You can’t beat the classics, but every year there’s change within their ranks somewhere.
In an industry whose stars regularly jump from job to job, whose bars open and close with frequency, and whose creativity seemingly knows no bounds, the anchoring role of the classic cocktail has never been so important. These routine serves are the bar industry’s foundations – the thread that connects modern bartenders to their occupational ancestors, and to each other around the world. Wherever you are in the fast-expanding bar community, there is a common language – the Old Fashioned, Negroni or Daiquiri are words everyone speaks.You might expect, then, that our list of 50 of the bestselling classics would be something of a static ranking. Well not so – our sample of bars regularly make more than 100 classics, from the well-worn to the less common.
While the top 20 cuts a similar figure year to year, the shifts happen lower down the order, with neo-classics such as the Tommy’s Margarita, Pornstar Martini and older classics including the Last Word and Southside making inroads this year. We’ve seen classics drop out of favour – this year the likes of the White Russian, Long Island Iced Tea and Hanky Panky were made less than the year before. So, while slow moving, there is an evolution in the classics that are frequently made. This is interesting to the drinksmaker, but critically important to the brand.
- Blood and Sand
First made in 1922 the Blood & Sand was inspired by the eponymous film. Fast forward 98 years and it’s still found, with a cluster of top bars telling us it is among their top-10 bestselling classics. It is also only the second scotch drink in the top 50. Made with scotch, cherry brandy (the blood), sweet vermouth, and orange juice (the sand) this drink is possibly a little sweet for more discerning palates.
- Irish Coffee
The slightly less mainstream sibling of the Espresso Martini (how times have changed), the Irish Coffee can increasingly be found in cocktail bars. It is thought to have been created by Joe Sheridan, the head chef of Foynes flying boat terminal, Ireland, but for a more up-to-date rendition try Dead Rabbit’s recipe: 1½ parts Bushmills Original Irish whiskey, ¾ parts demerara syrup, four parts hot brewed coffee and heavy cream, lightly whipped.
- Brandy Alexander
It’s the first time the Brandy Alexander has appeared in this list, but it scrapes in – just. This cocktail is actually a development from the gin-based Alexander, and is thought to date to the 1930s. The recipe sees brandy (likely cognac) mixed with crème de cacao and cream and is not on your Weight Watchers plan.
- Old Cuban
This cocktail was invented by New York legend Audrey Saunders in 2004 and is one of two of her drinks on this list (a third, the Earl Grey Marteani, fell just short). Something of a cross between a Mojito and a French 75, the Old Cuban takes in aged rum, lime juice, mint leaves, Angostura bitters and sparkling wine.
Sherry is loved in the bar world, so it’s no surprise to see a sherry classic make the 50. The stories behind the origins of this cocktail are quite conflicting, from songs about bamboo to bartenders in Japan… anyway, it’s 1½ parts sherry, 1½ parts dry vermouth, two dashes Angostura bitters, two dashes orange bitters.
Brandy and cognac aren’t the coolest spirits among the world’s top influencers (the category sits eighth among the most-used spirits in our poll) so it makes sense that the most famous brandy drinks are languishing at this end of the league. This brandy, triple sec and lemon drink has Parisian roots but the original creator has never come forward – or at least not in the singular.
- Vodka Martini
Bartenders may tend to prefer their Martinis with gin, but the Vodka Martini (aka Kangaroo and Vodkatini) still has a presence in the world’s best bars. If you’re a real vodka enthusiast, this is the best way to partake of your poison – there is only vermouth as a buffer. Wimpy vodkas don’t work here – you’ll need one with muscle as, in the glass, it’s almost naked.
- Ramos Gin Fizz
This half milkshake, half Gin Fizz concoction was named after the New Orleans bartender who created it in 1888 – Henry Charles Ramos. The original saw silky-smooth cream and orange flower put a new spin on the Fizz. While this cocktail has dropped five places from last year, you’ll still find the occasional Ramos at the world’s best bars.
Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha stays at number 42. Although the origins of this drink are unknown, this is the most important cocktail for cachaça. In recent years the availability of high-quality cachaça has increased outside of Brazil and this has certainly boosted the appeal of this mintless, squat Mojito.
- Gin Gin Mule
Created by Audrey Saunders at New York cocktail mecca Pegu Club, the Gin Gin Mule is among a small number of cocktails considered modern classics. The Gin Gin is down to the ginger and gin, not a double helping of gin, though as the only alcohol in the recipe, two shots will be necessary. Known to some as the Ginger Rogers, the Gin Gin Mule is closely related to the Moscow Mule – but with superior kick from muddled ginger.
Most bartenders agree the story is a good one, but this vodka-gin-Lillet drink is something of a mongrel. The gin and vodka Martini is named after the fictional character Vesper Lynd in the Bond novel Casino Royale. The creator is, unusually, not a bartender, but author of the novels Ian Fleming.
In the book he calls for: “Three measures of Gordon’s; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel.”
With a shift to what the customer wants, not what bartenders think they want, the Cosmo has an occasional presence in the world’s best bars. Bartenders are past their hate phase and now residing somewhere around indifference. You won’t find too many menus sporting its name, therefore you might not know the ingredients: vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and lime juice. Individually fine, together a Cosmo.
- White Lady
The White Lady returns, having dropped five places this year. Harry Craddock is said to have made it for F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. They still do good White Lady business at the Savoy’s American Bar, where Bombay Sapphire, dry orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice and a dash of egg white are the favoured ingredients.
- Rum Old Fashioned
This variation on an Old Fashioned has dropped back a little from last year’s lofty 15th place, but is a popular option for the rum drinker. Use two parts aged rum, two dashes Angostura bitters, one splash of water, one or two teaspoons sugar, ice and garnish with an orange peel.
This Mexican two-piece grapefruit and tequila drink is often seen with more complex riffs. Freshly squeezed grapefruit, lime juice and agave syrup, topped with grapefruit soda, really make the drink take flight. Though down four places, this is a great simple serve that goes down too easily on a warm day.
- Tom Collins
The Tom Collins is still quenching thirsts in the bars we polled – up six places this year. Purists reckon Old Tom, rather than London Dry, is the gin to use here, but most will reach for the speed rail. This is a drink that has procreated – the family includes the Pedro Collins (rum), Pepito Collins (tequila), Colonel Collins (bourbon) and Captain Collins (Canadian whisky). Whatever spirit you use, the hero here is the humble lemon. Use good ones.
- Vieux Carré
Named after New Orleans’ French quarter, the Manhattan-esque classic returns this year but further down the list. It was invented by Walter Bergeron, head bartender at the now Monteleone hotel bar in New Orleans, which is home to all manner of activity during Tales of the Cocktail – not least its revolving bar. Made from brandy, American whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s, its ingredients are enough to put you in a spin.
- Pornstar Martini
It’s the first time the Pornstar Martini has shown up in our list. The passion fruit and vanilla vodka cocktail (with bubbles on the side), invented by Douglas Ankrah at LAB in London in 2002, was always assumed to be more of a mainstream cocktail in recent years, but is clearly made in the world’s best bars on occasion too. The customer is always right.
- The Southside
This gin, mint and lime drink is a sort of Daiquiri with gin and mint and perfectly fi ts the bartender penchant for sours and gin. Its popularity has been simmering for a few years, but it finally makes its debut this year. Apparently the drink of mobsters in Chicago during Prohibition – those from the south side.
- Piña Colada
Down five places, the Piña Colada is no longer the 70s cloying coconut cream fest of old. It’s been rebooted in many a bar, but the best is Chris Moore’s. His Champagne Piña Colada uses a mix of Bacardi, Trois Rivières Blanc, pineapple, coconut sorbet and Moët & Chandon.
- Gin Fizz
The Gin Fizz has lost a little of its sparkle, falling 12 places this year. ‘Fizz’ was fi rst referenced in the Jerry Thomas Bartender’s Guide 1887 edition, which included six recipes. The Gin Fizz is the most popular of the fi zz family and contains gin, lemon juice and sugar, topped with carbonated water.
- Last Word
Entering the list for the first time is an old-timer which was lost for 50 years. The gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice cocktail was first published in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up! It then re-emerged in 2004 in the hands of Murray Stenson of Zig Zag Café in Seattle.
- Pisco Sour
Pisco Sour, the 1920s Peruvian cocktail, is down four places. Victor Vaughen Morris, an American bartender, opened his bar in Lima in 1916 and subsequently surprised friends with the Pisco Sour, a mix of Peruvian pisco and American sour. There are lots of versions of this classic but the basic recipe is three parts pisco, one part simple syrup, one part lime juice, egg whites and a dash of Angostura bitters.
- Bee’s Knees
A good example of a classic re-entering the repertoire, the Bee’s Knees entered the list last year and is already up into the top 30. Created in the Prohibition era, the Bee’s Knees was originally invented to disguise the smell and taste of dubious homemade spirits, or ‘bathtub gin’. The recipe is two parts gin, ¾ lemon juice and ¾ honey.
Another neo-classic from Dick Bradsell that’s on the rise is the Bramble – a mix of blackcurrant and gin. Bramble, the Edinburgh stalwart bar of the same name (and formerly of The World’s 50 Best Bars), calls for London Dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Merlet Crème de Mures. Up 11 places this year.
The Americano, originally known as the Milano-Torino, is a regular in the middle places of this list. Essentially a lightweight Negroni, the Americano is intended for popular consumption among restrained Italians and booze-shy millennials. Simply sub the gin for soda in your Negroni spec and you have it, the 25th most popular classic at the world’s best bars.
- Corpse Reviver
Harry Craddock’s Corpse Reviver has dropped down a little after a huge upsurge last year. The original recipe, known as Corpse Reviver #1, uses cognac, calvados, brandy and vermouth, but the Corpse Reviver #2 is just as popular, if not more, and uses gin. Either way, Craddock recommends you drink one before 11am. But that does depend on what you have planned.
- Mai Tai
This kitsch classic of tiki culture has been swept along by the tropical revival and come ashore in many of the world’s best bars. That said, the Mai Tai drops down two places, with 12% of bars saying it was part of their top 10 but mostly this is part of the support act rather than a volume cocktail. A classic loved by bartenders in their less serious moments.
- Amaretto Sour
The Amaretto Sour seems to be in the midst of a mini revival, rising a further three spots this year – 13% of those polled said it was among their top 10. Mostly part of the occasional repertoire, say our respondents, but amazingly, two bars claimed it to be their bestseller. The recipe? It’s two shots of amaretto, lemon juice and egg white, while Angostura bitters is optional.
Dropping 10 places this year is the Sazerac. This boozy libation is a top-10 classic in 15% of polled bars. Purists use cognac and so did bartenders in the 1850s, until phylloxera ravaged French vineyards and the American Civil War made the sourcing of cognac not the first thing on their minds. So whiskey, rimmed with absinthe – this is not a session beverage.
Gaining altitude in the list this year – nine places – is the Aviation. The recipe first appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, where crème de violette provided an extra floral dimension. It is one of 16 cocktails that call for gin and at number 20, according to our poll, the fifth most frequently made In the world’s best bars.
- Dark ‘N’ Stormy
This Bermuda highball is almost too simple for the label ‘cocktail’. In essence, it is rum’s version of the Moscow Mule. The history goes that British seafarers brought the ginger beer and local distiller Goslings met them halfway with its rum. They threw in some lime, and there you have it, the Dark ’n’ Stormy. Twists aside, this is a recipe blokes with beards and tats use on and off land.
Invented by the ex-Milk & Honey now Attaboy owner Sam Ross, this drink uses blended scotch, lemon juice, honey-ginger syrup and peated scotch and is garnished with candied ginger. It says a lot that this is the highest-placed scotch classic – ahead of the Blood & Sand in 50th. The Rob Roy was nowhere to be seen.
- French 75
Jumping 12 places, the French 75 in its earliest form was created by Harry MacElhone in Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The cocktail was popularised by The Savoy Cocktail Book and later appeared in The Stork Club, New York, which contributed to its popularity. At Arnaud’s – the adopted home of the drink in New Orleans – the French 75 is made with Courvoisier VS, sugar, lemon juice and Moët & Chandon champagne.
- Clover Club
Up three places, this classic has been around since pre-Prohibition and was named after a men’s club in Philadelphia. Despite being very popular in its heyday, it fell away until reappearing during the cocktail renaissance 15-20 years ago. Julie Reiner’s bar Clover Club – which is a fivetime member of the World’s 50 Best Bars – is, of course, named after the drink. The Brooklyn bar uses gin, dry vermouth, raspberry, lemon juice and egg white.
Bored of the Negroni? If you replace the gin with American whiskey you have a Boulevardier. Up five places, a quarter of our polled bars had it among their top-10 repertoire. This whiskey classic was created by Erskine Gwynne, an American writer in the 1920s. The Boulevardier was named after his Parisian monthly magazine of the same title.
- Bloody Mary
This boost to the spirits and the morning economy is up a place, and never really goes out of fashion. It is among the top 10-selling classics in a little less than a quarter of bars we polled. If you are in crawling distance of the Connaught, London, its Bloody Mary is legendary. Devised by Ago Perrone and Erik Lorincz a decade ago, it calls for Ketel One vodka, fresh tomato juice, a homemade spice mix, fresh lemon juice and celery air.
- Tommy’s Margarita
This cult twist on the Margarita by Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s in San Francisco has almost become the blueprint recipe for many in the high-end bar community. We split it out from its parent this year for the first time and hey presto, it’s in the top 15. Bermejo’s twist sees 100% agave tequila, plus fresh lime juice and agave syrup.
This gin-turned-vodka-turned-gin-andlime cocktail has rebounded this year, with a quarter of bars naming it among their 10 most-served classics. The ratio was originally 50/50 gin-to-lime cordial, but that was when people didn’t care much for their teeth. Now a 75/25 gin-tolime cordial is what the dentist ordered. Many, though, go fresh lime juice, making this is a Daiquiri for gin drinkers.
Down three, the Moscow Mule still occupies a lofty station in this list. It’s a crowd pleaser in more than a quarter of our 100 bars, with popularity emanating from the US. It’s vodka, lime, ginger and soda – one for the less adventurous punters. Still, great for bulk orders on busy nights.
The Aperol Spritz remains in the top 10, though it’s down a place from last year. Just under 30% of bars named it in their top 10. Created by the Barbieri Brothers in the 1900s, the Aperol Spritz was their answer to a lighter pre-dinner tipple. Aperol, prosseco and a splash of soda – one of the easier mixed drinks in this list.
This Cuban classic may seem out of step with the current cocktail fashion – a vestige of the noughties not the teens – yet it remains a true classic, much loved by the consumer. It is a top-10 classic in about 30% of top bars. Havana’s La Bodeguita is the place for a mouthful of mint and, though it’s never been a top 50 bar, it’s received a few votes over the years. It makes its Mojitos with rum, lime juice, soda, brown cane sugar, fresh mint and ice.
Eight seems a little low for this venerable classic but 37% make it one of their top 10. Bitters and sweet vermouth are most frequently partnered with Bulleit, Woodford Reserve or Rittenhouse. Jim Meehan of PDT has the recipe: rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and two dashes of Angostura, stirred with ice, strained into a chilled coupe and garnished with brandied cherries.
The Margarita is the top tequila classic in our sample of the world’s best bars. Very few made it their top classic served, but it’s in the top three in almost 10% of those polled. This year we split out the votes for Tommy’s Margarita from its mother mix, which didn’t seem to impact the Margarita’s ranking – it moved up from eighth to seventh.
- Espresso Martini
Up one place into the top six, you can track the meteoric rise of this coffee and vodka cocktail from the passing of its inventor Dick Bradsell. In 2017 it was no.27 and is now fighting it out with the grand old classics. Infamously made for a customer who wanted a drink that would “wake her up and fuck her up”, this modern-age classic was found to be the number one cocktail in 6% of bars and a top-10 serve in almost 40%.
The name and recipe might vary slightly but this classic cocktail remains a consistent in our list, albeit down from third to fifth place this year. It is said the Whiskey Sour recipe was first published in Jerry Thomas’s book How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion in 1862. This isn’t too many bars’ top serve – it’s an everyman drink, rather than a house signature – but was a top-10 classic in just under half of the bars polled. The recipe is bourbon, lemon juice and a teaspoon of sugar. Egg white is optional, though this is a drink that benefits from texture.
- Dry Martini
The Dry Martini, beloved of gin fans, gains two places this year. This boozy yet refined favourite was among the top five classics in just under a fifth of our polled bars, while just under half said it figured in their top 10. There are many bars that might claim to make the exemplar but Barcelona’s Dry Martini (multi-time member of The World’s 50 Best Bars) is one. It uses half-and-half gin to French vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, a squeeze of lemon and a green olive.
Bartender favourite the Daiquiri is the most ordered rum drink in the world’s best bars, up a place this year. Interestingly only 6% said this was their top classic, but 27% named it in their top three and almost a half in their top 10 most-made. At the drink’s home, Havana’s La Floridita, they prefer the frozen version, but mostly this is lime juice, white rum and sugar syrup, shaken and served. In the bars we poll, strawberries are left in the fridge.
Things are looking pretty sweet for the bitter Negroni – for six years now it’s been the number two, though never really challenging the top spot. Like the Old Fashioned, the Negroni’s strength has been its transition from bartender to consumer favourite – 13% of bars said it was their number one classic and it was among the top three served in 42% of bars. It’s ironic really, if ever there was a cocktail that could be thrown together at home, it is the Negroni – classically, it’s a third, a third, a third of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin.
King of the cocktails is the Old Fashioned – and that’s six years straight this vanguard drink of the classic cocktail revival has topped our poll. The Old Fashioned shows no sign of waning – indeed, this American whiskey classic is picking up pace, says our poll. Almost 35% of bars said it was their top selling classic. Make it with bourbon, or rye as they probably did way back when.
Mastermind of the classics David Wondrich says: “One sugar cube wetted with three dashes of Angostura bitters and a little soda, crushed, stirred with a large ice cube and two ounces of rye.”
Source: Drinks International by Hamish Smith