We’ve put together a list of the icons of the cocktail world. Discover why these influential cocktails continue to inspire bartenders across the globe, and how these drinks have made a lasting impact on the industry. We couldn’t possibly say one of these has been more influential than any other on the list, but rather they’re each influential in their own right.
There is hardly a more iconic cocktail to Americans than the Martini. We see it represented in pop-culture, most famously ordered “shaken, not stirred” (with vodka) by James Bond. There are countless variations to the classic, but most commonly the ratio of gin or vodka to vermouth has evolved to less and less vermouth.
The label “Martini” has rather liberally been applied to a family of cocktails that resemble the classic only by the use of vodka and being served in a martini glass. They’re typically sweet and range from fruity to richly dessert-like. While the popular Apple-tini from the 90s has gone out of fashion, the Espresso Martini is a current favorite.
The Whiskey Sour belongs to one of the oldest original cocktail families. First recorded in 1856, sours are mixed drinks with a base liquor, citrus juice, a sweetener, and often an egg white. However, it’s likely that the drink had been around long before – it is believed that sailors first created it as a prevention for scurvy while at sea.
The original recipe calls for whiskey, however when sailors brought the drink to shore, the main spirit shifted based on where they introduced it. The British commonly use gin or brandy, while other members of this family include the Pisco Sour from Peru and Chile, the American Amaretto Sour and the New York Sour.
It paved the way for other citrus-forward drinks like the Daiquiri, Daisy, and the Sidecar that have branched off into their own iconic status as well.
Enter rum, a staple spirit of the Caribbean, and often associated with sailors. The Daiquiri is responsible for launching rum into the cocktail culture. Consisting of rum, lime juice, simple syrup, it originated in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. The drink is similar to the grog that British sailors from the 1780s drank to prevent scurvy.
It gained its popularity in the 1940s and was a favorite of President John F. Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway later went on to create a version of his own. If these two historic figures like daiquiris, then it’s fair to say you’ve been influential.
The Sidecar itself is not only influential, but the creative mind behind it had a major impact on the cocktail world. Its creation is credited to Harry MacElhone of Harry’s Bar at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, France. First recorded in 1922, it evolved from the sour much like the Daiquiri and gave way to cocktails like the Brandy Crusta.
The drink is traditionally made with cognac, orange liqueur, lemon juice, and commonly served with a sugared rim. The combination of the orange liqueur and citrus juice makes it drier than other sours. Its sweetness can vary depending on the liqueur, which makes it more of a challenge for bartenders to balance the flavor.
Shifting gears from the citrus-forward icons, we now must pay homage to the Italian bitter amaros. While the Aperol Spritz is not the first amaro drink to gain popularity, let alone the first spritz, it has, however, stood the test of time and emerged a champion on its own. Its original incarnation was called Spritz Veneziano, made with Select amaro, prosecco, and soda water.
The spritz itself was likely introduced by Austrians during the strong presence of Hasburgs in northern Italy during the 1800s. The Italian wines had higher alcohol content than the Austrians were used to, so they asked for a “spritzen” of water to be added. By the 1920s the Spritz was combined with bitter amaros. It eventually swapped white wine out for prosecco and became the drink that’s widely popular today.
There are many other notable amaro cocktails that are often described as an acquired taste (we’re looking at you Negroni), however, no other drink has made amaros more approachable than the spritz. Campari is another common amaro used in the spritz, but the slightly less bitter Aperol has become the standard. We like to think of the Aperol Spritz as the gateway drink to developing a palate for other amaro drinks, and that’s real influence.
Perhaps the most clean and refreshing on the list, the Tom Collins is a winner. The drink even earned glassware named after it, the Collins glass. Composed of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water, it is essentially a tall version of a Gin Sour.
The first recording of a Tom Collins is in Harry Johnson’s 1882 book called New and Improved Bartender’s Manual or How to Mix Drink of the Present Style. It is the predecessor to the Cuba Libre, Mojito, and Dark ‘n’ Stormy. These are all served in a Collins glass (also known as a highball). We consider that pretty influential.
The Manhattan may be the second most iconic drink next to the crystal-clear Martini. Both are anchored by their heavy spirit base and balanced with complementing vermouths (dry for the Martini and sweet for the Manhattan). They have widely recognizable garnishes, olives for the former and brandied cherries for the later, but the Manhattan is most recognizable for its dark mahogany color.
It’s one of five cocktails named for a New York City borough, along with the Brooklyn and the Bronx. This drink has endless variations and every Manhattan lover has their opinion on which whiskey is the best to use. Using blended scotch turns the Manhattan into a Rob Roy. While its true origins have been lost, the drink itself has stood the test of time and you’ll never meet a bartender that doesn’t know how to make one. Talk about being influential!
A brunch classic that has countless variations. The Bloody Mary is a preferred drink of many to start their weekend with a little hair of the dog, a dose of vitamin C, and a bit of spice. Its really more of a meal than a drink (think gazpacho) and can be found with almost every kind of garnish imaginable (a celery stick is classic).
Just about any bar can make a Bloody Mary, even the ones who don’t make cocktails. Canadians have their own version of a bloody brunch cocktail called the Caesar. It swaps out the standard tomato juice here for clamato (clam and tomato) juice. We couldn’t end this list without the most influential breakfast (or rather brunch) of champions.
Enjoyed reading of the history if each drink very interesting
Thanks Harriet, we’re so glad you enjoyed the article!