Ah, Happy Hour! That time when you get off work and head to your favorite watering hole (bar, or a restaurant with a bar) and blow off the tension of the work day with a cold drink and comrades. The drink is usually alcoholic, and ranges from beer all the way up to cognac, with the cocktail leading the charge. Modern-day cocktails are variants on the original cocktails, but the original, classic cocktails are still around. Why? Because they are timeless; the original cocktail dates back to the time of the American Revolution, and the original versions of the modern-day upstarts were developed in the 19th century and are still going strong. So, let’s look at five classic cocktails – when they were developed, and how to mix them:

What is a Cocktail?

The term “cocktail” used in reference to an alcoholic beverage was in 1806, by editor Harry Croswell, in The Balance and Columbian Repository, where he answers the question “What is a cocktail?” Croswell defines a cocktail as a mixture of a stimulating liquor (any kind of spirit), sugar, water, and bitters. The term cocktail has become a generic name for mixed drinks, including such drinks as highballs (spirit and a mixer, such as soda or juice served in a tall glass) or lowballs (cocktails served in a low glass; sometimes referred to as an Old-fashioned glass), and other drinks who don’t follow the “spirit, sugar, water, and bitters” formula.

Mint julep


The mint julep is the oldest cocktail. It has been dated back to the American Revolution, and appears as a medicine in 1784, being proscribed for someone with a stomach ailment. The mint julep was developed in the southern United States, and is best known in conjunction with the Kentucky Derby horse race, where some 80,000 mint juleps are served.

To make:

4-5 mint sprigs (spearmint is the preferred herb in the South)

2 sugar cubes or ½ oz simple syrup

2 ½ ounces bourbon

Crushed ice

Mint sprigs for garnish

Place the mint sprigs and the sugar or simple syrup into a julep cup, Collins glass or Old-fashioned glass. Muddle the mint sprigs and the sugar or simple syrup until the sugar is dissolved and the essential oils are released. Add the bourbon. Add the crushed ice and stir with a spoon or bar stick until the glass develops frost. Garnish and serve.



The Old-fashioned is next on our list of classic cocktails. Developed in 1806, it wasn’t named until 1880; this was due to several variants of the drink being developed and the original falling out of favor. When the original was revived, it was named the “Old-fashioned,” to indicate the drink was mixed according to the original cocktail recipe – spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. Variations of the Old-fashioned abound, but the original is still the best.

To make:

1 sugar cube

2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Orange slice*

2 oz whiskey (bourbon or rye, your choice.) The original was made with rye)


Orange peel and/or Maraschino cherry for garnish

*Note: Some Old-fashioneds are made with an orange slice as part of the drink; it’s your choice to use or not.

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of an Old-fashioned glass. Saturate with the Angostura. Add the orange slice, if using, and muddle the sugar and orange in the bottom of the glass until the sugar dissolves. Then add the ice cubes. Finally add the whiskey, and stir well. Garnish with an orange peel and/or a Maraschino cherry.

Whiskey sour/Manhattan


These two cocktails are presented together, as a Whiskey sour is a version of the Manhattan. The Manhattan originated between 1860 and 1870; it depends on whose version of the origin story you accept. The first historical mention of a whiskey sour is in 1870. Both are whiskey cocktails, and both were originally made with rye whiskey. As rye fell out of favor (and production) Canadian whiskey and bourbon were both used in these drinks. Rye has made a comeback, so it’s your choice which whiskey you use.

To make a Manhattan:

5 tablespoons whiskey (bourbon or rye, your choice)

1 tablespoon sweet Vermouth

Dash of Angostura bitters


1 or 2 cherries

Add the whiskey, Vermouth and bitters to a cocktail shaker. Add the ice. For a smoother drink, stir the ingredients instead of shaking them. Either way, mix for 30 seconds, to combine the ingredients and slightly melt the ice. Strain into a martini glass or a cocktail glass and add the cherries.

To make a Whiskey Sour:

1 ½ oz whiskey (bourbon, rye, or Canadian, your choice)

1 ½ oz fresh lemon juice

¾ oz simple syrup

Egg white (use a Pasteurized egg if you’re concerned about Salmonella)


Maraschino cherry

Separate an egg, placing the white into a cocktail shaker. Add the fresh lemon juice, the whiskey, and the simple syrup. Put the ice into the shaker and shake hard for at least 30 seconds, if not longer. Finally, strain the drink into a Collins glass and garnish with the Maraschino cherry.



The Martini is the drink most people think of when you mention cocktails. Originating in the 1860s, this classically simple drink is a favorite with in drinkers. Made of gin and vermouth, this drink has many variations, both in the proportion of gin to vermouth, whether you use gin or vodka, do you add bitters, and how do you garnish it. The classic cocktail is gin and vermouth, garnished with lemon peel or olives.

To make:

2 ½ oz gin

½ oz dry vermouth

Olives or lemon twist for garnish

Stirred martini:

Place the gin and vermouth into a mixing glass filled with ice cubes. Stir for 30 seconds or until combined. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with one or three olives or a lemon twist.

Shaken martini:

Place the gin and vermouth into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake for 30 seconds or longer. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with one or three olives or a lemon twist.

New Orleans Fizz


The New Orleans Fizz, or Ramos Fizz, was invented by Henry C. Ramos in 1888, at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon on Gravier Street in New Orleans. But this drink differs from other gin fizzes in that it uses an egg white, and it requires a long shake time. The New Orleans Fizz is one of the best-known drinks originating from the city, and remains immensely popular today.

To make:

1 ½ oz gin

½ oz lemon juice

½ oz lime juice

1 ¼ oz simple syrup

2 oz milk, half & half, or cream

1 small egg white (use a Pasteurized egg if you’re worried about Salmonella)

2 dashes orange flower water

Club soda

Place all ingredients except the club soda into a cocktail shaker. Dry shake, 4 – 5 minutes. Fill the shaker with ice. Shake again, 7 – 8 minutes, to insure the cream and the egg are well mixed. Strain into a chilled highball glass. Top with club soda.

These five classic cocktails are by no means the only classic drinks out there, but they will give you a good foundation for exploration once you’ve mastered making them. And, you’ll never go wrong serving them at any occasion, either; your guests will certainly be satisfied with any of the cocktails given here and give you top marks as a host for serving them.