Mixology 101: Ultimate Guide to Cocktails

Crafting cocktails at home doesn’t have to be a challenge. We break down must-have ingredients and tools to become a master home mixologist.

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From brunch with friends to Zoom happy hours with coworkers and even family gatherings, cocktails are a key feature of a lot of occasions and celebrations. But figuring out how to make the perfect cocktail can be difficult if you’re not a bartender. There are so many questions you probably have. How much alcohol do you need? Do you shake your drink or stir it? What the heck is in an Old Fashioned?!

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a pro mixologist to shake up (or stir) a great cocktail. In this guide, we’ll break down the staples you’ll need at home to make some classic cocktails—and we’ll even throw in recipes for some of the most popular cocktails. You’ll be feeling like a master behind the bar in no time!

The Best Liquors, Liqueurs & Cocktail Mixers for Your Home Bar 

Liquors & mixers for home bars infographic

Before you can make any cocktails, there are a few essentials that you’ll need. 

Base Spirits

Liqueurs

Mixers

Our home bar essentials guide includes even more suggestions and bar tool recommendations, but these are the basics—whether you’re looking for some healthier drink options or want to try your hand at a classic cocktail. And, if you find yourself missing something, just think of Gopuff as your barback. Order supplies from us, and we’ll get them to you before you even break out the fancy cocktails glasses. 

Now that your bar is stocked, it’s time to learn some easy cocktail recipes and start slinging some drinks.

The Most Popular Vodka Cocktails

Vodka is a popular spirit that acts as the base for a lot of your favorite cocktails. From brunch favorites to classy dinner cocktails, this spirit is very versatile. Check out these nine easy vodka recipes you should memorize.

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Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary is an easy brunch favorite, and it can be as simple or complicated as you want. All you need is a Bloody Mary mix, vodka, some hot sauce and some celery to garnish. You can spice up this drink with different peppers or by adding bacon and playing around with fun garnishes. Once you master this classic drink’s base, you can customize it for days to make your own version.

Screwdriver

Another brunch cocktail for your mid-day imbibing, the Screwdriver is just two simple ingredients: vodka and orange juice. 

Cosmopolitan

Pull out those martini glasses and shake up an easy cosmo. This cocktail is simply 1.5 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of cranberry juice, half an ounce of orange liqueur and lime juice. Perfect for any occasion, this pretty pink drink looks fancy but is very painless to make.

Vodka Martini

Shaken or stirred, a martini is another simple and classic cocktail. All you need is 2.5 ounces of vodka and half an ounce of vermouth. Combine all ingredients by either shaking or stirring them, though experts will say the only way is to stir (more on that below). Garnish with citrus or olives. If you like a little brine with your martini, make it a dirty one with the addition of half an ounce of olive juice. 

Moscow Mule

Known for the copper mug it’s commonly served in, a Moscow Mule is a pretty and tasty drink that requires minimal effort. All you need are 1.5 ounces of vodka, a squeeze of lime juice and 4 ounces of ginger beer. Stir these ingredients together and serve over ice. Then, garnish with mint if you happen to have some around. For the perfect Thanksgiving drink, add cranberry juice to your Mule. The copper mug isn’t required, but we think they’re more fun to sip out of—and they help keep your Mule ice cold.

White Russian

The White Russian is a tasty cocktail that’s perfect for after dinner, and great to sip on in the fall. The recipe calls for about 2 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of cream or milk and a little less than an ounce of coffee liqueur. This drink also tastes great as an Alcoholic Milkshake if you want to really step up your mixology game and impress some friends.

Espresso Martini

If you’re in need of a coffee fix and a cocktail, look no further than an espresso martini. This coffee cocktail is made up of 2 ounces of vodka, half an ounce of coffee liqueur, 1 ounce of espresso or cold brew and simple syrup to taste. It’s similar to a Red Bull vodka, but feels a bit more sophisticated. 

Seabreeze

If you want to pretend you’re sprawled out on a tropical beach, or if you are in fact on said beach, the Seabreeze is perfect for you. Mix up 1.5 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of grapefruit juice and 4 ounces of cranberry juice and you’ll be transported away to a tropical oasis. 

Jell-O Shots

While these shooters aren’t likely to make a regular appearance on your home bar menu, Jell-O shots are fun to serve for the holidays or when you’re hosting a large gathering. From spooky Halloween-themed shots to classic Jell-O flavors, all you need for the perfect Jell-O shot is some vodka and a pack of Jell-O.

The Most Popular Tequila Cocktails

Whether you like mezcal, anejo, reposado or blanco tequila, this base spirit is very versatile and has a variety of flavor profiles depending on the type you’re using. For these staple tequila cocktails, a simple blanco tequila will do. But, as you become more familiar with this agave-based liquor, try mixing up your favorite tequila recipes with different variants of the iconic Mexican elixir.

Shop tequila from Gopuff and get it delivered in just 30 minutes. 

Margarita

Enjoy this classic tequila cocktail frozen or served over ice. While this drink is perfect any day of the year, we think it’s especially enjoyable on a sunny day. Grab some margarita mix and combine with your tequila of choice, or make your margarita from scratch with 1 ounce of orange liqueur (like Cointreau), 1 ounce of lime juice and 2 ounces of tequila. Add fruit into the mix to sweeten up your drink and incorporate the fresh flavors of the season.

Paloma

This aesthetically pleasing cocktail is just two easy ingredients: tequila and grapefruit soda. If you like smokey flavors, try using a mezcal instead of a blanco tequila in this Paloma recipe. Or, if you want to enjoy this as a winter cocktail, use pomegranate juice and club soda instead of grapefruit soda. 

Tequila Sunrise

OK, so we’re convinced all tequila cocktails are perfect for transporting us to paradise. Yet another Insta-worthy cocktail, the Tequila Sunrise, is made of 1.5 ounces of tequila, half an ounce of grenadine and 3 ounces of orange juice. The key to this cocktail is the order in which you pour the ingredients. You’ll want to start with the tequila and orange juice, then top with the grenadine. Don’t stir (or shake) this one until after you’ve got the perfect picture. 

Bloody Maria

Who says a Bloody Mary can’t be made with tequila? Swap out vodka from the classic Bloody Mary recipe above and pour in your favorite tequila instead. This brunch cocktail is suitable for anyone, regardless of their spirit preferences. 

The Most Popular Whiskey Cocktails

Whiskey is an acquired taste for many people, but its variety of styles make it an appealing liquor for cocktails. Whether you like American whiskeys like bourbon, or Scotch or Irish whiskey, there are a few classic cocktails you can master when leveling up your home bartending skills. While nice whiskey is great to sip on straight and share with family and friends on the holidays (spiked eggnog, anyone?) or during other special occasions, you don’t need a fancy or expensive bottle to master these key cocktails.

Old Fashioned

One of the oldest drinks around, the Old Fashioned can be modernized in a variety of ways by using different whiskeys or bourbons or incorporating flavored bitters and simple syrups into your cocktail. But, the three ingredients of a classic Old Fashioned are 1.5 ounces of whiskey, a sugar cube or a .5 ounce of simple syrup and a few dashes of bitters. Garnish this drink with maraschino cherries and orange peel, and you’ll be sipping in style.

Whiskey Sour

Known for its foamy layer, a whiskey sour incorporates a unique ingredient—egg whites. To serve up this cocktail, you’ll combine 2 ounces of whiskey, a dash of egg whites, 1 ounce of lemon juice and 1 ounce simple syrup. Shake it all up, pour it through a strainer and serve over ice. 

Sazerac

Sazeracs hail from New Orleans in the 1800s, and just like most of New Orleans’ drinks, this is a strong cocktail. Start by chilling a glass while you combine a sugar cube and bitters in another glass. Add 2 ounces of whiskey and stir it all together. Before pouring this mixture into your chilled glass, swirl a little bit of absinthe or anise liqueur into the chilled glass and then dump it. You basically want only a hint of absinthe or anise in your cocktail. Pour your whiskey into the glass and there you have it: a taste of New Orleans for wherever you are. 

Manhattan

Another timeless cocktail, the Manhattan is similar to an Old Fashioned but features vermouth instead of sugar or simple syrup. To make the perfect Manhattan cocktail, stir together 2 ounces of rye whiskey, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. Garnish with a maraschino cherry—or two. 

Irish Coffee

Whether you’re looking for a St. Patrick’s Day drink to get you in the Irish spirit or you want to indulge in a smooth cocktail post-dinner, an Irish coffee is an easy whiskey cocktail to put together. Brew a cup of your favorite coffee and add in 1.5 ounces of Irish whiskey, 1 ounce of cream and some sugar to taste. This warm cocktail is next-level when you top it with whipped cream, or you can even make a cold version of it using cold brew if you’re feeling innovative.

Mint Julep

The Mint Julep has gained its popularity by being the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, and much like the famous horse race, this refreshing bourbon-based cocktail has been around since the 1800s. It’s a simple cocktail that just calls for 2 ounces of bourbon, a quarter-ounce of simple syrup, mint and bitters. The key to a good Julep is muddling the mint to release the aromas and oils of the leaves before mixing in your whiskey. 

The Most Popular Rum Cocktails

OK, we were wrong. Rum, not tequila, is definitely the most tropical base spirit you’ll have on your bar cart. Distilled from sugar, rum is sweet and comes in white, gold, dark and spiced varieties. For your bar cart, we suggest opting for a versatile white or gold rum that will have subtle flavors to mix in well with these popular rum drinks.

Shop rum from Gopuff and get it delivered in just 30 minutes.

Daiquiri

The daiquiri is often served frozen or over ice, and it’s one of the six basic cocktails listed in David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. But don’t let its rank in the cocktail canon scare you away from getting creative—a daiquiri can be customized any number of ways to suit your personal flavor preferences, from strawberry to pineapple to mango and everything in between. As a base, start with 1.5 ounces of light rum, 1 ounce of lime juice and simple syrup to taste. 

Piña Colada

Piña coladas are perfect to sip on during a hot summer day. But whether you’re on a beach, by a pool or even sitting inside on a rainy afternoon, mastering this hallmark cocktail will let you escape to a tropical getaway no matter where you are. To make a piña colada, just combine 1 ounce of coconut cream, 1 ounce of white rum and 3 ounces of pineapple juice. In no time, you’ll be in tropical cocktail heaven. 

Mojito

Give your taste buds a refreshing treat with the perfect mojito recipe. This rum-based cocktail is actually easy to make and even easier to impress your guests with. For this recipe, just muddle fresh mint, sugar or simple syrup, with lime in a glass. Top with ice and mix in 1.5 ounces of rum, then top with about a half-cup of club soda.

Dark ‘N’ Stormy

If you’re looking to experience the wonderful world of spiced rums, this cocktail is for you. This Dark ‘N’ Stormy recipe calls for 2 ounces of dark rum, 3 ounces of ginger beer and a couple of dashes of bitters. Think of it as the rum version of the Moscow Mule.

The Most Popular Gin Cocktails

From martinis to the classic gin and tonic, gin cocktails are known for their herbal flavor profiles. While the base spirit goes great with a simple juice or soda, consider trying your hand at these popular gin cocktails as you step up your mixology game.

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Negroni

Negronis are traditionally from Italy and enjoyed before a meal, but hey, we think you can enjoy them whenever and wherever you want. This drink should be stirred, and calls for 1 ounce of Campari, 1 ounce of gin and 1 ounce of sweet red vermouth.

Gimlet

If this drink name doesn’t make you smile, you’ll be smiling once you taste it. To serve up a gimlet, all you need is 2.5 ounces of gin, half an ounce of lime juice and simple syrup to taste. 

Tom Collins

Cocktail historians may argue over the namesake of this classic cocktail dating back to the 1800s, but it’s indisputable that a Tom Collins is the perfect drink for a warm summer day or night. To enjoy this lemony cocktail, you’ll just need 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of lemon juice, half an ounce of simple syrup and 2 ounces of club soda. 

French 75

Named after a gun that the French used during World War I, the French 75 cocktail is a strong cocktail with a bold combination of 1 ounce of gin, half an ounce of lemon juice, a couple dashes of simple syrup and a hefty 2 ounces of Champagne. Not for the faint of palate!

Gin Martini

Not too far off from the vodka version, a gin martini combines 2.5 ounces of gin with half an ounce of vermouth (though some folks will prefer to add the vermouth to taste). Gin martinis will highlight the piney and herbaceous notes of the gin, giving this drink a markedly different flavor than that of the vodka martini. 

Popular Brandy Cocktails

Before Prohibition, brandy was the star of many classic cocktails. This favorite base spirit has a subtle sweetness, along with some lovely fruity and oak notes. While brandy’s not typically a starting player in today’s cocktails, these standby brandy cocktails are still great for mixologists to master. 

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Brandy Cocktail

A traditional brandy cocktail dates back to the 1800s, is simple to make and highlights the flavors that make up the wine-distilled liquor. To enjoy this cocktail, mix up 2 ounces of brandy, half an ounce of orange curaçao, 2 dashes of aromatic bitters and 2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.

Sidecar

Enjoy this iconic cocktail by mixing 2 ounces of brandy, 1 ounce of orange liqueur and 1 ounce of lemon juice. If you’re feeling like you’ve mastered this cocktail, try swapping out the brandy for whiskey and you’ve got yourself a whiskey sidecar. 

Brandy Old Fashioned

The sweeter cousin to a traditional Old Fashioned, the Brandy Old Fashioned is a popular drink across the state of Wisconsin. For this cocktail, you’ll muddle a maraschino cherry, a teaspoon of cherry juice from the maraschino cherry jar, an orange and some sugar. Then, add in 2 ounces of brandy and top with grapefruit soda—or 7Up, or Sprite.  

Shaken or Stirred? How to Combine Cocktail Ingredients

So now that you’ve got all the ingredients for some of the most popular cocktails out there, it’s time to put them to use and get to mixing. But this also begs the question: shaken or stirred?

Well, some bartenders go by the rule that if it contains only spirits and bitters, then it should be strictly stirred, while others will disagree with this. Case in point: The martini, a drink that some people say James Bond ruined when he ordered it “shaken, not stirred,” while others argue that he’s in good company ordering it with a little rhythm.

Generally speaking, however, cocktails that contain dairy, cream liqueurs, fruit juices, eggs or sour mix should be shaken. If the recipes involve anything carbonated, make sure to save that ingredient for the end. If you’re interested in learning more about the craft of concocting a perfect cocktail, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury is often referred to as the bartender’s bible, and could be a great read on your mixology journey. If you’re looking for more tools to add to your cart or are ready to start stocking up your cart? Well, that’s where we come in. Gopuff can get you your favorite base spirits and mixers right to your door before your first drink is even finished. Cheers!

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