A guide to classic cocktails

  • By
    Natalie Hardwick - Senior writer - bbcgoodfood.com

A guide to help you find the perfect tipple

CocktailsThe world of the mighty cocktail is intoxicating and vast. Whether you like yours fluorescent, sporting an umbrella and served by Tom Cruise or made to measure by a molecular mixologist, the most fun occurs when you get stuck in yourself. 

All you need to get started is a spirit base of your choice then it's just a case of experimenting with blends. We've put together a guide on how to turn your bottle of choice into something special.

 

Vodka

Bloody mary

Russian fire water makes a great foundation for cocktails - its neutral flavour makes it a relatively blank canvas. 

Often the reserve of the hungover, the Bloody Mary is a liquid meal with a mean kick of booze and heat. Once you've added tomato juice to your vodka, build up the flavour profile with Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, pepper, celery salt, lemon juice and even a splash of sherry, vermouth or Guinness. If you're feeling particularly decadent, serve it drizzled on oysters. 

Cosmopolitan
A Cosmopolitan, served in a dainty Martini glass and favoured by sharp-dressed city girls, is pretty in pink and easy drinking. Add orange-flavoured triple sec, cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime to your vodka. You can even add an extra layer of depth by using a flavoured base spirit. 

Those yearning for a taste of the past might prefer a gloriously retro Screwdriver (vodka with orange juice), Blue Lagoon (with lurid blue Curacao and lemonade) or White Russian (with Kahlua and cream). Or flavour-infuse your vodka and serve with soda or tonic.

Gin

Pimm's Mother's ruin may not be for everyone, but it's simply a spruced up version of vodka with added botanicals such as juniper, rosemary, anise or coriander. A version with sloe berries is a sweeter tasting spirit best served with lemonade. A glamorously retro way of using plain distilled gin is in a gimlet - simply gin and lime. You don't even need fresh fruit - 1950's film noir characters preferred a dash of Rose's lime cordial. 

A Negroni is one part gin- one part vermouth and one part bitters - usually bright red beauty, Campari. It's best consumed wearing sunglasses in a roadside café in Florence. 

Gin is also the base of English summertime favourite, Pimm's. Once you've added lemonade over ice, cram the glass with mint and fruit, chilled tea, or follow our guide to Pimm's for extra inspiration.

Rum

Pina coladaDistilled from molasses in the heady climes of the Caribbean and South America, rum is a sunshine spirit with a complex flavour profile. It works perfectly well with hot ginger beer and a twist of lime in a Dark 'n' Stormy, or with lime juice and sugar in a dinky Daiquiri. Simple is often best when it comes to rum to allow the flavour to shine. 

White rum makes up the base for a refreshing Mojito, made with plenty of fresh lime, mint and soda water. A Zombie is the true celebration of the spirit - it lives up to its name with a potent blend of three rums plus added apricot liqueur and brandy. Rum is also the primary component of the knockout Long Island Ice Tea - a murky brown blend of up to seven different spirits! If you really want to get into the holiday zone, try a piña colada. Up the kitsch factor of this coconut and pineapple blend by serving it with a cocktail umbrella or in the hollowed-out fruit if you're feeling especially creative. 

Whisky

Old fashionedWhisky (or whiskey, depending on the origin) comes in many guises, from the peaty flavour of traditional Celtic Scotch to a lighter American bourbon. The Manhattan combines a rye whiskey with vermouth, Angostura bitters and is served with a cherry. A Lynchburg Lemonade takes a Tennessee whiskey and blends it with triple sec, sours, lemon and lime. 

An Old-Fashioned is achieved by muddling sugar with bitters then adding whisky (or brandy if preferred) and adding a twist and peel of citrus, while a Rusty Nail mixes Scotch with honey-based Drambuie. Less a cocktail than sumptuous rocket fuel, an Irish coffee uses Irish whiskey mixed with hot coffee - mixing sugar in while it's warm will mean you can easily float a fresh cream head on top. 

Fizz

BelliniAlthough a drink isn't technically a cocktail without the addition of a spirit, using Champagne, Prosecco or Cava as the base for a blend is true luxury. Suited to a decadent brunch or early party, a Bucks Fizz or Mimosa softens the boozy blow of bubbly with fresh orange juice. One of Italy's most popular fizz cocktails is a Bellini, with sparkling wine and peach purée. 

A Black Velvet is a drink of binaries - delicate and expensive Champagne mixed with a deep and thick stout. A Kir Royale also adds booze to Champagne. This time in the form of blackcurrant-flavoured crème de Cassis.

margaritaStill not settled on a tipple? Don't forget…

Tequila - Try a lime-based Margarita or layered Tequila Sunrise with orange juice and Grenadine.

Brandy - Blend cognac with lime, sugar syrup, bitters and an egg white to make a Pisco Sour. 

Beer - A Mexican lime and lager mix of Michelada is a barman's choice of hangover cure. 

Vermouth - The iconic Martini is a blend of gin and vermouth, served straight up with olive or lemon peel, in a variety of flavours. 


What's your favourite cocktail? If you're still stuck for inspiration, take a look through our cocktail collection.

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.

Comments

Show comments

We’d love to hear how you got on with this recipe. Did you like it? Would you recommend others give it a try?

Be the first to comment on this recipe…

Questions

Tips