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18 Popular Drinks Every Bartender Should Know

December 20, 2019
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Scott
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We scoured the internet. We talked to every bartender we know.

And we put together an epic bartender drink recipes and bartender drinks list. We broke them down by three categories. You don't need a bartending license to master them.

First, we included common cocktails or common drinks. These are the most popular cocktails out there. They’re common drinks because everyone orders them.

Second, we’ve got basic cocktails. These are cocktails that people love that are also remarkably easy to make. You’ve likely already stocked your bar with everything you’ll need for them.

And finally, there are the classic drinks. These may not be the most popular or the easiest, but every bartender worth their salt knows them, and they’re profitable cocktails. They’re just in the genetics of bartending.

For each cocktail on the list, we included the ingredients, the steps, and some arguably interesting information. We also included a few quick tips to make each cocktail sing, from suggested glassware to popular substitutions. So if you’re looking for bartender drinks, here you go. These are the 18 drinks bartenders should know—from common mix drinks to classic cocktails.

For further mixological reading, check out our in-depth seasonal guides for spring cocktails, summer cocktails, fall cocktails, and winter cocktails.

A Note on How to Use this Bartender Drinks List

There are some terms in this bartender drinks list that aren’t standardized or are otherwise vague. For consistency, here’s what we mean when we use certain units of measurement or terms:

  • Shot: 1.5 oz. (There are about 17 shots in a fifth of alcohol, the standard liquor bottle size. The more you know.)
  • Dash: Approximately 10 single drops
  • Pinch: The amount that fits between your thumb and index finger
  • Top with: Fill remaining volume of glass with
  • Zest: Scrape the colored fruit skin off, leaving behind white pith
  • Twist: A thin piece of peel from a citrus fruit, twisted over and into a cocktail (and usually left in the cocktail or on the rim of the glassware)

See our bartending dictionary for more useful mixological terms.

Common Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know

These are the most popular cocktails in the U.S. Don’t let the word common fool you. They’re common cocktails because everyone’s ordering them. And that means they’re drinks bartenders should know. Stick to the standard liquor pour and standard wine pour to maximize the number of cocktails you get out of your well liquor.

margarita with a salted rim

Margarita

The margarita is the most popular cocktail in America. It’s also the most popular cocktail in every major U.S. market except Chicago, where margaritas are strangely not even in the top 5. What’s even more remarkable is that margaritas cost almost 50 cents more than the national average cocktail price of $9 and they’re still the most popular cocktail. Bartenders can’t afford not to know how to make margaritas at the drop of a hat. Especially during afternoons and early evenings, when margaritas are most popular. They're also the perfect chance to try and upsell a customer.

Margarita Ingredients

  • 2 oz. tequila
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 lime slice
  • 1 pinch salt (for salted rim)

How to Make a Margarita

  1. Create salted rim (coat rim of glass with salt) and fill with ice
  2. Add tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and ice to a shaker. Shake.
  3. Strain into glass
  4. Garnish with lime slice

Tips for Making a Margarita

  • Shake, never stir, a margarita
  • Always use 100% agave tequila

martini with olives

Martini

Martinis are probably the easiest cocktail to make in the whole wide world. They definitely deserve a spot in our easy, basic cocktails section. If not for one thing: they’re ridiculously popular. They are the 2nd most popular drink in the U.S. behind the margarita. They’re also most frequently enjoyed at night. That says a lot about the martini. Since its invention in 1863, it’s held a sort of effortless mystique perfectly at home when darkness falls. Learn to make a perfect one.

Martini Ingredients

  • 3 oz. gin
  • 1.5 oz. dry vermouth
  • 1 speared olive or lemon twist

How to Make a Martini

  1. Pour gin and vermouth into a mixer with ice cubes, stir
  2. Strain into a chilled martini glass
  3. Garnish with an olive or lemon twist

Tips for Making a Martini

  • Chill some martini glasses in a freezer to make sure you have properly chilled glasses ready to go
  • Stir for 30 seconds
  • Cut the lemon twist over the martini glass, to capture any falling zest

old fashioned on the rocks

Old Fashioned

The old fashioned is the original cocktail. There was a time when there weren’t thousands of cocktails. There was just one cocktail. And it was defined in 1806 as “a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar.” If you had spirits, bitters, water, and sugar, you could make the cocktail. Make it with bourbon, brandy, or rye, it didn't matter. It was a simpler time. Of course, it wasn’t called an old fashioned back then. It was only after the invention of hundreds of new cocktails that the drinking community looked back at the original recipe with nostalgia. “Give me a cocktail,” they’d say. “What kind?” the barkeep would ask. “One of those old fashioned ones.” 

Old Fashioned Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. bourbon whiskey
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 orange slice or cherry

How to Make an Old Fashioned

  1. Place sugar cube in old fashioned glass and cover in bitters
  2. Add a teaspoon of water, muddle until sugar cube dissolved
  3. Fill glass with ice, add whiskey
  4. Garnish with orange slice or cherry

Tips for Making an Old Fashioned

  • The traditional recipe calls for bourbon, but rye whiskey, scotch, and brandy are popular substitutes for those who want less of the vanilla and caramel notes bourbon is known for
  • If sugar cubes aren’t handy or there’s no time or space to muddle, .75 oz. simple syrup can replace the sugar cube

mimosa with an orange slice

Mimosa

The mimosa is the 4th most popular cocktail in the U.S. It’s, unsurprisingly, most popular during the morning and afternoon. It’s said that a bartender at the Ritz in Paris invented the mimosa in 1925. It’s also said that it was invented around the turn of the 20th century in the Mediterranean. Though, that’s maybe doing some disservice to the Spaniards who have been drinking orange juice and sparkling wine for centuries. Who can really say where these things come from? It gets its name from the yellow-flowering mimosa plant. That we do know. If you have a brunch service, expect to go through cases of wine on this cocktail.

Mimosa Ingredients

  • 2.5 oz. Champagne or sparkling wine
  • 2.5 oz. orange juice
  • 1 orange slice

How to Make a Mimosa

  1. Pour Champagne in Champagne flute
  2. Add orange juice
  3. Garnish with orange slice

Tips for Making a Mimosa

  • Use a dry sparkling wine with sweeter fresh-squeezed orange juice and a sweeter sparkling wine with tart orange juice from concentrate
  • If you’re making pitchers of mimosas, don’t pre-mix it too far in advance or you’ll lose the carbonation; 10-15 minutes before serving is about as far in advance as is ideal

moscow mule in a copper mug

Moscow Mule

The Moscow Mule is the 5th most popular cocktail in the good ol’ U.S.A. That was surprising to us because Moscow Mules require a set of hardware that a lot of popular cocktails don’t. To serve a Moscow Mule properly, you need chilled mugs of copper. Either every bar across the country has those or they’re not serving Moscow Mules in copper mugs. Either way, it’s okay. We’re not the Moscow Mule police. Enjoy as you would enjoy, for the Moscow Mule is enjoyable if it's anything.

Moscow Mule Ingredients

  • 4 oz. ginger beer
  • 1.5 oz. vodka
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 lime slice

How to Make a Moscow Mule

  1. Combine ginger beer and vodka in a highball glass full of ice
  2. Add lime juice, stir
  3. Garnish with lime slice

Tips for Making a Moscow Mule

  • Choose a spicy, extra-gingery ginger beer to avoid the feeling of a vodka ginger ale
  • Serve the drink in a chilled copper mug

cosmopolitan cocktail with a lime wheel

Cosmopolitan

The cosmopolitan is credited to Toby Cecchini of Manhattan’s The Odeon restaurant in 1987. In the grand scheme of cocktails, the cosmo is young. There is a similar recipe from the 1930s that calls for gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and raspberry syrup. Like most cocktails, there are multiple sources claiming multiple creation stories. What we do know is that it gained popularity like mad in the 1990s on the back of Carrie Bradshaw and now single-handedly represents a certain type of social sophistication.

Cosmopolitan Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz cranberry juice
  • .5 oz. Cointreau
  • .5 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 lime or lemon wheel

How to Make a Cosmopolitan

  1. Pour vodka, cranberry juice, Cointreau, and lime juice into a shaker with ice cubes, shake
  2. Strain into cocktail glass
  3. Garnish with lime or lemon wheel

Tips for Making a Cosmopolitan

  • Cut the lemon twist over the cocktail glass to capture any falling zest
  • Shake vigorously until the shaker is so cold your hands sting

bloody mary with a lime wedge

Bloody Mary

The origin of the name Bloody Mary, like the drink’s origins, are murky. Queen Mary I of England, Hollywood star Mary Pickford, the girlfriend of the owner of a bar called Bucket of Blood. All potential origins for the name. It’s hard to say how this cocktail got its name. So let’s just appreciate it for what it is: a cool name.

The Blood Mary is a concept at this point. Like a sandwich or a taco. There isn’t a single recipe, but some general rules to follow when making one. But whatever recipe you end up with, you’ll have a classic fall cocktail on your hands. The Bloody Mary recipe here is very simple, yet very delicious. 

Bloody Mary Ingredients

  • 2 oz. vodka
  • 6 oz. tomato juice
  • 1 tablespoon ground horseradish
  • 2 dashes hot sauce
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pinch celery salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon slice
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 speared green olives

How to Make a Bloody Mary

  1. Coat the rim of a highball glass with celery salt, fill with with ice
  2. Squeeze juice of lemon slice into shaker, add vodka, tomato juice, horseradish, hot sauce, worcestershire sauce, and black pepper and shake with ice
  3. Strain shaker into highball glass
  4. Garnish with a celery stalk and green olive spear

Tips for Making a Bloody Mary

  • Any hot sauce can be used, though Tabasco is the traditional choice
  • Anything goes with garnishes: meat sticks, pickled vegetables, cheese
  • Serve with a sidecar of beer for best possible guest experience

Basic Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know

Basic in this sense means easy to make. All good basic bartending drinks should be simple to whip up on a busy shift. Recommend them when you’re slammed and you’ll set yourself up for success. Such is the magic of basic bartending drinks.

aperol spritz in the sunlight

Aperol Spritz

Padua, Italy, 1919. The precocious Barbieri brothers got together to pull off their greatest stunt yet: creating a fun, refreshing alternative to the Venetian combination of white wine and soda. The great part about the Aperol spritz is that Aperol is a potable bitters. It’s good for your digestion. It’s also relatively low in alcohol, with 11%. The ingredients and the method are simple, making it a masterful basic bartending drink. All together, the Aperol Spritz is a perfect light afternoon drink for a summer lunch.

Aperol Spritz Ingredients

  • 3 oz. Prosecco
  • 3 oz. Aperol
  • Club soda
  • 1 orange slice

How to Make a Aperol Spritz

  1. Add ice to rocks or old-fashioned glass
  2. Pour in Aperol, then Prosecco
  3. Top with club soda
  4. Garnish with orange slice

whiskey sour with orange slices and a cherry

Whiskey Sour

The whiskey sour is the single best summer bourbon cocktail. The great state of Wisconsin has the honor of being the first location this classic cocktail was mentioned in print—back in 1870. Thank you, Waukesha Plain Dealer.

“Sours” are a family of classic drinks and more accurately thought of as a principle of mixology. They're one of the oldest approaches to making classic drinks. It’s a simple, well-worn formula: base alcohol + sour mixer + sweetener. A gimlet, for example, is basically a sour because Rose’s Lime isn’t lime juice, but a sweetened lime cordial. 

Whiskey Sour Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. bourbon whiskey
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • .5 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 cherry
  • 1 orange slice

How to Make a Whiskey Sour

  1. Add whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup to shaker without ice cubes, shake
  2. Strain into old-fashioned glass full of ice
  3. Garnish with cherry and orange slice

Tips for Making a Whiskey Sour

  • Add an egg white into the shaker with the whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup for the most traditional whiskey sour possible
  • Shake the cocktail without ice—also called a dry shake—vigorously to generate as much froth as possible
  • Use 1.5 oz. of sour mix instead of lemon juice and simple syrup if desired

white russian cocktail

White Russian

The White Russian is a Black Russian with cream added. They have nothing to do with Russia besides their use of vodka. And vodka was created in Poland. Just one of those things, I guess.

A Belgian named Gustave Tops invented the cocktail in 1949 in honor of the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg’s visit to Brussels. We’ve now mentioned five countries in the last few sentences. You can be forgiven if you think the origin story of the White Russian doesn’t follow a logical narrative thread.

White Russian Ingredients

  • .75 oz. coffee liqueur
  • 1.75 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. cream

How to Make a White Russian

  1. Add ice to rocks or old-fashioned glass
  2. Add coffee liqueur and vodka
  3. Top off with cream
  4. Tell them "the dude" sent you

gimlet with lime

Gimlet

The gimlet is a product of circumstance versus creativity, though honed and perfected with time. Its origins are at sea, when limes were mandatory rations for British sailors to battle scurvy. Gin was the drink of choice for many British sailors of the time. It was also a natural complement to the limes they were required to eat. “You must eat this lime” is a phrase sadly resigned to this part of history. The gin and lime juice made each other more palatable and countless seamen avoided vitamin deficiency. It’s a basic cocktail if we’ve ever seen one. And we love it for that.

Gimlet Ingredients

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 lime wheel

How to Make a Gimlet

  1. Add gin and lime juice to shaker with ice cubes, shake
  2. Strain into chilled cocktail or martini glass
  3. Garnish with lime wheel

Tips for Making a Gimlet

  • Use a lime cordial like Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice instead of the fresh lime juice for sweeter drink
  • The gin can be switched out for vodka, creating the popular vodka gimlet

daiquiri in a cocktail glass

Daiquiri

The daiquiri is a family of cocktails and holds an esteemed position in the basic cocktail pantheon. It's one of the “six basic drinks” in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, an epic and influential 1948 cocktail book. The name is from a Cuban iron mine where an American mining engineer named Jennings Cox was stationed in Cuba in the 1890s. And that iron mine takes the name of the nearby beach, Daiquiri Beach.

The drink found its way to the NYC bar scene in the early 1900s and stayed under the radar until the 1940s. Rum was much easier to come by during WWII than whiskey and vodka. FDR’s “Good Neighbor” policy increased trade incentives between the U.S. and Latin America.

Daiquiri Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. rum
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • .5 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 lime twist

How to Make a Daiquiri

  1. Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice cubes, shake
  2. Strain into chilled cocktail glass
  3. Garnish with lime twist or wedge

Tips for Making a Daiquiri

  • Make your own simple syrup using 2:1 cane sugar to water in a saucepan
  • Shake until the shaker tin frosts on the outside

Classic Drinks Every Bartender Should Know

boulevardier cocktail on the rocks

Boulevardier

Credit to Erskine Gwynne, an American writer based in Paris, for the creation of this perfect classic cocktail in the 1920s. With the completion of the redesign of Paris’s urban environment in the late 19th century, there appeared across the city huge, wide-open boulevards. For one of the first times in history, a city was designed to be experienced instead of simply lived in and used. The folks who took to leisurely strolling these new boulevards and open spaces were known as flâneurs or boulevardiers. They embraced a sort of fashionable urban exploration.

The original boulevardier recipe is made with bourbon. But most bartenders today recommend rye because the spice creates a rounder flavor with the sweet vermouth. And rye boulevardiers are fantastic, no doubt. But around here we stick with Erskine’s original recipe.

Boulevardier Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. rye or bourbon whiskey
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 orange twist

How to Make a Boulevardier

  1. Add whiskey, Campari, and vermouth to shaker with ice, stir
  2. Strain into rocks glass with a few ice cubes in it
  3. Garnish with orange twist

Tips for Making a Boulevardier

  • Serve in a lowball glass for maximum class
  • Like the other famous cocktail with whiskey and vermouth, the Manhattan, a cocktail cherry can be used as a garnish for a sweeter, more playful version

gin fizz with a lemon twist

Gin Fizz

The defining feature of a fizz, which is a family of cocktails, is the combination of acidic juice and fizzy water. Created in New Orleans around the 1870s, the drink became popular in the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century. It got so popular, in fact, that bars needed to hire entire teams of bartenders to take shifts making the darn things.

And then around 1950, the domestic U.S. popularity couldn’t contain itself. The drink went international. The rest is history. Folks usually put gin, whiskey, and in fizzes, but gin is the most popular. It’s certainly one of our favorite classic cocktails.

Gin Fizz Ingredients

  • 1.75 oz. gin
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • .75 oz. simple syrup
  • Club soda
  • 1 lemon wedge

How to Make a Gin Fizz

  1. Pour all ingredients in a shaker with ice cubes, shake
  2. Strain into an 8 oz. glass with no ice in it
  3. Top with club soda
  4. Garnish with lemon wedge or twist

Tips for Making a Gin Fizz

  • The more fizz, the better. To maximize the froth, shake once without ice, then add the ice and shake again.
  • Add an egg white into the shaker for the traditional gin fizz
  • To make a Tom Collins, strain into a highball glass full of ice

sazerac cocktail in an old fashioned glass

Sazerac

If you’ve ever heard of Peychaud’s bitters, you’ve heard of the apothecary who is credited with creating the Sazerac. Antoine Amédée Peychaud came to New Orleans from the Caribbean islands in the early 19th century and set up shop selling bitters from a proprietary family recipe. A local barkeep used imported Cognac to make a cocktail that a local apothecary had created. And it grew evermore popular with the years.

Sazerac Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. Cognac
  • .25 oz. absinthe
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (here's a little primer about what bitters are made of and used for)
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1 lemon peel

How to Make a Sazerac

  1. Rinse chilled old-fashioned glass with absinthe, set aside
  2. In mixing glass, muddle bitters, sugar cube, and water
  3. Add whiskey or Cognac to mixing glass, stir
  4. Strain into old-fashioned glass, garnish with lemon peel

Tips for Making a Sazerac

  • Add a combination of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters for a more complex flavor profile
  • Substitute the Cognac with rye whiskey for a slightly spicier, drier cocktail

negroni with an orange twist

Negroni

James Bond, in the stories and movies, has at least twice ordered an Americano cocktail. It’s Campari, sweet vermouth, and sparkling water. And Bond prefers Perrier in his Americanos, thank you very much.

Sounds like a pretty refreshing drink, the Americano. Imagine coming home from a hard day’s work and sipping on one. Pretty good. Now imagine coming home from a really hard day’s work and sipping on one. Could probably be a little stronger.

That’s what Pascal-Olivier de Negroni thought when he was enjoying his favorite cocktail after a hard day’s work as a general in the French military. When you spend your days worrying about all sorts of men-at-arms, armored cavalry, and the looming Prussian threat, you need a little something more than Campari to take the edge of. He asked a bartender to throw a shot of gin in his Americano, and the Negroni was born.

Negroni Ingredients

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 orange peel

How to Make a Negroni

  1. Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice cubes, stir
  2. Strain into rocks glass full of ice
  3. Garnish with orange peel

Tips for Making a Negroni

  • Don’t rub the orange peel on the glass rim
  • Use a full-bodied, bold gin to compete with the very flavorful Campari for a balanced flavor

manhattan cocktail

Manhattan

Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Frisian island of Fohr was known for its whaling community. It’s not far from mainland Germany, but has access to the whaling bounty of the North Sea. The pursuit of whales took these folks all the way to America—New England to be precise. That's where much of the whaling industry had consolidated.

At the tail end of the whaling era, mixing rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters became popular in New York City. And it spread to the rest of the region—Hartford, Connecticut, specifically. The whalers from Fohr picked up the habit there. Heading back to their homeland because work dried up, they brought the recipe and their appetite for it with them.

To this day, the little island of less than 9,000 people is in love with it. They drink it for lunch, for dinner, as a nightcap, for special occasions. Pictures of it adorn restaurants and menus. Bartenders specialize in it. And people seek it out constantly.

Manhattan Ingredients

  • 2 oz. rye, bourbon, or Canadian whiskey
  • .75 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 cherry

How to Make a Manhattan

  1. Pour whiskey, vermouth, and bitters into a shaker with ice cubes, stir
  2. Strain into chilled glass
  3. Garnish with cherry

Tips for Making a Manhattan

  • Shake with cracked ice to get a better mix; crack the ice cube in the palm of your hand with the back of a bar spoon
  • A maraschino cherry is best, though a lemon twist can be used instead of the cherry for a dressed-down version

mojito with fresh lime

Mojito

Mojitos may seem like a newer, trendy drink, but their history reaches back many centuries. Native Cubans used mint leaves, sugar cane juice, and lime for medicine. The European presence in the Caribbean around that time encountered it and it soon evolved into a recreational drink with the addition of rum. The combination of cool mint leaves in mojitos complements the punch of citrus exquisitely. Making a mojito isn’t difficult, but making an excellent one is, so practice! There are worse fates in the world than disposing of practice mojitos.

Mojito Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. rum
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 mint leaves
  • Club soda

How to Make a Mojito

  1. Muddle 4 mint leaves with sugar and lime juice
  2. Fill glass half full with crushed ice, add rum, and stir
  3. Top off with club soda
  4. Garnish with leftover 2 mint leaves and optional lime wheel or wedge

Tips for Making a Mojito

  • Slap the mint leaves with your hands before putting them in the glass to muddle; it releases the mint leaves’ essential oil
  • Stir gently to avoid mint leaves ripping
  • Use dark rum to create a deeper flavor profile

A Solid Bartender Recipes and Bartender Drinks List

These are the most popular cocktail recipes bartenders should know. They teach them in bartending school, no doubt. They are, in fact, must-know drinks for bartenders—or those learning how to become a bartender. Whether at a sports bar or a cocktail bar, bartenders cannot escape these drinks. And for good reason. They’re all delicious, popular, and worth knowing. That’s why we put them in this bartender drink guide. If you offer them in your bar, you'll go through liquor so quickly you'll never find out if liquor can go bad.

Discount them as one of your happy hour ideas, or tweak them with signature recipes for a bar promotion idea. Learn them, know them, mix them in your dreams. Then grab a copy of our bartender duties checklist to master the other bartender duties.

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