25 Essential Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know

Cocktails bartenders should know

There are hundreds of so-called “essential cocktails” out there. Some of them were created in the 1800’s and even more are being thought up today by creative bartenders.

If you really wanted to, you could spend years poring over cocktail books and practicing bartending techniques in an attempt to master them all.

But do you really need to memorize a hundred cocktail recipes to excel as a bartender?

Of course, you don’t.

And in most cases, memorizing hundreds of recipes would be a waste of your time because unless you’re actually making the cocktails you’re trying to learn, what’s the point?

When I was new to the industry, I made that exact same mistake. I tried to memorize as many cocktail recipes as I could find. But because I only ever made a few of them, I ended up forgetting most of them. The only ones that stuck with me were the ones that I made on a consistent basis.

So no. You don’t need to memorize a hundred cocktails recipes to excel bartender. Most of the time, you’ll only ever make the same 20-25 cocktails over and over again, sometimes less, so you should focus on learning how to make those 20-25 cocktails really well.

That’s what this article is about. Instead of giving you a list of 100 essential cocktails you’re never going to make, I’ve broken it down to 25 of the most popular cocktails that are being ordered around the world today.

And these recipes are good… Really good.

So once you’ve mastered them, not only will you be able to confidently jump behind the majority of bars around the world, you’ll also be able to satisfy even the most sophisticated of cocktail aficionados.

Before we Continue

Some House-Keeping Details:

Side Note: The most important cocktails for a bartender to know are the ones that are most commonly made in their bar, despite what this list says. Whilst these are among the most popular cocktails in the world (and knowing them is important if you plan on staying in the industry), every bar is different.

Winter venues are unlikely to make many mojitos, mai-tais and pina coladas, just as summer venues are unlikely to make Irish Coffees. So find out what cocktails your bar makes the most of and learn them first.

Side Note 2: No recipe is written in stone. Different bars have different specs, ingredients, jiggers, and different ways of doing things, and recipes change over time. This is an important point to understand as a new bartender because it’s likely your bar’s recipes will be different to mine. In these cases, use your bar’s recipes, even if they’re worse!

It’s important for a bar’s cocktails to remain consistent across bartenders so your guests know what they’re getting, instead of feeling luck they’re playing a lucky dip every time they order a drink.

How to Use this List

This list has been designed with new bartenders in mind. Not only are the recipes on this list some of the most popular cocktails in the world, learning how to make them will also teach you the most important cocktail making techniques you need to know.

That means that the better you get at making these cocktails, the better you’ll become at mixing drinks in general.

Why?

Because the majority of cocktails use very similar techniques and formulas. That means when you come across a new recipe, all you’ll need to do is switch the ingredients and change some of the proportions. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to learn any new techniques.

I highly recommend that you download this list, memorize this list, study this list, and practice making these drinks whenever you get the chance. Because you’re going to be making them over and over again throughout your entire bartending career.

Once you’ve mastered them, you’ll be able to pump out these delicious cocktails fast, confidently tackle the vast majority of cocktail recipes, and become a better bartender for it.

Measurements:

Everywhere around the world, bartenders use different measurement systems. 1 shot in the US = 1 oz, 1 shot in the UK = 25ml, 1 shot in Australia = 30ml and 1 shot in France = 40ml. Yes, it’s all very confusing!

For that reason, I’ve opted to use a relative measuring system (I’m using the term ‘shot(s)’) for these recipes so that they’re easy to understand and the recipes remain balanced regardless of where you make it. This is important because when you’re mixing drinks, balance is key.

To apply these relative measurements to your own drinks, simply pour whatever 1 shot (or 1/2 shot – whatever the recipe calls for) is in your country and the drink you create will be exactly the same as mine.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 25 cocktails every bartender should know, in alphabetical order.

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1) Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz CocktailTo start this list off, we’ve got the Aperol spritz, a cocktail that’s only gained popularity in recent years, despite being created in the 1950s.

The main reason for its recent resurgence is because the company behind Campari bought Aperol out and proceeded to market the hell out of it. Now, it’s ordered all over the world, particularly in the summer months. 

Ingredients:

Serve in a White-wine glass

  • 2 shots Aperol
  • 2 shots prosecco
  • 2 shots soda

Garnish: 1 orange slice

MethodBuild all the ingredients in a white wine glass. Add ice cubes & lightly stir. Add the Garnish.

2) Bellini

Bellini CocktailThe Bellini cocktail is a sophisticated Italian drink that was created at Harry’s Bar in Venice in 1948 by head bartender & owner, Harry Cipriani. To this day, people still travel to Venice to drink Bellini’s at Harry’s Bar, despite the change of ownership.

Traditionally, the Bellini should be made with white peach puree but feel free to experiment with other flavors. No recipe is written in stone.

Serve in a Flute glass

  • 1 1/2 shots peach puree
  • Top with prosecco

Garnish: No garnish.

MethodAdd the peach puree to the flute glass, then slowly top with prosecco (if you pour too fast, the prosecco will over bubble & overflow), stirring constantly to mix the ingredients.

3) Black Russian

Black Russian Cocktail

Along with the White Russian cocktail, the Black Russian was one of the first cocktails I learned to make & love. It’s a classic that was created in the late 1940s, the White Russian variation is ‘The Dude’s’ drink of choice (watch ‘The Big Lebowski’) and it’s one of those drinks that you won’t make often, but when you do, you’ll be making it all night.

Serve in an Old-Fashioned glass

  • 2 shots vodka
  • 1 shot coffee liqueur

Garnish: 1 cherry

MethodBuild & stir in an old-fashioned glass. Add the garnish.

Variations: The White Russian is a variation to the black Russian. To make this variation, add 1 shot of heavy cream and shake the mix in your Boston shake instead of building in the glass.

4) Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary CocktailWhat list of essential cocktails would this be if it didn’t include the perfect hangover cure… The Bloody Mary. This drink has become extremely popular during a Sunday breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Mainly because people believe that it helps them cope with the hangover they earned the night before.

The Bloody Mary has a polarizing audience. Some people love it. Other’s despise it. I think it’s the ingredients tomato juice & hot sauce that has this effect.

The Bloody Mary is a very liberal cocktail. And it should be made that way. So you have a lot of flexibility and freedom to play around with this recipe. You should adjust the amount of salt, pepper, hot sauce, Worcester sauce, and horseradish you add depending on your own tastes. And those of your customers.

This recipe should only be used as a guide. That being said, it’s the recipe that I’ve found appeals to the widest audience.

Serve in a Hurricane Glass.

  • 2 shots Vodka
  • 4 shots Tomato Juice
  • 3/4 shot Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 3 Dashes of Tobasco
  • 3 Dashes of Worcester Sauce
  • 1/4 of a Teaspoon of Horseradish (optional if available)
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste (celery salt works the best)

Garnish: 1 lemon wedge, 1 celery stick

Method: Gently roll the ingredients from one shaker to another until the mix is chilled (don’t shake the mix because the tomato juice will foam). Strain into an ice-filled highball. Add the garnishes.

5) Caipirinha & Caipiroska

Caipirinha cocktailSimilarly to the Bloody Mary, I’ve found that the Caipirinha is a polarizing cocktail. Some people love it, others hate it. If you’ve never tasted cachaca rum (the Caipirinha’s base spirit and the reason for its polarizing effect) before, you’re in for a treat when you do. It’s Brazil’s national spirit and regardless of whether you like its taste, it’s one of a kind.

The Caipiroska is a variation to the Caipirinha that’s made with vodka instead of cachaca and it’s much more approachable because of it. That’s probably why it has become the more popular of the two cocktails.

As you’ll find with the Daiquiri, the Caipiroska is a great drink to play around with. Throw in some fruits, syrups, and liqueurs and you’re able to create an astounding amount of delicious variations because of its simple formula.

Serve in an old-fashioned glass.

  • 4-6 lime wedges
  • 1 bar spoon of brown sugar
  • 2 shots of cachaca rum (or vodka for the Caipiroska version)

Garnish: No garnish.

Method: Muddle the limes and sugar in a rocks glass. Add the cachaca/vodka. Fill the glass with crushed ice. Stir thoroughly. Crown with crushed ice.

6) Champagne Cocktail

Champagne CocktailAn oldie and a goodie, the Champagne cocktail has been popular since the mid-1800s. It’s easy to make and it has historical significance because it appeared in the first cocktail recipe book aimed at bartenders, Jerry Thomas’ classic ‘The Bartender’s Guide – A Complete Cyclopedia of Plain and Fancy Drinks.

Serve in a Flute glass

  • 1 sugar cube
  • Angostura bitters
  • Top with champagne

Garnish1 lemon twist for garnish

Method: Soak the sugar cube with Angostura bitters, then place the soaked sugar cube in the bottom of the flute glass. Top slowly with champagne – be gentle to avoid spillage. Add the garnish.

7) Cosmopolitan (Cosmo)

Cosmopolitan CocktailAlthough no-one knows who or exactly when the Cosmo cocktail was created, it was championed by bartender & ‘King Cocktail,’ Dale DeGroff in the late 80s & early 90s. Once Madonna & the hit T.V. series ‘Sex & the City’ caught wind of it, the cocktail exploded.

Despite this being considered a ‘girly’ drink, it’s delicious and it’s one of my favorite cocktails. It’s well balanced, it looks great, and the added showmanship of the flaming orange garnish makes it an essential drink in every bartender’s repertoire.

If you’re looking for a variation, swapping the citrus vodka for tequila is a great way to change it up. Which basically turns the drink into a Margarita with cranberry juice.

Serve in a Coupe Glass

  • 1 1/2 shots citrus vodka
  • 1/2 shot triple sec
  • 1/4 shot simple syrup
  • 1/2 shot fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 shot cranberry juice

Garnish1 flamed orange peel

Method: Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Flame that garnish!

8) Daiquiri

Daiquiri CocktailThe Daiquiri is one of David Embury’s 6 cocktails he discusses in detail in his highyl regarded cocktail book, ‘The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.’ And for good reason. This cocktail has taken the world by storm because of its endless variations.

It’s essentially a ‘rum sour’ that’s made with lime juice and because rum is more open to mixing with other ingredients than whiskey is, it’s a great cocktail to play around with. You can throw in fruits, syrups, and other liqueurs to mix it up and give the daiquiri a completely different flavor profile.

Frozen versions are extremely popular during the summer. And they’re made by simply blending the mix with crushed ice. It’s an easy cocktail to make, but its endless variations make it an important addition to your arsenal.

Serve in a Coupe glass

  • 2 shots white rum
  • 1 shot fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 shot simple syrup

Garnish1 lime wheel or 1 lime twist

Method: Shake & strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

9) Espresso Martini

Espresso Martini cocktailThe rise of the espresso machine has given birth to one of the most popular cocktails of the modern era, the Espresso Martini. As far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been around for that long. But it has quickly become one of the most commonly consumed cocktails in the world today.

Every establishment I’ve worked at in the past 3 years, has made more Espresso Martinis than any other cocktail. Who would have thought that two of most commonly consumed ‘drugs’ would marry together to make such a popular cocktail!?

When you make an Espresso Martini, freshly brewed espresso works the best. But if you’re making them in a large quantity, you can refrigerate a daily batch so you don’t have to wait 30 seconds each time you get an order. You also need to shake this cocktail hard to activate the espresso and give the cocktail a nice foamy top.

Serve in a Martini glass

  • 1 1/2 shots vodka
  • 1/2 shot coffee liqueur (like Kahlua)
  • 1 shot of freshly brewed espresso
  • 1/2 shot vanilla syrup

Garnish3 espresso beans

Method: Shake (hard) & strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

10) Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee CocktailIn the early 1940s, bartender Joe Sheridan created the Irish Coffee at Ireland’s Shannon Airport as a way to “warm” his passengers. After the passengers asked if they were being served ‘Brazilian Coffee,’ Joe told them it was ‘Irish coffee’ and thus, this world-renowned drink was born.

Stanton Deplane, a reporter & travel writer for the San Fransisco Chronicle, tried one of Joe’s Irish Coffees, loved it and then brought it over to America in 1952. The rest, as they say, is history.

Serve in an Irish Coffee glass

  • 2 shots Irish whiskey
  • 1 shot simple syrup
  • 4-5 shots hot coffee
  • Top with whipped cream

Garnish: 3 Espresso beans

MethodBuild in an Irish coffee glass. Float the whipped cream on top. Serve with a long teaspoon.

11) Long Island Iced Tea

Long Island Iced Tea CocktailThe Long Island Iced Tea packs a powerful punch. That’s why it’s become such popular drink among college and university students! So if you’re working in a nightclub or a bar near a college/university, expect to make a lot of these.

But despite this drink going against many ‘mixing’ conventions, it actually tastes alright. And it’s really easy to remember. It’s equal proportions of all its ingredients, then topped up with coke. How easy is that!

Serve in a Hurricane glass

  • 1/2 shot vodka
  • 1/2 shot white rum
  • 1/2 shot blanco tequila
  • 1/2 shot gin
  • 1/2 shot triple sec
  • 1/2 shot fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 shot simple syrup
  • Top with cola

Garnish1 lemon wedge

Method: Shake everything except for the Cola and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with cola. Add the garnish.

12) Mai-Tai

Mai Tai Cocktail

The Mai-Tai is one of those drinks that get’s brutalized in cheaper establishments. When customers drink these brutalized versions, sometimes they’re left with a bad impression. Which is a shame, because when it’s made properly, it’s an awesome tiki cocktail that’s best accompanied by a day in paradise.

Despite these brutalized versions, people still love it and it’s ordered all over the world. Especially in the tropics. That’s why it’s one of those essential cocktails every bartender should know.

The fact that Maita’i (Mai Tai) means ‘good’ in Tahitian, says it all!

You don’t need to know any variations to this cocktail. Just remember to ‘slap’ the mint sprigs before you add them as a garnish. Just as with the Mojito, ‘slapping’ the mint sprigs will release its aromas and flavor.

Serve in a Large Old-Fashioned glass

  • 1 shot dark rum
  • 1 shot white rum
  • 1/2 shot triple sec
  • 3/4 shot orgeat syrup
  • 1 shot fresh lime juice

Garnish2-3 mint sprigs, 1 cherry (optional)

Method: Shake and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Add the garnish.

13) Manhattan

Manhattan CocktailThe Manhattan is the father of the Martinez cocktails &  grandfather of the infamous Martini cocktail. Although it’s not as well known as the Martini, it’s essential to know, if not solely for its historical significance. It was one of the first mixed drinks that ever called for the addition of vermouth and it changed the way we consume mixed drinks because of it.

Every good bartender will know how to make a great Manhattan cocktail. And although you won’t make it as often as some of the other cocktails on this list, it’s an important addition to your repertoire.

There’s are two variations you need to be aware of – a perfect Manhattan and a dry Manhattan. A Perfect Manhattan is made equal parts of dry and sweet vermouth (15ml of each). A dry Manhattan is made with dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth.

The following recipe comes from Gary Regan. A self-proclaimed Manhattan lover and one of the most celebrated cocktail bartenders of our time. I can testify to how great this recipe is. I used to be in the ‘I don’t like Manhattans’ camp until I tried his recipe. Now, I’m somewhere in the middle.

Serve in a Martini glass

  • 2 shots bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 shot sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Garnish1 cherry 

Method: Stir & strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

14) Margarita

Margarita cocktailThe Margarita is one of the world’s most popular cocktails, especially during the summertime. Some people are absolutely obsessed with it, including many of my bartender friends.

It follows a very similar recipe to the Cosmo. The difference is that you replace the citrus vodka with tequila, you leave out the cranberry juice, and you garnish it differently. But other than that, everything else is the same.

The only variation you need to know is the frozen version, which is made by blending the mix with crushed ice. Keep this drink simple and your customers will be happy.

Serve in a Margarita glass

  • 1 1/2 shots blanco tequila
  • 1 shot triple sec
  • 3/4 shot fresh lime juice
  • Half salt rim

Garnish: 1 lime wheel

Method: Shake & strain into a chilled salt-rimmed cocktail glass. Only rim half the glass with salt so that the people who don’t want to taste the salt don’t have to.

15) The Martini 

Dry Martini CocktailThe Dry Martini is one of those essential cocktails that everyone has heard of. Popularized in recent years by the James Bond films and his famous line “Shaken, not stirred.” This cocktail is becoming more and more popular by the day. But it’s been around for more than a century.

Martini’s can be made with either vodka or gin and it can be garnished with an olive or a lemon twist (you should always ask what the customer would like). T are three main variations on top of that.

The first is the Dirty Martini. To make a dirty martini you need to add 1-3 bar spoons of olive brine to the mix. The second variation is when a customer asks for their martini extra dry. That basically means that they want less vermouth (5ml of dry vermouth is considered to be extra dry). The final variation is when a customer orders their Martini perfect. Which means equal parts dry and sweet vermouth (i.e. 1/8 shot of each).

This is one of the most popular cocktails of all time, if not the most, and every bartender should know how to make it. It’s got world acclaim and James Bond drinks it. Enough said.

Serve in a Martini glass

  • 2 1/2 shots gin or vodka
  • 1/2 shot dry vermouth

Garnish1 olive or 1 lemon twist.

Method: Stir & strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

16) Mojito

Mojito CocktailThe Mojito has taken the world by storm. You’ll find people ordering them at almost every bar, restaurant, and/or pub you go to all around the world. It’s one of the most popular cocktails of the modern era.

It requires a little more skill to make than most of the other essential cocktails on this list. But it’s still relatively simple.

First of all, it requires fresh mint leaves. To release their flavors, scents, and oils, of those mint leaves, you need to ‘clap’ them in your hands before adding them to the drink. You should do the same with the mint sprigs when you add the garnish. If you do it properly, it will pack the cocktail with a refreshing minty freshness that is essential to a delicious Mojito.

It can either be made with brown sugar or sugar syrup. But brown sugar marries better with the muddled limes. However, if you use brown sugar, it will take longer to make.

And finally, you should always use crushed ice. Even if it means you have to crush it yourself. The drink won’t be half as good if you use cubed ice instead.

Serve in a Collins glass

  • 4-6 lime wedges
  • 6-8 fresh mint leaves
  • 2 shots white rum
  • 2-3 teaspoons of granulated white sugar
  • Top with soda

Garnish2-3 mint sprigs

Method: Muddle lime wedges and sugar in a highball until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add rum and mint leaves (give them a good ‘clap‘ before adding them). Fill with crushed ice then stir rigorously. Top with soda water. Crown with crushed ice then slap the mint sprigs and garnish the cocktail.

17) Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule CocktailAn old classic. The Moscow Mule is easy to make and even easier to drink. The main reason for its popularity is because it was heavily marketed by Smirnoff Vodka when they first released their brand. Traditionally served in a copper mug, it’s still one of the most popular cocktails in the world.

If you don’t stock copper mugs, a highball or collins glass is fine. 

Serve in a Copper Mug

  • 2 shots vodka
  • 1/2 shot fresh lime juice
  • Top with ginger beer

Garnish1 lime wedge

Method: Build in an ice-filled copper mug. Top with ginger beer. Add the garnish.

18) Negroni

The Negroni was once described to me as the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and bitter. And now, that I’ve become a huge fan of this classic cocktail, I can’t help but agree.

The Negroni seems to be particularly popular among bartenders. So a lot of time, the person ordering it on the other side of the bar knows what to expect. That means it’s important that you know how to make it right!

Fortunately for you, it’s one of the easiest cocktails to make on this list. It’s simply equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. And if you’re making a lot of them, you can premix this cocktail to save yourself a bit of time.

Serve in a Rocks Glass

  • 1 shot gin
  • 1 shot Campari
  • 1 shot sweet vermouth

Garnish: 1 orange twist or flaming orange.

Method: Build in any order in a rocks glass. Add ice and give a quick stir. Add the garnish.

19) Old-Fashioned

Old-Fashioned CocktailThe Old-Fashioned has evolved over the years into a fantastic cocktail. Back in the 1960’s, it was made by muddling a cherry and orange slice with the sugar and bitters. But having personally compared both the original and modern versions, I think the modern version is a far more approachable cocktail.

That being said, you should be able ‘fashion’ your Old-Fashioned however you like. Some people prefer them to be made with rum instead of bourbon and I know of a particularly good variation that calls for Jamaican rum, sherry, and chocolate bitters, instead.

Most of the time, people are going to want it made the modern way. So when you’re starting out, don’t concern yourself too much with any of its variations. Master the basics first.

One final note, this drink is most commonly made with bourbon, but you should always give your guest the option of having rye whiskey instead.

Serve in an Old-Fashioned glass

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 1/2 shots bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Garnish1 cherry and/or 1 orange twist

Method: Muddle the sugar and bitters in a rocks glass. Add 30ml of bourbon then stir with ice until the ice has slightly diluted. Add the other 30ml of bourbon and stir once again, tasting as you go until the dilution is perfect. Add the garnish.

Alternatively, to speed up the making of this drink. You could do the whole process in a mixing glass, then stir & strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add the garnish.

 

20) Pimm’s Cup

Pimm's Cup CocktailThe Pimm’s Cup cocktail is the most British drink I’ve ever come across. It’s the drink of choice at the Wimbledon Open and it’s heavily consumed at pompous events like rowing regattas.

Pimm Cup No.1 is an aperitif liqueur that originated in the early to mid-1800s created by none other than James Pimm. No.1 is made with gin as its base spirit – once again very British. There used to be several variations made with different base spirits, rye, rum, vodka, etc but they slowly fell by the wayside and only Pimm’s Cup No.1 & 2 are still on the market.

Served properly, this drink is garnished with as many different fruits as you can get your hands on.

Serve in a Collins glass

  • 2 shots Pimm’s No.1
  • 1 shot fresh lemon juice
  • Top with sprite

Garnish1 lemon slice, 1 orange slice, 1 cucumber slice, 1/2 strawberry, 2 mint leaves.

MethodShake & strain into a collins glass. Add ice-cubes. Top with sprite. Add the garnishes.

21) Pina Colada

Pina Colada Cocktail“If you like Pina Colada’s….” It’s the tiki cocktail that went viral. I love the song almost as much as I love the drink. It’s one the best cocktails you can order during the summer, when you’re by the pool, or when you’re bathing in the sun at the beach.

When it’s made right, it’s fantastic. But when it’s made wrong, it’s pretty average. So if you’re going to make this cocktail, learn how to make it right. Do that by following this recipe and using the best ingredients you can find.

If you can’t get your hands on coconut cream, you’ll have to use a combination of coconut liqueur, coconut syrup, and heavy cream instead. I’ve found that Koko Kanu rum works the well instead of white rum in these cases. But it’s hard to find. So your best bet is to use coconut rum liqueur, white rum, and coconut liqueur.

Always use fresh cream and a decent brand of pineapple juice.

Serve in a Hurricane glass

  • 2 shots white rum
  • 2 shots pineapple juice
  • 1 1/2 shots coconut cream

Garnish1 cherry & 1 pineapple wedge

Method: Shake & strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Add the garnishes.

22) Porn Star Martini

Porn Star MartiniSome people order the Porn Star Martini just for its name, but it’s also a great tasting cocktail. It’s one of the most popular cocktails in the world and it’s the most visited cocktail on Difford’s Guide for 3 years in a row. Created in UK at London’s Townhouse and its sister bar, LAB, it’s particularly popular in its country of origin.

Serve in a Martini glass

  • 1 1/2 shots vanilla vodka
  • 1/2 shot passionfruit liqueur (like Passoa)
  • 1/2 shot vanilla syrup
  • 1/2 shot fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 fresh passionfruit
  • 1 shot champagne served in a shot glass on the side

Garnish: floating 1/2 fresh passionfruit

MethodShake and fine strain the first 4 ingredients & the pulp from half a fresh passionfruit into a chilled martini glass. Float the other half of the passionfruit on top to garnish. Serve alongside a shot of champagne.

23) Pousse Café

Pousse Cafe Cocktail

Here’s a group of cocktails that you may or may not be making very often… The pousse-café literally means push coffee in French. It doesn’t translate very well into English because basically, it’s a category of layered drinks. Although the recipe I’ve listed below is the classic pousse-cafe recipe, there are several variations.

The B-52 shot that you’ll see in shooter section is example of a pousse café.

Most of the time, pousse cafés look great but they don’t taste very nice. The recipe below is an example of a beautifully layered pousse cafe, that doesn’t taste… you get the point.

Serve in a Pousse Café glass

  • 1/4 shot grenadine
  • 1/4 shot dark crème de cacao
  • 1/4 shot maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 shot orange curaçao
  • 1/4 shot green crème de menthe
  • 1/4 shot parfait amour
  • 1/2 shot cognac

Garnish: No garnish.

Method: Carefully layer each ingredient on top of one another in the order given above.

24) Sidecar

Sidecar CocktailA fantastic classic cocktail and one of the 6 drinks that David Embury cared to include in his book, ‘The Fine art of Mixing Drinks’. The sidecar led the way for many amazing cocktails to come, the margarita, cosmopolitan, and kamikaze being 3 of the most notable.

Side Note: If you take a closer look at these recipes, you’ll notice how similar they are. Other than the cosmo (which has cranberry juice as well), the only difference is the base spirit.

According to Embury, this cocktail was created by his friend during the first world war when he would travel to his favourite cafe in Paris in the Sidecar of a motorbike. The cocktail is indeed French, which one could simply deduce from its ingredients. But we’ll never be sure if Embury’s account is accurate or not.

Serve in a Coupe glass

  • 1 1/2 shots cognac
  • 1 shot triple sec
  • 3/4 shot fresh lemon juice
  • Sugar for rimming

Garnish1 lemon twist

MethodRim half the coupe glass with sugar. Shake & fine strain into the chilled coupe glass. Add the garnish.

25) Whiskey Sour

Whiskey Sour CocktailIf you don’t think you like bourbon or rye whiskey, you probably haven’t tried a Whiskey Sour. This is one of the first cocktails I ever tasted and I still drink them today. Personally, I prefer them when they’re made with an egg white.

The egg white gives the cocktail a creamy texture that adds to this already well-balanced cocktail. But it’s an optional addition. Some of your customers won’t like it (and some might even be allergic).

There a couple of important variations you need to know. The first is made with Pisco instead of bourbon/rye whiskey (called a Pisco Sour). And the second is made with amaretto instead of bourbon/rye whiskey (called an Amaretto Sour).

When you’re making an Amaretto Sour, you’ll want to add less sugar syrup (about 1/2 shot instead of 3/4) because the amaretto liqueur is already quite sweet. Adding too much sugar syrup will overpower the cocktail.

Serve in a Large Old-Fashioned glass

  • 2 shots bourbon (or pisco, or amaretto)
  • 1 shot fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 shot simple syrup
  • 1/2 an egg white

Garnish1 maraschino cherry & 1 orange slice

Method: Dry shake (if using egg white), then shake & strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add the garnish.

How Do I Master These Cocktails?

I created a free cocktail cheat sheet that you can use and refer to whenever you need to make one of these cocktails. The cheat sheet contains the 25 essential cocktails distilled into an easy to read/follow format.

It’s been designed so that you can study this list at home and/or refer to it whenever you need to behind the bar.

I highly recommend that you download this cheat sheet, memorize the recipes, and practice making them whenever you get the chance. That’s how you’ll master these essential cocktails. And once you’ve mastered them, you’ll able to confidently make the vast majority of cocktails out there, and you will become a much better bartender for it.

Good luck and let me know if there are any cocktails you’d add to this list in the comments section below.

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4 thoughts on “25 Essential Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know”

  1. Hi I am new to making drinks and I noticed that different websites and different books I read on making cocktails usually have same ingredients except have different amounts of alcohol. What if I go to a bar to bartend and they have different amounts of alcohol they put in do I have to re learn the amounts every time I switch jobs at different bars

    1. Yeah, unfortunately, you will need to re-learn the amounts. But, once you’ve got the ingredients memorized, the amounts come fairly easily. Also, I’ve found that most bars have similar ratios so it’s not that big of a deal

  2. Hey Tom,
    I really appreciate all this excellent help and information you’ve put out on bartending – so great! I’ve had a passion for this role for many years, but only did it briefly 15 years ago. I just wanted to let you know that the download for the 15 Essential Cocktails Cheatsheet leads to The Ultimate Bartender Guide instead. Appreciate your help on getting the actual Cheatsheet – thanks! Lisa

    1. Hey Lisa, thanks for your kind words and thanks for letting me know about the wrong link! I’ve updated it accordingly 🙂

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