There are thousands of cocktails, although most of them are variations on a few dozen genuine classics. If you have the 5 essential spirits – gin, brandy, vodka, rum and whisky – you’ll need a good selection of mixers at hand, including liqueurs, fruit juices and carbonated drinks – to create a decent repertoire of cocktails*. Here are our top suggestions.
The aromatic properties of gin make it an excellent base for low-maintenance cocktails. Good quality tonic water is a natural pairing, but you can ring the changes with bitter lemon and ginger beer. Chilled dry vermouth makes an elegant standalone aperitivo but can also be the yang to gin’s yin in a classic Martini. If your tastes run to the odd Negroni, it’s worth keeping a bottle each of red vermouth and Campari on standby, too.
Vodka’s neutral flavour makes it the perfect cocktail spirit base. Sub it for gin to create a buffet of Martini-inspired variants – some of our favourites are passionfruit (Pornstar Martini), lychee, and coffee (Espresso Martini). Cranberry juice is a good staple – combine with vodka and Cointreau for a classic Cosmopolitan or with grapefruit juice to make a Sea Breeze. Mix with good old ginger beer and a splash of lime juice to create a Moscow Mule.
No self-respecting bar would be complete without a bottle of rum. Coke’s the obvious partner here but if you’ve got sugar syrup and some limes to hand, you can’t beat a classic Margarita. Switch up to a Strawberry Daiquiri by adding pureed strawberries or add muddled mint leaves and crushed ice for a cooling Mojito. Stock up on coconut cream and pineapple juice and you’ll have all you need for a summery Piña Colada.
Perhaps less well-used as a cocktail base, brandy nevertheless holds its own among the classics. If you can lay your hands on crème de cacao and cream, you’ll have the fixings for a Brandy Alexander – the perfect dessert cocktail. Pair with Cointreau and lemon juice to make a Sidecar or switch it up to a Between the Sheets with the addition of a shot of white rum.
Probably most often served neat or on the rocks, whisky can be pressed into service as a cocktail base – although best to keep things simple. If you have sugar syrup, soda, bitters and vermouth, together with a few fresh herbs/fruits, you’ll have all you need to make a decent handful of cocktails. The Old Fashioned is a timeless choice – whisky stirred with a bitters-soaked sugar cube and served with ice and a thick twist of orange. Flip it into a Manhattan with a splash of vermouth or a Mint Julep with a handful of mint.
*Of course, you could save yourself the hassle and wow your guests with a premium-quality mixed box of cocktails from Edmunds.