Cocktail categories/families

Words by Simon Difford

Cocktail categories/families image 1

The world of cocktails comprises numerous different cocktail families, each family having its own surname, distinctive traits, genetics and history. Some of these cocktail families are forgotten and facing extinction while others, such as the Daiquiri, Sour and Colada dynasties, are better known now than when they were first conceived. Follows the 36 families which populate the world of cocktails.

While not advocating that every cocktail should be pigeonholed under one of the following headings – history/rules should not be allowed to stifle creativity – these cocktail family names do give an indication to the drinker the style of cocktail they are ordering. Consequently, if a cocktail carries one of the following family names, then its ingredients, serving vessel and style should reflect the traits suggested by that name.

ency 97 image

Blazer cocktails

Comprises: Spirit + sweetener
Glass: Snifter
Serve: Straight-up while still warm
Created: Mid-1800s by Jerry Thomas
Example: Blue Blazer
More info: Blazer Cocktails


Comprises: Spirit + ginger beer/ginger ale + lime juice
Glass: Collins or highball
Serve: With ice
Created: Late 1890s
Example: The Gin Buck with ginger ale emerged as the best-known of the various Bucks, and is one of the two Bucks in Albert Stevens Crockett's 1935 The Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book.
More info: Bucks originated during the Prohibition era in the form of the Gin Buck. Like the Ricky, the Collins and the Fizz it is a tall drink served with citrus juice and a carbonate. (A Highball is also tall but never contains citrus juice.) Originally a Buck was made by cutting a large lemon into quarters and squeezing the juice of one quarter into the drink using a hand squeezer. The squeezed shell was also dropped into the glass with the juice. Unlike the afore mentioned drinks, no sugar is added to a Buck – sufficient sweetness to balance the lemon is provided by the sweet carbonate.

ency 85 image


Comprises: Spirit or wine base + fruit + sugar
Glass: Collins or Cobbler glass
Serve: Shaken and served over crushed ice garnished with lots of fresh berries and fruits
Created: 1930s
Example: Bramble
More info: Cobblers


Comprises: Spirit + fruit juice + sweetener
Glass: Poco Grande / Colada glass
Serve: Blended with crushed ice
Created: Pre-1922
Example: Piña Colada
More info: Colada, Spanish for 'washed', or in this case 'strained', refers to a cocktail blended (or sometimes shaken) with fruit juice and often coconut. Also see the story behind the Piña Colada.

ency 33 image


Comprises: Spirit + lemon (or lime) juice + sugar (&/or liqueur) + soda water
Glass: Collins
Serve: Traditionally a stirred/built drink but now often shaken. Always served long over ice.
Created: London 1814
Example: Tom Collins
More info: Collins cocktails


Comprises: Wine/spirit base + soda/ginger ale/other carbonate (often also with flavoured syrup/liqueur + bitters)
Glass: Collins
Serve: Built or shaken and served long over ice
Created: Unknown
Example: Colonial Cooler
More info: Cooler is a loose term for a long, iced mixed drink, usually containing wine with soda, ginger ale or another carbonate (sometimes also with syrup/liqueur + bitters). The ratio of soda to spirit is usually approximately three to one.

ency 55 image


Comprises: Spirit + lemon juice + sugar + bitters
Glass: Fluted glass – usually wine glass
Serve: Shaken and strained into sugar rimmed glass with a large lemon zest
Created: 1840s or 1850s
Example: Brandy Crusta
More info: Crusta Cocktails


Comprises: Spirit + vermouth/wine + fruits + liqueur (often also sugar) + mixer/water.
Glass: Originally small tankards but now Collins or goblet
Serve: Mixed over ice in the glass they are served in.
Created: Mid 1800s
Example: Difford's Fruit Cup
More info: Fruit Cups and Pimm's No.1 Cup

ency 68 image


Comprises: Spirit + liqueur (usually orange) + lemon or lime juice
Glass: Coupe, old-fashioned, goblet
Serve: Shaken and served straight-up, on-the-rocks or frozen
Example: Margarita
Created: Pre-1876
More info: A loose term suggesting a spirit-based drink with liqueur (mostly orange) or flavoured syrup, often served over crushed ice. Daisies always contain lemon or lime juice.

Egg Nog

Comprises: Spirit (mostly rum, brandy, bourbon) + milk &/or cream + sugar/liqueur + egg yolk
Glass: Old-fashioned, Collins or toddy
Serve: Shaken and served straight-up. Also served hot.
Created: 1600s
Example: Eggnog (cold)
More info: Egg Nogs contain sugar, milk (or cream) and the yolk of a fresh egg with either rum, brandy, bourbon or a combination of spirits. Egg Nogs are now usually shaken with cubed ice and served straight-up, often with a nutmeg dusting. They are traditionally served at Christmas.

ency 17 image


Comprises: Spirit + lemon juice + sugar syrup (mostly raspberry syrup or fresh pineapple & sugar)
Glass: Old-fashioned or goblet
Serve: Shaken and served over crushed ice.
Created: Mid-1800s
Example: Gin Fix
More info: These are miniature Cobblers – short, sweet, strong, spirit based mixed drinks served over crushed ice in an Old-fashioned or goblet.


Comprises: Spirit + citrus + sugar + carbonated mixer (soda, ginger ale, champagne)
Glass: Fizz or Highball (8 to 10oz)
Serve: Shaken and served in tall chilled glass (without ice) topped with carbonate to produce a thick head.
Created: Late 1800s
Example: Ramos Gin Fizz
More info: Fizzes are based on spirit, citrus fruit juices and sugar, which are shaken with ice and strained into an ice-filled Collins glass, then topped up with something fizzy - soda water, ginger ale or even champagne. The addition of the white of an egg turns a plain fizz into a Silver Fizz; add an egg yolk and it becomes a Golden Fizz; add cream and it becomes a Cream Fizz.

The Fizz was at its peak popularity in the late 1800s when it was mostly enjoyed as a morning bracer. Where today we are likely to go for a coffee or two to start the day, then it was the Fizz, and as many as six of them. Distinct styles of drink were associated with different occasions/times of day, and whereas the sour was an evening drink, the Fizz was a morning cocktail.

ency 54 image


Comprises: Spirit/fortified wine + sugar + egg yolk & white (or just the yolk)
Glass: Coupe or wine glass
Serve: Shaken and served up or mixed and heated
Created: 1600s England
Example: Flipping Good
More info: A flip is a cocktail containing egg (the whole egg or just the yolk), sugar and any spirit or fortified wine. Flips are similar to Egg Nogs but while Egg Nogs contain milk or cream, Flips don't. Flips were originally served hot, often heated with a red-hot poker. Today they are occasionally served hot but more usually cold – shaken with ice and strained into a chilled coupe or wine glass, usually with a nutmeg dusting.


Comprises: Spirit or liqueur or cocktail or non-alcoholic liquid
Glass: Not specific
Serve: Poured over crushed ice
Created: 1800s
Example: Absinthe Frappé
More info: Pronounced 'frap-pay', this refers to any liqueur, spirit, cocktail, coffee or even just milk served over crushed ice.

ency 46 image


Comprises: Spirit or liqueur-based cocktail
Glass: Not specific
Serve: Blended with crushed ice
Created: Originally made with shaved ice (which dates back to when man had a knife sharp enough to cut ice), 'frozen' cocktails emerged after Fred Waring released his electric blender in 1937.
Example: Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri
More info: Frozen drinks are cocktails mixed by blending the ingredients with crushed ice to produce a cocktail with a slushy consistency.


Comprises: Rum + lemon juice + sugar/sweetener
Glass: Double old-fashioned
Serve: Shaken and served on-the-rocks
Created: 1740 or earlier. In 1740, Admiral "Old Grogram" Vernon ordered the British Navy's daily issue of half a pint high-proof rum be replaced with two servings of a quarter of a pint, diluted 4:1 with water which became known as 'grog'.
Example: Grog
More info: Any drink made with rum and diluted with water can be called a grog, but grogs usually also contain lemon juice, sugar and aromatic fruits or spices. They can be served hot or cold in a mug or a glass. The name is said to originate from when the British Navy used to issue sailors with a daily ration of rum and water.

ency 41 image


Comprises: Spirit + carbonated mixer
Glass: Highball (max 10oz capacity)
Serve: Premixed ingredients or simply poured into ice-filled glass.
Created: 1890s. First known publication by Chris Lawlor of the Burnet House, Cincinnati, USA.
Example: Scotch Whisky Highball
More info: Highballs are simple small mixed drinks, most commonly with only two ingredients - a spirit and a carbonate, served in a tall ice-filled glass (often referred to as a Hi-ball glass). Highballs always have a carbonate (tonic, soda etc.) but unlike Rickeys, Collinses and Fizzes, Highballs traditionally do not contain citrus fruit juice, although that last convention no longer applies, and a small amount of juice is acceptable in a Highball. However, a Highball MUST be served in a glass no larger than 10oz or it is no longer a true Highball.


Comprises: Spirit + mint + sugar
Glass: Julep cup
Serve: With muddled mint and served over crushed ice.
Created: Unknown. First known publication 1634 in a court poem by John Milton, England.
Example: Mint Julep
More info: Juleps are long drinks with muddled fresh mint and sugar served with crushed ice. Now synonymous with bourbon, Juleps were originally often based on rum or brandy – they can now be based on almost any spirit, although bourbon remains the default.

ency 87 image


Comprises: Gin (or vodka) + vermouth & often bitters
Glass: Cocktail (V-shaped Martini)
Serve: Shaken or stirred and served straight-up
Created: Unknown. Earlier origins but first "Martini Cocktail" published in Tim Daly's 1903 Bartenders Encyclopedia
Example: Dry Martini (5:1 stirred),
More info: Martini was (and some would argue still is) a type of cocktail containing gin and vermouth (and optionally orange bitters) served in a stemmed glass, in its heyday usually with a 'V' shaped bowl, commonly referred to as a Martini glass. From the 50s onwards, Martinis were often made with vodka.

'Martini'/Alternatini/Neo Martini/Alternatini/Fruit Martini

Comprises: Vodka (or other spirit) + numerous other ingredients
Glass: Originally a V-shaped Martini glass but now often a coupe
Serve: Shaken and served straight-up
Created: 1990s
Example: Espresso Martini
More info: The bastard child of the cocktail world but thanks to the Espresso Martini, Porn Star Martini and French Martini, arguably the second most successful cocktail dynasty. These 'imposter-' / 'sudo-' / 'Mock-tinis' emerged in the 1990s becoming popular in New York and dominating cocktail menus in London. They grew on the back of the vodka boom, hence tend to be vodka-based. They are predominantly shaken drinks and the only thing they have in common with a true Martini (see above) is they are (or at least were) served in V-shaped Martini glasses but in recent years are more commonly served in coupe glasses.

ency 32 image


Comprises: Wine + herbs and spices
Glass: Goblet or toddy
Serve: Stirred and served hot
Created: 2nd century by the Romans
Example: Mulled Wine
More info: The word 'mull' means to warm a drink, and a mull is a hot mixed drink generally based on wine (usually red) and flavoured with herbs and spices. Mulled drinks are generally made in quantity and served hot in wine goblets – they used to be heated using red hot pokers.


Comprises: Spirit + egg + cream + sweetener
Glass: Varies
Serve: Shaken and over ice
Created: Unknown
Example: Egg-Nog
More info: Nogs traditionally contain egg and cream or milk (whereas Flips contain egg but not milk or cream). Nogs originate from medieval Britain's hot, milky posset (see below). The name originates from rum being known as a Grog and the cups it was served in being called Noggins. Hence, egg and nog became Eggnog.


Comprises: Milk/cream + beer or wine or sherry + honey + spice
Glass: Two handled Posset
Serve: Heated over a hob/stove and poured into serving vessel
Created: 15th century
Example: Lemon Posset
More info: A Posset consists of hot milk (or cream) mixed with ale or wine and flavoured with honey and spices. (Egg may sometimes be added.) Traditionally passed around as a sharing drink in a twin handled vessel called a posset and drunk from the pour spout. Today Possets tend to be desserts.

Pousse café

Comprises: Spirits + liqueurs + syrups
Glass: Tall thin shot glass or small schooner (2.5oz max capacity)
Serve: Layered in glass
Created: Unknown
Example: Pousse-Café
More info: Pousse-cafés are very short, layered cocktails, served in a tall Pousse-café glass. Each ingredient must be poured carefully into the glass so that it floats on the previous layer – this is made possible by the different specific weights or densities of different drinks.

ency 14 image


Comprises: Spirit + citrus + sugar + spice
Glass: Punch cup (or Collins glass)
Serve: Mixed in a punch bowl (or individually mixed and served on-the-rocks)
Created: 17th century India
Example: Fish House Punch
More info: Punch and Punches


Comprises: Spirit + lime juice + sugar/sweetener + soda
Glass: Highball or sour glass
Serve: On-the-rocks
Created: 1880 by George A. Williamson at Shoomaker's Bar, Washington DC
Example: Gin Rickey
More info: Something of a cross between a Collins and a Sour, Rickeys are short mixed drinks containing lime juice, soda and normally gin, although they can also be made with brandy, whisk(e)y or rum and were originally made with bourbon. Rickeys are served in a highball or sour glass (or an old-fashioned will do) but shorter/smaller than a Collins glass.

ency 89 image


Comprises: Wine (usually red) or port + spirit + sugar/sweetener/liqueur ( + often juice)
Glass: Collins
Serve: Straight-up or on-the-rocks
Created: Pre-1736
Example: Gin Sangre
More info: This term derives from the Spanish word for blood, Sangre and describes a tall mixed drink based on wine and fortified with spirit, usually served in an ice-filled collins glass (without bitters) and topped with nutmeg. Sangarees can also be served hot in a toddy glass or mug.


Comprises: Spirit + liqueur + bitters
Glass: Coupe or Nick & Nora
Serve: Without ice / room temperature
Created: Unknown but popular mid-1880s
Example: Both Harry Johnson and Jerry Thomas included a Brandy Scaffa recipe in their respective bartending manuals.
More info: The exact meaning of Scaffa has been lost with time, but generally refers to a mixed drink served at room temperature. They are always strong, consisting of a good slug of spirit, sweetened with a dash of liqueur and spiced by a dash of bitters.

ency 92 image


Comprises: Spirit (usually white) + orange juice
Glass: Collins
Serve: Usually mixed in the glass and served on-the-rocks
Created: Unknown but popular in 1950s
Example: Screwdriver
More info: This loose term describes a cocktail that contains orange juice and any white spirit – it probably derives from the 50s drink the Screwdriver. A whole family of Slow Screw cocktails emerged.


Comprises: Spirit + fruit + sugar
Glass: Not specific
Serve: Traditionally served hot but also on-the-rocks
Created: Unknown
Example: Orange Shrubb
More info: Shrubs are old English spirit-based drinks flavoured with fruit and sweetened with sugar. The fruit can be anything from berries to oranges, but the mixture is always left to macerate for a few weeks. It is then strained and served, often hot. Historically, this style of drink was popular in Devon and Cornwall as a way of flavouring smuggled or illicit spirits. Shrubs are best made with brandy or rum.

ency 21 image


Comprises: Spirit + citrus juice + sugar/liqueur + soda
Glass: Sling
Serve: Shaken and served in an ice-filled glass.
Created: Unknown but popular in late-1800s
Example: Gin Sling
More info: Slings are one of the oldest categories of cocktail, the earliest definition of a "cocktail" describes it as being a bittered sling.


Comprises: Spirit + mint + sugar
Glass: Old-fashioned
Serve: Over cubed or crushed ice
Created: Unknown but around since 1850s
Example: Gin Basil Smash
More info: A short julep-like mixed drink containing sugar, mint and spirit, and served over ice (crushed or cubed) in an old-fashioned glass.

ency 57 image


Comprises: Spirit (or liqueur) + citrus juice (usually lemon) + sugar or other sweetener (not necessary if liqueur based) + bitters (optional) + egg white (optional)
Glass: Old-fashioned or sour glass.
Serve: Shaken and served on-the-rocks or shaken and served straight-up.
Created: The first record of a Sour appears in 1856 and the first known written recipe appears six years later in Jerry Thomas' 1862 The Bartender's Guide.
Example: Whiskey Sour
More info: Sours are citrus fruit influenced (mostly lime) short spirit (or liqueur) based mixed drinks sweetend with sugar/liqueur/honey and sometimes with egg white. Sometimes topped with champagne or soda water.


Comprises: Spirit (or strong liqueur) + citrus + flavoursome sweetener or liqueur + bitters
Glass: Collins
Serve: Mixed in a glass filled with crushed ice using a swizzle stick
Created: Originated from the 17th century Switchel
Example: Chartreuse Swizzle
More info: Swizzles originated in the West Indies and were originally rum coolers made in tall glasses with ice, stirred with a twig until the glass became frosted.

ency 89 image


Comprises: Spirits + liqueur + citrus + sugar/sweetener + carbonate or other mixer
Glass: Collins
Serve: Shaken and built or simply assembled in an ice-filled glass
Created: Said by some to have emerged during Prohibition
Example: Long Island Iced Tea
More info: A long, mixed drink containing at least two clear spirits and served in a tall, ice-filled glass.


Comprises: Spirit + sugar/sweetener + hot water
Glass: Toddy glass
Serve: Stir in a pre-warmed glass
Created: Unknown but first known written reference on 7th November 1786 in The Edinburgh Advertiser
Example: Scotch Toddy
More info: A hot, short, mixed drink often taken to soothe the effects of a cold. Toddies usually contain lemon juice and spices.

Join the Discussion

... comment(s) for Cocktail categories/families

You must log in to your account to make a comment.

Report comment

You must be logged in to upvote or downvote a comment

Click here to login
Welcome to Difford's Guide

All editorial and photography on this website is copyright protected

© Odd Firm of Sin 2024