The Five Cocktails You Need to Know for Any Party

Updated on July 7, 2018
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Curt received a bartending license at age 18 and has gone on to write about cocktails and spirits in a variety of publications.

Five basic cocktails

The liquor industry accounts for over $400 billion in American economic activity yearly. It goes to great effort to predict what consumers will buy and what spirits are gaining and declining in popularity. Though beverage trends and tastes in cocktails change yearly, web searchers remain interested in how to mix five classic cocktails.

What people are mixing at home are not layered beverages with rare liquors, top-shelf spirits, paper umbrellas, and sparklers, according to Google Trends. Know how to mix the following five classic cocktails, and you will have your bases covered at parties and social functions.

Before we start, a quick note: the attached videos may vary slightly from the recipes in the text. Either recipe is appropriate.

The Moscow Mule

In 1941, the Moscow mule was invented by John G. Martin, a liquor producer on the East Coast, and John "Jack" Morgan, a ginger beer producer who owned and operated the Cock and Bull restaurant in Los Angeles.

Martin traveled the country selling Smirnoff Vodka as he popularized the Moscow mule. He advised that the mule be served in a copper mug to distinguish it from other drinks in photographs; the lime in the drink, however, reacts with the copper in the mug, lending to the beverage its unique flavor.

The traditional recipe is:

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 4 oz ginger beer
  • A squeeze of lime juice

How to Mix a Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary has multiple origin stories. Fernand Petiot laid claim to inventing it in 1921 while working in the New York Bar in Paris, a haunt of American expatriates like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. A bartender named Henry Zbikiewicz also claimed to have invented the drink in the 1930s at New York's 21 Club; so did comedian George Jessel, a patron of the 21 Club, who allowed credit to go to him in a gossip column of the time.

No matter who first mixed vodka and tomato juice, the recipe is an enduring favorite for brunch-goers. Although variations can include horseradish and vegetable juice like V-8, the traditional recipe is as follows:

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 3 oz tomato juice
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • 3 dashes of Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 dash tabasco
  • Celery salt
  • Pepper


Serve in a highball glass with a celery garnish.

Recipe for a Perfect Old Fashioned

As its name suggests, the Old Fashioned is one of the earliest American cocktails. The drink's name is said to have been first used at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, founded in 1881. In 1895, George Kappeler published a recipe for Old Fashioned cocktails in his book, Modern American Drinks.

The recipe begins with:

  • a sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass

to which is added:

The ingredients are then muddled together. Add ice, followed by

  • 3 ounces of bourbon, rye, or sour mash whiskey.

Garnish with a twist of orange and a cocktail cherry.

What's in a Margarita?

The two most common stories of the origins of the margarita are three years apart. In 1938, Carlos Herrera purportedly mixed a margarita for Ziegfeld dancer Marjorie King, who was allergic to most spirits, but not tequila. The story, and the drink, were subsequently promoted in San Diego.

An alternate narrative suggests that in 1941, Margarita Henkel was visiting Hussong's Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico, where bartender Don Carlos Orozco was experimenting with spirits. Orozco named his now-famous concoction after its inaugural taste-tester.

Though the margarita now has dozens of variations, from fresh to frozen, the standard recipe is quite simple and can be made easily:

Moisten the rim of a margarita glass with juice from a lime wedge, and roll in salt. In a cocktail shaker combine, with ice:

  • 1.25 oz tequila
  • ⅔ oz Cointreau triple sec
  • ½ oz lime juice

Shake, and strain into the salt-rimmed glass.

Make a Martini With Gin not Vodka

"Shaken, not stirred," says Britain's favorite secret agent as he orders the timeless martini with vodka. It is gin, however, that traditionally powers this cocktail, and as the West Wing's President Bartlet noted well, it should be stirred, not shaken, to keep chipped ice from diluting the flavor.

The recipe is remarkably simple:

  • 2 oz gin
  • ⅓ oz dry vermouth

Stir with ice cubes in a mixing glass, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish can be a twist of lemon rind or olives on a skewer.

Those with interest in Agent 007 can replace the gin with vodka, or they can order another drink entirely: the Vesper, named after Ian Fleming's creation in Casino Royale.

Knowing how to mix these five classic cocktails will get anybody through a party or work function while impressing fellow attendees. A few extra ingredients such as sugar cubes, bitters, or dry vermouth can make an otherwise ordinary entertaining function memorable, no matter what spirit is most in style this year.

What's your favorite of these classic cocktails?

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