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A guide to classic cocktails

Discover our favourite classic cocktails for every spirit, from dainty martinis and bellinis to punchy whisky recipes and creamy white russians.

The world of the mighty cocktail is vast and intoxicating. Whether you like yours fluorescent and sporting an umbrella or on the rocks with a twist, the most fun occurs when you get stuck in making them yourself.

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All you need to get started is a spirit base of your choice. After that, it’s just a case of experimenting with blends. We’ve put together a guide on how to turn your favourite spirits into something extra special.

Fill up with even more cocktails, mocktails and our best ever drinks recipes. Whether you need a guide to making the best negroni, some home bar ideas for inspiration or simply some nutritious smoothie recipes, we’ve got you covered.

Vodka cocktails

This Russian favourite is a great foundation for cocktails, with its neutral flavour making 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. Add tomato juice to your vodka, then 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 over oysters.

A cosmopolitan, served in a dainty martini glass, is pretty in pink and makes for easy drinking. Add orange-flavoured triple sec, cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime to your vodka. You can even use a flavoured base spirit to add an extra layer of depth.

Those yearning for a taste of the past might prefer a gloriously retro screwdriver (vodka with orange juice), blue lagoon (made with lurid blue curaçao) or a white russian (with Kahlúa and cream). Alternatively, try infusing your vodka and serve with soda or tonic.

Find even more vodka cocktail recipes with our ultimate collection, and mix up spectacular drinks in a flash with our 10 vodka cocktails you can make in minutes.

Gin cocktails

So-called ‘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. Perfect the classics first with our guide on how to make the perfect gin and tonic, then liven up your glass with our 5 twists on a gin and tonic.

Gin infused with sloe berries is a sweeter-tasting spirit best served with lemonade. Try it out with one of our top sloe gin cocktails, ideal for the colder months. A glamorously retro way of using plain gin is in a gimlet – a simple mix of gin, sugar and lime. You don’t even need fresh fruit; 1950s film noir characters preferred a dash of Rose’s lime cordial.

A negroni, meanwhile, is one part gin, one part vermouth and one part bitters (usually bright red Campari), and is best consumed at a roadside café in sunny Florence.

Gin is also the base of English summertime favourite Pimm’s. Once you’ve poured lemonade over ice, top up the glass with mint, fruit, Pimm’s and chilled tea or follow our guide to Pimm’s for extra inspiration. Need to cater for a thirsty crowd at the drop of a hat? Shake up your drinks repertoire with our 10 gin cocktails you can make in minutes.

Rum cocktails

Distilled 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 a 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 iced 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.

Expand your weekend drinks menu with our top 10 rum cocktail recipes.

Whisky cocktails

Whisky (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.

Keep it casual with a super simple whisky highball, or cool off with a refreshing mint julep cocktail.

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 caffeinated rocket fuel, an Irish coffee uses Irish whiskey mixed with hot coffee. Stirring in sugar in while it’s warm means you can more easily float a head of fresh cream on top.

Make the most of that bottle of whisky languishing on the shelf with our 5 easy whisky cocktail recipes and our best whisky cocktail recipe collection.

Fizz cocktails

Although 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. Make more light and delicate drinks with our 10 prosecco cocktails you can make in minutes and our favourite champagne cocktail recipes.

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.

More cocktails

Tequila cocktails: Try a lime-based margarita or layered tequila sunrise with orange juice and Grenadine. Check out our best ever tequila cockails for your next celebration.

Brandy: Blend a fruity cherry brandy with Benedictine, Angostura bitters, pineapple and lime juice for a classic Singapore sling. Peruse our pick of the best brandies – taste tested.

Beer cocktails: A Mexican lime and lager mix of michelada is a barman’s choice of hangover cure.

Vermouth cocktails: The iconic martini is a blend of gin and vermouth, served straight up with an olive or lemon peel, in a variety of flavours.

Try out your cocktail skills when summer rolls around with our frozen strawberry daiquiri and our favourite frozen cocktail recipes.

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What’s your favourite cocktail? Leave a comment below…