Entertaining Cocktails


Cocktail Categories: What are the 6 Basic Cocktails?

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Inside: If you’re wondering: what are the 6 basic cocktails? You’re in the right place. Learn the fundamental formulas of the base cocktail families to discover your tastes and start creating cocktails at home.

D o you feel lost when it comes to the basics of cocktails?

Mastering the basics is the key to discovering what you love, knowing how to order drinks at a bar (that you like), and stocking your home bar

Unless you’re a bartender, the amount of cocktail knowledge is overwhelming. And it can be hard to know where to start. Especially if you’re mixing drinks at home. 

But imagine having the secret formulas for each cocktail family at your fingertips, like having your own personal mixology cheat codes. With this knowledge, you can shake, stir, and muddle your way to creating mouth-watering mixed drinks.

In this article, we’ll tackle the six basic cocktails outlined in the authoritative Cocktail Codex by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan. By understanding the basic principles behind these classic cocktails, you’ll gain the power to classify any drink that comes your way.

Ready to learn the classic recipe cheat codes?

How To Use This Guide

At a minimum, you can use this guide to learn about different drink families. But here are some more ideas:

  • Use it as a roadmap to stock your home bar only buying alcohol you love and will use.
  • Understand cocktail families so you know what to order at a bar.
  • Use it as a springboard to discover more drinks you like within the same cocktail family. See a drink listing in each section below.
  • Begin your exploration of crafting unique cocktail recipes by first mastering the core formula outlined for each section, and then using your creativity to experiment and innovate.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Which means I get a small commission if you buy something I recommend.

The Old-Fashioned

It’s a timeless drink that showcases simplicity and elegance. 

It’s uncomplicated: a glass of whiskey with a little bit of sugar and bitters, plus a twist of citrus zest (rubbed around the rim of the cocktail glass). The Old Fashioned is all about highlighting the rich flavors of American Whiskey.

old fashioned cocktail family

It’s traditionally stirred with ice and served in a lowball glass, embodying a sophisticated and straightforward style. With its roots dating back to the early 19th century, the Old Fashioned has stood the test of time. It remains a beloved cocktail choice for those who appreciate a well-crafted, no-frills libation.

The Core Formula: 

  • 2 ounces of bourbon + 1 sugar cube + 2 dashes of Angostura bitters 
  • Garnish: 1 lemon twist and 1 orange twist

In the Old Fashioned Family: 

The Martini

The epitome of elegance. This iconic drink is a symbol of sophistication and refinement, served up in a martini glass. Typically made with gin and dry vermouth, though, some prefer a vodka-based version. The Martini is a masterclass in simplicity. 

martini cocktail family

Another spirit-forward drink, the fundamental template of the martini is finding the perfect balance between the smoothness of the spirit (gin or vodka) and the subtle herbal notes of the vermouth. This template has a lot of flexibility and can change based on the drinker’s preference. 

The seasoning of the drink can have a significant impact on the drink. From a lemon peel garnish to orange bitters.

And want to play with the formula? Swap the ingredients for rye and sweet vermouth, stir gently, and you’ve got a Manhattan.

The Martini Core Formula: 

  • 2 ounces of gin + ¾ ounce dry vermouth with a lemon twist or olive as garnish
  • 2.5 ounces of vodka, ½ ounce dry vermouth, and a lemon twist or olive as garnish

In the Martini Family: 

The (Classic) Daiquiri

This delightful drink is a tropical escape in a glass. Made with rum, lime juice, and a touch of sweetness, the Daiquiri is a harmonious balance of tangy and sweet flavors. It’s a perfect blend that transports you to sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. 

The Daiquiri is just one of the many cocktails in the Sours cocktail family. This means the root formula combines a spirit with a citrus and a sweetener to balance it out. 

daiquiri cocktail family

And, just to be sure, I’m referring to the Classic Daiquiri – where the ingredients are combined, shaken in a cocktail shaker, and served up in a chilled glass.  Not a blender drink you might see on a cruise ship. Served in cocktail glasses, not in a coconut with an umbrella. The classic daiquiri is one of the vintage staples in any classic cocktail book.

The Core Formula: 

  • 2 ounces of rum + ¾ ounce fresh lime juice + ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • Garnish: 1 lime wheel

In the Daiquiri (or Sour) Family: 

The Sidecar

This classic cocktail exudes elegance and packs a flavorful punch. Made with Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice, the Sidecar perfectly balances sweet and tangy.

Imagine sipping on this beauty and letting the harmonious flavors dance on your palate. The Cognac brings depth and richness, while the orange liqueur adds a touch of sweetness and complexity. A splash of zesty lemon juice gives it a refreshing kick.

sidecar cocktail family

Traditionally served in a sugar-rimmed glass, the Sidecar is a timeless indulgence. It has a certain old-school charm that takes you back to a bygone era of cocktail sophistication.

The basic components of a Sidecar are similar to a Daiquiri but notably have a significant amount of a flavorful liqueur that the Daiquiri doesn’t.

To play with this cocktail formula, try a Classic Margarita or a Cosmopolitan made with vodka, curacao, lime juice, and cranberry juice. 

The Sidecar Core Formula: 

  • 1.5 ounces of Cognac + 1 ounce Cointreau + ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • Garnish: 1 orange twist

In the Sidecar Family: 

The Whisky Highball

This simple yet satisfying drink brings out the best in whisky.

Imagine a tall glass filled with ice, a generous pour of your favorite whiskey, and a splash of sparkling water. The Whisky Highball is the epitome of simplicity and balance, allowing the smoothness and complexity of the whiskey to shine through.

The beauty of the Whisky Highball lies in its versatility. Create many variations with different whisky styles, from bourbon to Scotch, and even explore flavored club soda options to add a twist of your own.

whisky highball cocktail family

For example, a Highball variation made with champagne and orange juice is a Mimosa. Or stir in tequila mixed with grapefruit soda to make a Paloma. 

(And because you’re making these into the highball glass, there’s no need for the mixing glass.) 

The Core Formula: 

  • 2 ounces of scotch + 6 ounces of cold seltzer
  • Garnish: 1 lemon wedge

In the Whisky Highball Family: 

The Flip

This intriguing cocktail brings a touch of rich and creamy indulgence to the mix.

Picture this: a Flip is typically made with a base spirit, such as whiskey, rum, or brandy, combined with eggs, sugar, and spices. It’s a velvety blend that delights the senses and offers a cozy, comforting experience.

flip essential cocktail family

The secret lies in the egg white. They add a creamy texture and a frothy head to the drink, creating a luscious mouthfeel that sets the Flip apart. Adding sugar and spices enhances the flavor profile, providing a delightful balance of sweetness and warmth.

The Flip Core Formula: 

  • 2 ounces of spirit or fortified wine + 2 teaspoons demerara sugar + 1 whole egg
  • Garnish: Nutmeg

In the Flip Family:

Time For A Cocktail

It can feel overwhelming when you’re trying to break into making cocktails. Even after classifying the 6 basic cocktails, the formulas might not be clear.

To make it easy, pick one cocktail family that seems the most interesting, and order it the next time you’re at a bar. Take notes of the primary flavor and the cocktail ingredients. Ask your local bartender about the flavors. 

Slowly build your cocktail knowledge, drink by drink.

What’s Next?

Ready to stock your home bar? Read my guide on home bar essentials to build your bar strategically and save money by only buying the things you love.
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I'm Stefanie—Founder & Writer for Revel & Delight

I believe the secret to hosting exceptional gatherings, from lively celebrations to cozy get-togethers, is thoughtfulness and a little bit of prep. Craft the right atmosphere, attitude, then then sit back and savor the moment you've made.

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