Man preparing cocktails pouring liquid into glasses with men in the background
Stanislav Ivanitskiy -

What Is A Cocktail? Meaning, History, and Best Ones Out There!

April 1, 2022
min read

Cocktails: You’ve heard of them, but you may not know precisely what a cocktail drink is.

In a nutshell, they’re a staple on fancy dinner menus, weekend getaways, and milestone celebrations. Their high alcohol content is deceptive and usually hidden behind a blend of non-alcoholic mixers, syrups, and bitters. Many cocktails come decorated with a garnish.

If you want to know more, here’s the history of cocktails and a quick list of recipes.

Table of Contents

What is a cocktail drink?

They’re often confused with a mixed drink or highball, which usually consists of ice, alcohol, or liqueur, and a non-alcoholic mixer like club soda, orange juice, or tonic water. Cocktails are made with primarily alcoholic ingredients with a few variations. They generally don’t have soda in the recipe — and if they do, it’s to add fizz or complement the alcohol.

Cocktails can include ice, one type of alcohol (or several), a non-alcoholic mixer, bitters, syrups, and garnishes like limes, maraschino cherries, or orange wheels. Bartenders emphasize the subtle blending of flavors, and there’s an art form to how they’re presented.

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Where do cocktails come from?

Why a cocktail is called a cocktail comes with a relatively vast history, so we’ll keep it simple. Mixed drinks have been around for centuries; however, the word “cocktail” and its inventor is somewhat disputed.

One theory points to James Fenimore Cooper’s 1821 novel The Spy, which includes a description of mixed drinks furnished with garnishes. Another theory suggests that literal roosters’ tails as the inspiration for the name, with their bright colors and strutting flare.

The most authentic origin story tells us that the term originated from a Creole apothecary doctor named Antoine Peychaud, who worked in 1880s New Orleans. Peychaud had a habit of serving mixed drinks from a French egg cup known as a “coquetier.” As this trend progressed, the word was shortened to “cocktay,” which eventually turned into the word “cocktail” that we know and use today.

Fun factoids and facts about the history of cocktail recipes:

  • The first cocktails were probably non-alcoholic and used for medicinal purposes. 
  • Cocktail hour refers to the time between 2pm and 6pm when cocktails are served to keep guests satiated between meals.
  • Some of the most popular cocktails of the modern era include margaritas, manhattans, cosmopolitans, daiquiris, bloody marys, amaretto sours, the old fashioned, negroni, and champagne cocktails. 
Kobby Mendez -

What are the best cocktails to make?

Buying cocktails at a bar is superb when you find a savvy bartender who knows how to make them. But what if you want to try out some cocktail recipes yourself? We’ve compiled a list of exceptional alcoholic drinks to make at home. For most of these recipes, you’ll need a cocktail shaker. We’ll list any other ingredients you’ll need with each recipe. You’ll be a mixology master in no time.

1. Dalgona Coffee Martini

This Dalgona Coffee Martini is a favorite on the cocktail squad that will keep you perked up during dinner. 

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Fill your cocktail shaker with ice, and add the Baileys and vodka. Shake until chilled and strain the mix into a martini glass. Now you’ll make the whipped coffee topping by combining the sugar, coffee, and water and vigorously whisking until you have a silky, whipped coffee foam. Dollop the foam on the martini and serve.

Joseph Mucira -

2. El Diablo

During the heat of summer, a chilled cocktail pairs wonderfully with a patio meal or poolside hang. Enter El Diablo, a cocktail made from tequila, ginger ale, lime juice, and creme de cassis, all stirred together in a cocktail glass. 

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Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add equal parts tequila, creme de cassis, and lime juice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass over ice. Top the drink with ginger beer and add a lime wedge garnish to complete this refreshing drink. 

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3. Manhattan

This upscale, classy cocktail is a simple mix of bourbon or rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, and cherries to garnish.

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Add the bourbon (or rye), bitters, and sweet vermouth to a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake for at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a brandied cherry. The different types of whiskeys will give various flavor profiles, so you may want to experiment until you find your favorite.

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4. Margarita

Originating from Mexico or Texas (depending on who you talk to), this simple, classic cocktail consists of tequila, lime, ice, and coarse kosher salt. You can add margarita mix to it. Hot tip: To really spice up your drink, use Mexican mezcal instead of tequila.

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To make the salt rim, place some salt on a shallow plate, and run a lime wedge along the edge of your margarita glasses. Dip the rim of the glasses into the salt. To create the cocktail, pour the tequila and margarita mix into your cocktail shaker, then strain it into your rimmed glass. Top the glass with fresh ice and garnish with a lime wedge. 

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5. Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is a classic, simple cocktail. Its distinguished presentation with an orange and a maraschino cherry gives the strong bourbon drink a fruit flare.

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Add the simple syrup, water, and bitters into a whiskey glass. Mix well, then top with fresh ice. Pour the bourbon on top and add the orange slice and maraschino cherry as a garnish.

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6. Singapore Sling

Looking for another creative cocktail with a stunning red color? Then you need to try the Singapore Sling, a perfect summer drink in a single highball glass. 

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Simply fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all the ingredients, and shake well. Strain into a highball glass and garnish with a fresh wedge of pineapple.

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7. Skittles Cocktail

The name for this Skittles Cocktail comes more from its color than its overabundance of candy, but it’s an excellent sweet treat. It’s a mix of Malibu rum, strawberry daiquiri, fresh strawberries, green Gatorade, ice, and Skittles candy as a garnish. If you have extra Malibu rum, you can make plenty of drinks with the leftovers.

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This recipe makes a few drinks, so grab a pitcher and a few straws. Fill your pitcher with ice, and add the Gatorade, Malibu rum, and daiquiri mix. Garnish with as many Skittles as you please to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you want to have a treat-themed event, you can try out this cocktail and add some white gummy bear shots to your drink menu. 

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8. Zombie Cocktail

Last — but certainly not least — is the Zombie Cocktail, a great drink for Halloween parties and horror-themed movie nights. Its complex, artful creation cements it a spot among other cocktails worthy of the title.

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Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all the ingredients except the mint sprigs. Shake to combine and chill, then strain into a tall highball glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy.

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Shake, serve, enjoy

If you need to buy supplies like cocktail mixers, booze, or garnishes, make sure to browse through Gopuff’s online selection. We’ll deliver your goods right to your door.

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