail and use as garnish.

The Trifectas (Three Part Cocktails)

These drinks are the most spirit-forward of the classics, a three-part combo of booze plus what’s known as a “modifier” (a lower-alcohol ingredient like vermouth) plus a bitter or a syrup. They include Martinis, Manhattans, Brooklyns, Negronis, Boulevardiers, and Rob Roys, and have enjoyed a return in popularity with the craft cocktail renaissance.

Recipe: Adonis

1.5 oz Manzanilla Sherry

1.5 oz Sweet Vermouth

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Mix the 3 ingredients in a mixing glass, and add ice. Stir to chill, and strain into a cocktail glass garnished with an expressed orange peel.

Equal Parts Cocktails

The name says it all for these drinks - they are typically four parts, mixed in equal parts. Drinks like the Last Word and Paper Plane are perfect examples of why these work so well, perfectly balancing complex flavors for a bitter-sweet glass of deliciousness.

Fly away on the wings of bitter orange and sweet bourbon whiskey.

Recipe: Paper Plane

.75 oz Bourbon

.75 oz Amaro Nonino

.75 oz Aperol

.75 oz Lemon Juice

Combine all ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake and strain into cocktail glass. Serve up, and garnish with a paper airplane, if you're feeling crafty!

Whether you're building a beverage program for a bar or just mixing up drinks at home, using these drinks as a foundation to build on will give you room to experiment with flavor pairings and ingredients, while knowing you have a balanced cocktail base.

Review these cocktails in the comments, and share your own recipes to be featured!

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