< back to guides

Great Cocktails: Ultimate Guide to Cocktail Drinks and More

Table of Contents

Great Cocktails

From great cocktails with flavorful ingredients to cocktail snacks that make you full before dinner to cocktail bars with the perfect atmosphere, there’s a lot that goes into the world of cocktails. This cocktail drinks guide has everything you need to know about cocktails. That includes ingredients to drink recipes to national holidays. You'll even learn how to open a cocktail bar. 

The world of great cocktails is a wide world, and the industry is always reinventing itself. You’ll find individual articles on the BinWise blog with even more detailed information. There are also cocktail books you can read to continue to grow. Let’s jump into the cocktail world right now. 

binwise cocktails guide ebook great cocktails

What Are Cocktails: 5 Details of Sparkling History

The topic of cocktails covers everything from drinks and parties to appetizers and types of bars. To start off this cocktail drinks guide, we’ll walk through the history of cocktails which includes a mix of drinks and appetizers. An example to tease your taste buds is the best Mexican appetizers, paired with margaritas.

Later on, we’ll get more specific. For now, we’ll take a high-level overview, from the vantage point of a highboy chair at a cocktail bar. 

What Are Cocktail Bitters?

Great cocktails are a mix of ingredients, bitters often among them. The question is, “What are bitters?” Bitters are the spices of the cocktail world. They’re mixers that add definitive flavor and texture touches to the cocktails they’re included in. 

What Are Cocktail Drinks?

Of course, bitters aren’t enough to make great cocktails. Cocktail drinks include several drink options, from a classic martini to a beachy Piña colada. The variety of cocktails made and experimented with over the years is vast. 

These five best cocktail drinks show a comprehensive picture of that variety: 

5. Irish Coffee

4. Cosmopolitan

3. Long Island Iced Tea

2. Piña colada

1. Vodka Martini

What Are Cocktail Foods?

When you’re enjoying a cocktail drink, it’s often best to pair it with food. This can be over a meal, but one of the most popular types of food to pair with cocktails is appetizers. Appetizers work well for cocktail parties, and for Sunday brunch with cocktails and small nibbles as you learn the answer to “What is brunch?”. 

These five treats are all delicious in their own rights, and they go well with some of the best cocktail drinks:

5. Calamari

4. Charcuterie snacks

3. Cocktail Shrimp

2. Cocktail Meatballs

1. Antipasto Bites

The History of Cocktails

Of course, all those drinks and great food pairings started out somewhere. The history of cocktails is an interesting story that started long before records were kept. From early Greek life onward, people have been mixing different beverages and flavors to make new treats. 

When the 1500s took place, more folks started to get creative. In the 1600s, when rum became mainstream, cocktails took off. These days, we’re still enjoying drinks that started back in the 1600s. The history of cocktails has shaped the way we mix drinks to this day. 

Cocktail Ingredients List: 10 Lists from Liquors to Bitters

A comprehensive cocktail ingredients list includes alcohols, garnishes, and flavors. If the complete ingredient list were to be put together, it would have the ice melting in your cocktail long before you could read through it.

We’ve detailed a vast list on the BinWise blog. For this overview, we’ll take a look at some top brands and options. The article linked at the header of this section will give you more to work with. 

List of Cocktail Drinks Ingredients

We’ll start with the basics, and get brand specific from there. You don’t have to keep all of these on hand to make some great drinks, but picking a few favorites is a good place to start.

The basic liquor list is:

  • Brandy
  • Rum
  • Vodka
  • Whiskey
  • Tequila
  • Gin

We’ll dive into some of the best brands for each liquor on that list.

Brandy Liquor List

For brandy, some of the best options are:

  • Rémy Martin XO
  • Hennessy XO
  • Courvoisier XO
  • Torres Gran Reserva
  • E&J VSOP

Brandy has a unique flavor, and it can mix with many cocktails to create extraordinary concoctions. 

Rum Liquor List

When it comes to rum, these options may look familiar:

  • Captain Morgan
  • Bacardi Rum
  • Havana Club
  • Cotton & Reed
  • Smith & Cross

Having a mix of these options on your bar cart will give you a lot to work with for various cocktails. 

Vodka Liquor List

A lot of vodka is fairly similar, but these options are known for some of the finest flavor:

  • Grey Goose
  • Ketel One
  • Belvedere
  • Stillhouse Classic Vodka
  • Hangar 1

Whiskey Liquor List

For whiskey, it’s hard to go wrong. These are some of the best options, but any whiskey can make for a great cocktail mix: 

  • Canadian Club
  • Buchanan’s
  • Jameson
  • Four Roses
  • The Glenlivet

Tequila Liquor List

Similar to rum, these best tequila brands are sure to be familiar:

  • Roca Patrón
  • el Jimador
  • 1800
  • Espolòn
  • Patrón

Gin Liquor List

There’s a certain nuance to each type of gin, which makes these great gins all unique in their own ways: 

  • Tanqueray
  • Bombay Sapphire
  • Gordon’s
  • Hendrick’s 
  • Sipsmith

Cocktail Ingredients List: Other Alcohols

Cocktails can also be mixed up with other alcohols. From the New York sour with red wine to the mimosa with champagne or sparkling wine, the non-liquor aisles of the liquor store will help you along the cocktail way. You’ll be well served with a mix of:

  • Red wine
  • White wine
  • Rosé wine
  • Beer
  • Champagne

What Are Bitters?

We mentioned bitters briefly earlier in this great cocktails guide. They’re vital to many cocktails, and they can make all the difference in terms of flavor. These top bitter options include some classics, as well as some zany choices. A bitters recipe can change up the bitters flavor in unique ways, resulting in some interesting options for cocktails:

  • Hella Cocktail Co. Aromatic Bitters
  • Angostura Aromatic Bitters
  • Copper & Kings Old Fashioned Bitters
  • Peychaud's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters
  • Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters

Learning how to make bitters is useful for cocktail connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike. 

Cocktail Ingredients: Other Liquid Mixers

Of course, cocktails aren’t just about alcohol and bitters. Adding different juices can result in some of the best cocktails. Just look at the mimosa, a simple mix of champagne and OJ with delicious results. 

These juices are both familiar and unique in terms of their use in cocktail drinks: 

  • Cranberry juice
  • Orange juice
  • Grapefruit juice
  • Pineapple juice
  • Cherry juice

Cocktail Ingredients: Garnishes

Garnishes improve cocktails in both flavor and presentation. Anything can be a garnish. If you can dream it up and mix it with the right drink it can work. These options are some of the best, and they work with a great variety of cocktail drinks. 

  • Citrus wedges, slices, and wheels
  • Cocktail or maraschino cherries
  • Berries 
  • Pickled vegetables 
  • Olives stuffed with blue cheese

All these ingredients can be mixed up into some great drinks. Next up in this cocktail drinks guide, we’ll dive into some of the best cocktail drinks to learn what you can make with all these ingredients.

Best Cocktail Drinks to Try for Key Occasions

The world of cocktail drinks holds a lot of options. There are summer cocktails, spring cocktails, fall cocktails, and winter cocktail recipes. There are also cocktails that are particularly suited to holidays, parties, and personal moods. 

The most popular cocktails are generally a matter of opinion. For this list, we’ll take a more objective view of the best cocktails for different occasions. You can find the full recipes for these drinks in this section’s header link.

Best Christmas Cocktails

The best Christmas and winter cocktails are a mix of soothing and delicious. Some are familiar favorites, and others are unique mixes: 

  • Eggnog
  • The Grinch Cocktail
  • Cranberry Mimosa

Best Cocktails to Make at Home

There’s nothing quite as nice as a cocktail you can mix up at home. These options are simple, but perfect for a night on the couch with a movie and some snacks: 

  • Classic Margaritas 
  • Classic Mojitos 
  • Old Fashioned

Best Halloween Cocktails

There’s nothing quite like a great cocktail to go with a Halloween party, or even a horror movie marathon any time of year. These bewitching drinks will bring the spooks whenever you’re ready for them:

  • Black Magic Margaritas
  • Witches’ Brew Lemonade
  • Bloody Mary Margaritas

Best Pitcher Cocktails for Summer

When it comes time to sit under a beach umbrella, or by the edge of a pool, a pitcher of cool summer cocktails is the ticket. These options can be mixed up and shared with friends for a day of cooling off under the sun: 

  • Daiquiris
  • Sangria 
  • Hibiscus-Tequila Cooler

Best Wedding Cocktails

While there’s nothing wrong with a champagne toast at a wedding, these sweet cocktail treats can make a good wedding great: 

  • Blueberry Mojito 
  • St. Germain 
  • Blushing Kiss

Best Cocktails for Beginners

If you’re just starting out with mixing drinks, these options are simple in ingredients and mixology needs. They can also be experimented with, to find new mixes as you grow with mixology:

  • Rum and Coke 
  • Gin and Tonic 
  • Mimosa

Best Birthday Cocktails

A birthday is one of the best reasons to celebrate. These drinks bring out the best in any birthday. Before you mix them, make sure you know the legal drinking age for your country: 

  • Birthday Cake Martini 
  • Chocolate Cake Shot
  • Rosé Wine Spritzer

Best Fourth of July Cocktails

In the US, the Fourth of July is celebrated with fireworks, parties, and of course, some patriotic cocktails. These red, white, and blue treats are sure to light up your night:

  • Firecracker 
  • Stars and Stripes 
  • Red, White, and Booze Popsicles
binwise automate inventory great cocktails

How to Make Cocktails with Rum

The variety of cocktails you can mix up with rum has been evolving since rum started gaining popularity in the 1600s. Whether you like something simple or something that takes jiggers and a cocktail muddler to make, there’s a rum cocktail for you. 

While many rum drinks can be made with any rum, it’s good to know the types of rum you can find. The list includes:

  • Light rum 
  • Gold rum 
  • Dark rum 
  • Black rum 
  • Spiced rum 
  • Rhum agricole 
  • Cachaça 
  • Overproof rum 

All these rums have their own unique traits. If you want to follow traditional guidelines, you can find recommendations for cocktails with specific types of rum. Of course, all the cocktails on this list will taste wonderful no matter which rum you choose.

Cocktails with Pineapple Juice and Rum

Pineapple juice and rum are a classic pairing for some great cocktails. You’ll recognize both favorites and perhaps unfamiliar cocktails you’ll want to order, to experience a bartender’s expertise in mixing them:

  • Piña colada 
  • Rum and Pineapple Juice 
  • Pineapple Mojitos 
  • Rum Punch 
  • Bahama Mama 

Peach Cocktails with Rum

Rum is well served with sweet flavors, and peach flavors are some of the best. These sweet treats are especially excellent for summertime day drinking:

  • Peach Daiquiris 
  • Cuban Rum and Peach Cocktail 
  • Peach Mojito 
  • Grilled Peach and Lemon Rum Cocktail 

Sweet Cocktails with Rum

Of course, there are plenty of sweet rum drinks that don’t include peach flavors. These options will satisfy any sweet tooth:

  • Bushwacker Cocktail 
  • The Bee’s Kiss 
  • Strawberry Daiquiris 

Holiday Cocktails with Rum

At BinWise, we’re big fans of finding cocktails for all the seasons, but especially for the holidays. If you’re looking for something classic for Christmastime, these options will fit the bill:

  • Pumpkin Spiced Rum Cocktail 
  • Cherry Eggnog 
  • Hot Toddy 

Rum and Coke Champagne Recipe

Of course, there is one classic rum cocktail we saved for the end. The rum and coke is a simple mix, but the simplicity of the ingredients list means you can experiment with the flavors once you find what you like. So many great cocktails are based on a few simple ingredients.

One option for a twist on a rum and coke mixes champagne with the classic pairing. The overall recipe includes:

  • Orinoco bitters
  • Fernet 
  • Cola syrup
  • Silver rum
  • Champagne
  • Lemon twist 

This bubbly option can dress up a rum and coke for any setting. For a wedding, a brunch, or a nice Saturday evening at home, this champagne treat is a great idea.

Cuba Libre Recipe

If you’re low on ingredients, but you still want to mix it up, a Cubra Libre is a relatively simple enhancement of a rum and coke. All it needs is lime juice and a lime wedge as a garnish. It’s familiar but different enough to excite your taste buds.

How to Make a Whiskey Sour

If the rum and coke is the classic rum drink, the whiskey sour is the counterpart for whiskey. A whiskey sour is perfect for any occasion, and it’s fairly easy to make. The ingredients are:

  • 2 ounces of bourbon whiskey
  • ¾ ounce of lemon juice - freshly squeezed is best
  • ½ ounce of simple syrup - store-bought or homemade
  • ½ ounce of egg white - this is optional, and there are alternatives
  • Angostura bitters - truly vital for that unique flavor

To mix it up:

  1. Pour the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white into a shaker and dry shake (without ice) everything together for 30 seconds.
  2. Then add some ice and shake again until your drink is chilled all the way through.
  3. Strain your whiskey sour into a glass - a coupe glass if you want to be true to the drink.
  4. Add a few drops of Angostura bitters for your garnished flavor. 

With that, you’ll have a perfect whiskey sour. However, as it goes with all great cocktails, there have been variations of the whiskey sour through the years. A notable one is the New York sour. 

New York Sour Recipe

The New York sour replaces the Angostura bitters with red wine, for a unique spin on a whiskey classic. To mix up a New York sour:

  1. Put the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white into a shaker with ice, and shake it until it’s mixed well.
  2. Strain the mix into a rocks glass over ice.
  3. Pour the red wine over the back of a spoon to float on top of the other ingredients. 

With that, you’ll have a great whiskey drink to enjoy on any occasion. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a specific reason, and cocktails are so widely loved that there are a number of holidays dedicated to delicious mixed drinks. That’s what we look at next in this guide.

National Cocktail Day: Creative Celebrations of Cocktails

National Cocktail Day, on March 24th each year, celebrates the creativity that has driven cocktail drinks since the 1500s. National Cocktail Day was coined by a holidaymaker by the name of Jace Shoemaker-Galloway. She established the day to give cocktail lovers a day to enjoy unique, delicious drinks on a special occasion.

National Cocktail Day is a celebration of cocktail drinks, the history and creativity behind cocktails, and the people who enjoy these mixed drinks. However you choose to celebrate is the right way. 

What Is Day Drinking?

One great way to celebrate this holiday is to responsibly enjoy day drinking. There are plenty of cocktails outlined in this cocktail drinks guide that will suit any manner of day drinking. Whether you’re looking for a twist on a mimosa or something truly special, National Cocktail Day is a great day to responsibly enjoy a cocktail with lunch.

Drinking Holidays Around the World

Of course, National Cocktail Day isn’t the only holiday for those of us who enjoy a quality drink. Worldwide, the list of holidays based on alcoholic beverages includes:

  • Ginuary - starting January 1st
  • National Mocktail Week - the week of January 8th
  • Prohibition Remembrance Day - January 16th
  • Brandy Alexander Day - January 31st
  • International Pisco Sour Day - February 4th
  • World Bartender Day - February 24th
  • National Beverage Day - May 6th
  • Beer Pong Day - May 7th
  • National American Craft Beer Week - the week of May 10th
  • World Whiskey Day - May 21st
  • National Wine Day - May 25th 
  • National Bourbon Day - June 14th
  • Beer Day Britain - June 15th
  • National Martini Day - June 19th
  • National Dive Bar Day - July 7th
  • Legal Drinking Age Day - July 21st
  • National Tequila Day - July 24th
  • National Whiskey Sour Day - August 25th
  • Bourbon Heritage Month - starting September 1st
  • Cabernet Franc Day - December 4th
  • National Eggnog Day - December 24th
  • National Champagne Day - December 31st

There’s truly a holiday for everyone of the legal drinking age. We even left a specific holiday off that list, to give it its own special shoutout. That’s National Apéritif Day, and we’ll take a look at it in the next section. 

Apéritif Definition: Celebrate National Apéritif Day with Fresh Drink Ideas

National Apéritif Day, observed on the third Thursday of May annually, celebrates the apéritif definition of a drink enjoyed before a meal, to stimulate the appetite. From cocktail drinks to white wine, apéritifs can take many forms. They’re generally enjoyed alongside appetizers. National Apéritif Day is a great opportunity to dive into these pre-meal drinks.

Apéritif Glasses

Before we get into the drinks, we’ll take a look at the glasses most often used for them. If you’re drinking an apéritif at home, you can use any glass you have around the house. If you’re out and about, however, the bar glasses collection features a few of these options:

  • Pony glass
  • Highball glass
  • White wine glass
  • Shot glass 
  • Martini glass
  • Collins glass
  • Rocks glass
  • Copita glass
  • Champagne flute

10 Apéritif Cocktails

An apéritif can come in many liquid forms. This list of the top 10 apéritifs covers some simple options, as well as some of the most popular apéritif cocktails:

10. Champagne

9. Lillet

8. Gin and Tonic

7. Sauvignon Blanc

6. Aperol Spritz

5. Campari

4. Fabiola

3. Negroni

2. Gimlet

1. Martini

Apéritif Definition: Celebrating Every Day

National Apéritif Day is an opportunity to learn more about these classic drinks. Whether you’re at a dinner party or enjoying a night in with friends, you can put your apéritif knowledge to use with some well-crafted cocktails or a nice glass of champagne. 

How to Start A Cocktail Bar: Keys to Creative Business Building

Opening a cocktail bar can be a great investment. If you’re setting up a home bar, you can have all the fun of opening a bar, without the work of getting licensing and bar staff. Whether you’re opening up an establishment or remodeling your basement, we’ve got you covered with the steps you’ll need to go through to start a cocktail bar. 

How to Open a Bar

Starting a cocktail bar–or any bar–takes a lot of work. We’re here to help you along the way with resources and ideas on the process. There’s our how to open a bar checklist you should check out, as well as our bar inventory spreadsheet. Additionally, your cocktail bar opening checklist starts with:

To make sure you’re following the rules for your location, visit the site of The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The TTB is a good place to learn about rules and regulations surrounding alcohol sales and service.

How to Make a Home Cocktail Bar

For a home cocktail bar, the rules are much more simple. Your main needs will be:

  • Soft lighting
  • Mood music
  • Decked-out bar design
  • Booth seating

Some of the items you’ll need along the way include:

  • A bar cart, shelving, or display cabinets
  • Drink mixing tools, like a shaker, jiggers, and a variety of glassware
  • Liquor options, including call drinks and well liquor
  • Garnishes and bar snacks
  • Great cocktail books for inspiration and recipes
  • Seating options, with room to spare for friends and family

Your home cocktail bar can give you the fun parts of creating a bar, without the work and legal aspects of opening a bar for business.

4 Things Every Cocktail Bar Needs

The main gear your cocktail bar needs can often be applied to all bars. From a bar plan to a POS system, the similarities are endless in terms of business planning and bar logistics.

The main differences are observed in aesthetics. A cocktail bar is made whole by a cozy, sophisticated atmosphere. To make that type of atmosphere, you’ll need:

  • Bartenders who know how to mix up some great drinks
  • Some of the best cocktail recipe books of all time, to help your bartenders learn even more
  • A bar equipment layout and design plan that suits the mood
  • A prominently displayed liquor collection

When you mix those four bar ingredients with everything practical a bar needs, you’ll have a quality cocktail bar. 

The Best Cocktail Bars

As you’re building your bar plan, you’re sure to already have a plan for your bar design. If, however, you’re still looking for inspiration, the best thing to do is look at your favorite cocktail bars. You can check out:

  • Themed bars
  • Hotel bars
  • Live music bars
  • Nightclubs
  • Nostalgia bars

You’ll see what works for them, and what can work for you too. 

binwise cocktails guide ebook great cocktails

Great Cocktails Guide: Time to Mix it Up

Now you know everything there is to know about great cocktails. Well, maybe not everything. As you open a cocktail bar, or even as you mix up some drinks for friends on a hot summer night, you’ll learn even more in the practical application of everything you’ve learned here.

The world of cocktails has been growing since the 1400s, and there will always be more to learn. This BinWise cocktail drinks guide, however, gives you a step into the world of cocktails.