The Only Six Cocktails You’ll Ever Need to Know

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There are six cocktails that every single bartender, amateur or professional should be able to master. These drinks are the ones that best optimize what it means to be a cocktail – i.e., they contain both a core spirit, a balancing flavour that is usually sweet or acidic, and some sort of seasoning that stands out amongst the other flavours. Learn these six drinks and you’ll be able to master all cocktails with ease!


With bourbon at the core, vermouth as a sweet balancing flavour and bitters to perfectly season the contrasting flavours, the Manhattan is an ultimate example of the perfect cocktail. This drink was reportedly invented for the mother of Sir Winston Churchill on a visit to the New York borough, making it quite a distinguished, delicious classic cocktail.

Pina Colada

Everyone’s favourite holiday cocktail, the white rum makes the base, or core of this beverage. Pineapple juice and coconut cream are the sweet and creamy balance, while a large pineapple wedge makes the seasoning finale, along with a maraschino cherry. This drink is a typical example of when a garnish can take the place of the seasoning, leaving lasting flavours in the mouth that mingle with the cocktail as you drink.


This classic cocktail found a whole new generation of fans when the Sex and the City series began, but this is a drink that has been around for many years and follows the typical cocktail style. Vodka is the core spirit, while cranberry and lime juice make the perfect tart balance. The seasoning comes in the form of a lime wedge. And, what about the Cointreau?  Well, in this drink, it works across all three sections, beautifully tying the flavours together.


This Christmas classic might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is a great drink to work on to learn the basics of cocktail making. The ingredients list is extensive, which is where your bartending skills will really come into play. Rum and cognac make up the core flavours, while simple syrup, egg and cream provide the balance. The drink is seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla to create a festive treat!

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You can’t call yourself a real mixologist until you have mastered the Negroni. With Campari and gin at the core, balance in the form of sweet Vermouth and a slice of orange acting as the seasoning, this drink sounds simple, but there is nowhere to hide poor mixing skills. Get this right and everything else will seem to fall into place.

Last Word

Ideal for anyone who likes to have the final say in any decision, the Last Word is another drink that follows cocktail conventions. Gin sits at the core of this drink, while lime juice beautifully balances this botanical spirit. The drink is finished with green chartreuse and maraschino liqueur, which works as the core, balance and seasoning elements of this drink.

While these drinks all follow the rules of traditional cocktail-making, they are incredibly unique in their own way. This is why they are great choices for anyone starting out on their journey of mixology. Get these right and you’ll be flipping bottles and catching shakers in no time!

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Bartender's top tip

Ice plays a crucial role in cocktails, not just for chilling but also for dilution, which can help meld flavors together smoothly. Use large, clear ice cubes or spheres for spirits-forward drinks like Old Fashioneds, as they melt slower and dilute the drink less. For more refreshing, highball-style drinks, ensure your ice is fresh and plentiful to keep the drink cold and vibrant.

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