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Sarah Ward

What Are Cocktails?: 5 Details of Sparkling History

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When you think of cocktails, there are many things that may come to mind. The world of cocktails includes:

Of course, right now you’re on a site that has dedicated a good amount of content to bars. We will discuss cocktail drinks in this article, but it isn’t just for lovers of drinks with tiny umbrellas! If you’ve been wanting to learn about everything from basic bar drinks to the history of cocktails, this is the place for you.

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What Are Cocktails?: An Overview

The Webster definition of cocktail includes a few options. The first is, “a usually iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients.” And the second is, “something resembling or suggesting such a drink as being a mixture of often diverse elements or ingredients.”

Both of these definitions are accurate. But do you think of them when you think, “What are cocktails?” Well, that depends on your preferences.

What Are Cocktail Bitters?

To answer that question, we’ll look at one aspect of cocktail drinks and treats: What are bitters? Cocktail bitters are, effectively, spices for cocktails. If you're familiar with bar terms then you're probably already somewhat familiar with bitters.

These mix-ins enhance and transform the flavor of every cocktail they’re included with. A few great options for cocktail bitters include:

  • Hella Cocktail Co. Aromatic Bitters
  • Angostura Aromatic Bitters
  • Copper & Kings Old Fashioned Bitters
  • Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters
  • Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6
  • Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Cocktail Bitters
  • 18.21 Barrel Aged Havana & Hide Bitters
  • Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
  • Scrappy’s Celery Bitters
  • The Bitter Truth Bogart's Bitters
  • Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion and Burdock Bitters

Cocktail Drinks

Of course, talking about bitters leads directly into talking about cocktail drinks. While the term cocktail is used in different contexts, cocktail drinks are more specific than the classic meaning of the word cocktail. From cocktails that fit an aphrodisiac meaning to brunch cocktails, there's a lot of options.

A cocktail party wouldn’t be complete without a martini or an old fashioned. Cocktail foods pair best with relevant cocktails (both regular and gluten-free cocktails). Of all the things in life that involve the term “cocktail,” the drinks that make up this beverage category are at the center. When it comes to learning all about cocktails, learning about classic cocktail recipes is imperative. Cocktail recipes will have you learning specifics about how much is a part and what is a jigger, and it'll all help you learn more about mixing drinks.

Five Best Cocktail Drinks

There are plenty of great cocktails out there. From classics and new age treats to homebrew experiments and beyond, the world of cocktail drinks is never-ending. And, everyone who enjoys cocktails is likely to have their own favorite cocktail and their favorite way of preparing that drink.

Ultimately, it’s hard to nail down the best cocktails, because that’s both a matter of consumer demand and personal opinion. That said, there are some cocktails that will always be at the top of the list. These top five cocktails are great options for many occasions:

5. Irish Coffee

There’s no doubt about the deliciousness of Irish coffee. This classic cocktail goes all the way back to the 1940s, and it’s been a staple for coffee and whiskey lovers ever since. A classic Irish coffee is made up of: 

  • Irish whiskey
  • Fresh cream
  • Hot coffee (though you can make a cold brew variation)
  • Brown sugar

This cocktail might not be for everyone. That said, for all the coffee and whiskey fans (and there are plenty of us), Irish coffee is a great choice every time.

4. Cosmopolitan

When it comes to the cosmopolitan, need we say more? This cocktail will go down in history as one of the most popular cocktail drinks. Women love it, and men secretly love it while pretending beer is better. The cosmo is a delicious mix of:

  • Vodka
  • Triple sec
  • Cranberry juice
  • Fresh or sweetened lime juice

The cosmo was inducted into the cocktail hall of fame when Las Vegas built The Cosmopolitan to celebrate this fabulous drink. If you wonder how to make a Cosmopolitan, read our article on the topic.

3. Long Island Iced Tea

The Long Island Iced Tea has been a staple of the liquor lover’s world for quite some time. Exactly how much time, however, is a disputed fact. It may have been the 1920s, or possibly the 1970s.

In fact, that may be partly caused by everyone who enjoys this liquor-packed drink telling the story differently. One thing everyone can agree on is that this drink will leave you needing a hangover cure. The Long Island Iced Tea is a mix of:

  • Vodka
  • Tequila
  • Light rum
  • Triple sec
  • Gin
  • A small amount of cola

Ooof, that’s quite the drink! Whether you like spring cocktails, winter cocktails, fall cocktails, or something in between, a Long Island Iced Tea is always a strong choice. 

2. Piña colada

If you like Piña coladas, you’re in the right place. This is the kind of drink that’s worth getting caught out in the rain for. Alright, that’s probably enough Escape references, but truly, this drink is perfect whether you’re into yoga or not. This classic delight includes:

  • Rum
  • Cream of coconut or coconut milk
  • Pineapple juice

That’s all it takes to make a sweet treat that will help you escape to the Caribbean any time you like. The Piña colada is undeniably one of the best summer cocktails.

1. Vodka Martini

Of course, no list of classic cocktails would be complete without the vodka martini. There are several variations of the martini recipe, but a simple vodka mix will never go out of style. The standard recipe is simple:

  • Vodka
  • Dry vermouth
  • Ice to chill it in the mixing process

Beyond that you can add a garnish, maybe:

  • An olive
  • An onion
  • A lemon twist
  • A pickle

Overall, you simply can’t go wrong with a vodka martini that’s been shaken, but not stirred.

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Cocktail Food

Hand in hand with all these great cocktail beverages are all the cocktail snacks we love. Cocktail food covers a wide range of options, but it mainly falls under the category of finger food and appetizers.

This is due to the fact that cocktails are often served at parties where people are snacking, not having a sit down meal. Cocktail foods are made to be enjoyed with ease and in small bites.

Five Best Cocktail Foods

There are as many cocktail foods as there are cocktail drinks. Similarly to drinks, they share the quality of being open to interpretation.

If you can make something small and easy to eat, then you’ve got yourself some great cocktail foods. The possibilities are endless. These top five favorites are a good place to start if you’re looking for cocktail foods to pair with a martini.

5. Calamari

Wherever you stand on calamari–love it, hate it, haven’t tried it–you’re sure to have heard of it. This fried squid dish is quite the delicacy, although not everyone would agree.

Some people can’t get past the squid aspect of it. If you’ve gotten past the original squeamish feelings around calamari, you’ll know what we mean when we say this belongs at every cocktail party. 

4. Cheese Board Bits

Cheese snacks have been a worldwide favorite for a long time. It’s just a matter of fact; everyone likes cheese. In recent years, appreciation for cheese has taken over the appetizer world in the form of the cheese board.

The true gift of the cheese board is that it can have so much more than cheese. If you like, try any of the following:

  • Olives
  • Meats
  • Bread
  • Pickles
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Tomatoes

Really, anything bite-sized can work. A cheese board is a great cocktail food choice. 

3. Cocktail Shrimp

Of course, anything with cocktail in the name is guaranteed to be a great cocktail snack. Cocktail shrimp with cocktail sauce is a staple of every cocktail spread. At a cocktail party the cocktail shrimp is guaranteed to be one of the first items to run out.

Bear in mind that you’ll want to consider other foods for guests or customers who don’t eat seafood dishes. When you’re serving cocktail foods that have known allergens, including seafood or nuts, be mindful of your guests by offering allergy-safe options as well. 

2. Cocktail Meatballs

Another cocktail-named treat is cocktail meatballs, which is a to-die-for snack among many. These sweet, filling food items require a bit more prep, but they’re guaranteed to be a knockout at any cocktail party. If you do want to make your own, there’s a great recipe from allrecipes that makes it easy on you. You’ll need:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 can of jellied cranberry sauce
  • ¾ cup chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice

The recipe will carry you from there. For people who are all about cocktails and cocktail snacks, these are a must-have!

1. Antipasto Bites

Coming in at number one is antipasto bites. Like a cheese board, antipasto bites bring so many delicious cocktail snacks together. An antipasto bite is a toothpick skewering of two or more of the following:

  • Cheese tortellini
  • Mozzarella balls
  • Salami
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Green olives

…or anything else you’d like on them! If you lean into a Mediterranean flavor profile with these, you can’t go wrong.

The History of Cocktails

When it comes to information that's all about cocktails, we can't leave out the history and traditions of these interesting drinks. The history of mixed drinks is long because people have been experimenting with mixing liquors and flavors for as long as we can remember. From as early as Ancient Greek life, people have been mixing in flavors to change up their drinks. Sure, that’s not what you think of when you think of cocktails, but it is one origin of these tasty drinks. 

Moving forward, from the 1500s through the 1700s and beyond, more and more people began experimenting with cocktails. Types of rum drinks really took off in the 1600s, and that was just the beginning. In the late 1700s and 1800s, four factors came into play that changed the cocktail game forever:

  • Artificial carbonation
  • Ice for sale in America
  • Refrigeration
  • Continuous distillation

These technological and economic advancements changed the cocktail industry and made it easier than ever to experiment with new drinks. 

Of course, cocktail history goes up to today, as people are always experimenting with new drinks. We won’t go through it all in this blog post. But, reading up on the history of cocktails is a worthwhile pursuit, especially if you enjoy reading while you sip your favorite drink.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cocktails

When it comes to learning all about cocktails, everything you've just read is a pretty extensive list. That said, there's always more you can learn! A few common questions you may be curious about include:

What Is Considered A Cocktail?

A cocktail is any drink that mixes one or more liquors with some flavoring, some garnishes, or other alcoholic beverages. Another name for a cocktail, mixed drinks, says it well. A cocktail is really just a drink with mixed cocktail ingredients. Technically, it doesn’t even need to be alcoholic, although mocktails are a conversation for another time. 

What Are The 6 Basic Cocktails?

The six basic cocktails are:

  • Old fashioned
  • Martini
  • Daiquiri
  • Sidecar
  • Whiskey highball
  • Flip

Some of these are more on the old-fashioned side. That said, they make up the basics, and their base ingredients are the start of so many other cocktails. If you're all about cocktails, you should be sure to check out all of these at some point. These are all classics, and they're unlikely to ever fit the 86 meaning at a bar if you're looking for a consistent drink.

Are There General Ingredients You Need For Cocktails?

If you want to mix cocktails at home, the basics you need include a variety of liquors, tools, mixers, and garnish ingredients. For liquors, you should have:

For mixing tools you should start with a shaker and maybe a jigger. For garnishes, good starter ingredients are:

  • Angostura bitters
  • Simple syrup
  • Lemon and lime juice
  • Margarita salt
  • Olives and onions

What Are the Essential Tools and Equipment for Making Cocktails?

To create great cocktail drinks, you need a set of tools and equipment including:

  • Shaker
  • Jigger
  • Mixing glass
  • Bar spoon
  • Strainer
  • Muddler
  • Citrus juicer or reamer
  • Paring knife and cutting board
  • Ice maker and tongs
  • Glassware
  • Bar mat
  • Bottle opener
  • Speed pourers
  • Bar towels

How Do I Properly Garnish a Cocktail?

Garnishing is an essential part of cocktail drink presentation. The classic cocktails have their typical garnishes you can stick to but you can also experiment with different herbs, spices, fruits, dried fruits, and more.

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All About Cocktails: Time For A Cocktail Party!

Now that you've learned all about cocktails, it's time to shake it up (or stir!) and start mixing some of your own drinks. Refer back to this blog post whenever you need ideas on what cocktails to make or what to pair them with.

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