A lot of us don’t know very much about where alcohol comes from or how it is made. This can make it very difficult to decide what to drink when presented with a plethora of cocktail options at a restaurant or a bar.
This introduction to mixed drinks, with examples of the best cocktails and descriptions of popular liquors, will help you out of this common situation.
Vodka is traditionally produced by distilling potatoes or a variety of grains, resulting in a mixture of water and ethanol. Some modern vodka production involves the distillation of fruits or other sugars. Both production and consumption of vodka are highest in a region of the world called the ‘vodka belt,’ which includes the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, most famously Russia. Vodka can have between thirty and forty percent alcohol by volume, depending on the country in which it is produced. It is always clear and colorless, and is now produced and sold in a wide variety of flavors, including vanilla, cherry, strawberry, watermelon, whipped cream, coconut, and many more. Some of the numerous vodka brands are Grey Goose, Smirnoff, Absolut, Ketel One, Belvedere, Three Olives, Stolichnaya, and Van Gogh. These are a few of the best vodka mixed drinks:
Bloody Mary: A Bloody Mary combines vodka, tomato juice (often V8), and a variety of ingredients that vary depending on who is preparing the drink. These ingredients often include garlic, pepper, and horseradish, along with garnishes such as olives, cocktail onions, pickled asparagus, a celery stalk, and a salt rim. The drink is served over ice. Bloody Mary’s are typically ordered at breakfast or brunch.
White Russian: White Russians are made by combining vodka, coffee liqueur, and half-and-half, or sometimes, regular cream, over ice. They are often ordered as after-dinner drinks, since they are sweet and a bit heavy. A Black Russian is the same drink without the addition of cream.
Cosmopolitan: Cosmopolitans are one of the most popular vodka-based martinis, shaken and served chilled. Cosmos combine vodka, cranberry juice, a citrus liqueur, most often Triple Sec or Cointreau, and a lime garnish. The addition of tart cranberry juice and sweet liqueur make the harsh taste of the vodka much more pleasant in this cocktail.
Sex on the Beach: This sweet tropical drink combines vodka with cranberry juice, orange juice, and peach schnapps, served over ice. And the name is just fun to say.
Sea Breeze: Sea Breezes are a simple combination of vodka, grapefruit juice, and cranberry juice. The grapefruit and cranberry give a tart flavor that is very refreshing.
Vodka Collins: A Vodka Collins contains vodka along with club soda, simple syrup (sugar and water), and lemon juice, served over ice and usually garnished with a slice of orange and a cherry. This is a refreshing but sweet way to drink vodka.
Woo Woo: A Woo Woo combines vodka, cranberry juice, and peach schnapps. The tartness of the cranberry and the sweetness of the peach offset each other nicely.
Rum is made through the fermentation and distillation of sugarcane and molasses products. After distillation, rum is aged in oak barrels. Rum is produced in several countries throughout the world, but production is concentrated in Latin America and the Caribbean. Rum can come in many varieties, including gold rum, dark rum (aged the longest in barrels), light or white rum (clear in color), spiced rums, and flavored rums. Rum brands include Captain Morgan, Myer’s Dark, Bacardi, Mount Gay, and Castillo. Some popular rum mixed drinks include:
Mojito: Mojitos combine light rum, lime juice, simple syrup, muddled mint leaves, and a dash of bitters. Some recipes include a dash of club soda as well.
Daiquiri: Daiquiris are very popular tropical drinks, and are prepared in many flavors, and most often served frozen. They consist of light rum, lime juice, and simple syrup.
Hot Buttered Rum: Hot buttered rum is an alternative to the colder, more tropical rum concoctions that are so popular. It combines dark rum, brown sugar, butter, nutmeg, and hot water, and is often garnished with a stick of cinnamon.
Piña Colada: Another popular frozen rum drink, a Piña Colada combines both light and dark rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream.
Dark and Stormy: Dark and Stormy’s are a simple combination of dark rum and ginger beer, with a squeeze of lime juice or a lime garnish, served over ice.
Gin gets its flavor from its main ingredient, juniper berries. There are a number of different ways to produce gin, but the four major gin categories are gin, juniper-flavored spirits, distilled gin, and London gin. Certain flavors are often incorporated into gin production, such as saffron, orange peel, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gin is one of the most widely consumed liquors, produced by brands such as Hendrick’s, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, and Gordon’s. Here are a few of the best gin mixed drinks:
Gin Martini: The classic gin martini is gin and dry vermouth, shaken with ice and strained into a chilled martini glass. This drink is very strong and not for the faint of heart.
Gin and Tonic: Gin and tonics are very commonly ordered drinks. They simply combine gin with tonic water, and are garnished with a lime. The tonic adds a real kick to the gin’s flavor, making this very refreshing.
Bee’s Knees: The Bee’s Knees combines gin, honey syrup, and lime juice, lending a sweeter taste to the gin.
New Orleans Fizz: This complex drink combines gin, lemon and lime juices, simple syrup, half-and-half, an egg white, and sparkling water.
Tequila is produced through the distillation of the blue agave plant. Tequila is produced primarily in Mexico and Central America, where the agave plant is most easily grown. Tequila is available in silver or gold varieties, and its alcoholic proof can vary greatly. Tequila brands include 1800 Silver, Sauza, Hornitos, Jose Cuervo, El Jimador, and Patron. Some of the best tequila-based mixed drinks are:
Margarita: The classic margarita is always a great drink option. Margaritas can be served on the rocks or frozen, and are made with tequila (silver, gold, or a combination), triple sec, lime juice, Margaritas are often flavored with liqueurs or schnapps.
Tequila Sunrise: Tequila sunrises are a combination of silver tequila, orange juice, and grenadine, layered to look like a sunrise.
Paloma: Paloma’s are refreshing cocktails combining tequila, grapefruit soda, and lime juice. Blanco tequila is most often used for this drink.
Whiskey is made by fermenting grain mash, consisting of different grain combinations depending on the variety of whiskey. The grains often used include barley, rye, wheat, corn, and buckwheat. After distillation, the mixture is often aged in wooden, usually oak, casks. Whiskey is perhaps the most regulated liquor, as there are many different kinds and classes of whiskey, such as Scotch, Tennessee Whiskey, and Kentucky Bourbon. Whiskey brands include Bushmill’s, Jameson, Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniels. These are a few examples of whiskey-based mixed drinks:
Irish Coffee: Irish Coffees are a great after-dinner drink. They combine Irish whiskey, usually Jameson, with coffee, sugar, and whipped cream.
Manhattan: Manhattans are a type of martini, in which vodka or gin is replaced with whiskey (preferably rye), and dry vermouth is replaced with sweet vermouth. They are shaken with ice and a dash of bitters, then strained into a chilled martini glass and garnished with a cherry.
Old Fashioned: Old Fashioned’s are a very popular cocktail, mixing blended whiskey, bourbon, or rye with sugar, a dash of bitters, water, and a twist of lemon, served over ice.
Seven and Seven: A Seven and Seven is a perfect drink for someone who doesn’t want the taste of whiskey to be overpowering in their cocktail. Seagram’s 7-Crown whiskey is combined with 7-Up soda to provide a sweet flavor.
Liqueur is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage. Usually weaker in alcoholic proof than hard liquors, liqueur is made by distilling spirits and then flavoring them with the addition of several enhancers, including cream, fruit, and spices. There are many famous liqueurs that are common in mixed drinks, and many drinks that include only liqueurs rather than hard alcohol. Popular liqueurs include Bailey’s Irish Cream, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Kahlua, Cointreau, Triple Sec, Vermouth (Dry and Sweet), Frangelico, St. Germain, and Drambuie. Some of the best mixed drinks made from liqueurs are:
Fuzzy Navel: The Fuzzy Navel is often ordered as a shot. It is a mixture of peach schnapps and orange juice, so it is very sweet.
Toasted Almond: A Toasted Almond is a popular after-dinner drink combining coffee liqueur, amaretto, and cream, served over ice.
Rhett Butler: The Rhett Butler is sometimes served over ice, but often served as a martini. It is made Southern Comfort, orange curacao, and lemon and lime juices, and garnished with a lemon twist.
Shamrock Shaker: A popular St. Patrick’s Day cocktail, the Shamrock Shaker is made with coffee liqueur, amaretto, and milk, as well as green or gold powder or food coloring to make it more festive.
Now that you’ve been introduced to some of the best mixed drinks for every liquor, you’ll never have to worry about running out of cocktail options, whether you’re looking for a new go-to adult beverage, studying the different kinds of liquor, or practicing your own bartending skills, it’s always fun to experiment with new cocktails,