Learn how to shake or stir up a Manhattan, martini, piña colada, and more.
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What makes a cocktail a classic? It might be the liquor that defines it, or its era of conception. It also might simply start with the letter "M"—after all, the martini, Manhattan, margarita, mint julep, and mojito all fall under the iconic label. But there are other drinks that command our attention, too, like the old fashioned and the negroni. And then there are the outliers: Is the cosmopolitan forever? We think so. What about vacation-forward daiquiris and piña coladas?

shaken pina coladas
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Diverse—but classic—mixed drinks have one thing in common: a timeless formula that is seamless, successful, requires no tinkering, and has an authentic tale to tell. In an (albeit exciting) age of artisanal craft drinks, it can be a relief to return to these exemplars of mixology. That's why we think you should master making each one.

Classic Martinis

Martini

Whether stirred or shaken (but really, you should stir it!), made with vodka or gin, or served with an olive or a citrus twist, a martini is bracing, straightforward, and recalibrating. Your choice of dry vermouth, as well as the hard liquor, gives you plenty of wiggle-room in terms of creativity. Personally, we prefer juniper-forward gins—you can call us old fashioned.

manhattan cocktails

Manhattan

Silky bourbon stirred with the herbal gentleness of good red vermouth and a few drops of bitters defines this cold-weather wind-down, which is perfect after a frigid day. Choose the essential Maraschino cherry garnish for your Manhattan wisely—it's (literally) the cherry on the top, if you are spiking it for display. Avoid neon redness: Luxardo and Fabbri are the way to go.

Classic Margarita

Margarita

When they're good, they're wonderful, and when they're bad, they're memorably horrid. The secret to a good margarita is simple: Use fresh lime or lemon juice and orange liqueur. Now, we get into the minutiae. Stick to Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or triple sec—the latter is the least costly, the first is the most delicious, and the middle is Martha's favorite.

mint julep

Mint Julep

Like its rum-based cousin, the mojito, a mint julep is unashamedly mint-forward. The fresh herb infuses the bourbon, fresh lemon, superfine sugar, and crushed ice with its uplifting scent.

daiquiri

Daiquiri

Hemingway was not a man who drank slushies, which is what today's maligned daiquiri has become associated with. An authentic daiquiri is a restrained blend of light rum (it gives the drink warm backbone), fresh lime juice, and good cane sugar. And yes, it does spell vacation!

sazarac in rocks glass on black plate

Sazerac

The ritual of swirling a sugar cube with a few drops of water before adding rye, bitters, and the tongue-coating anise of absinthe is somehow timelessly soothing. This New Orleans cocktail is a moment of calm in a whirling world.

shaken pina coladas

Piña Colada

Like the daiquiri, this poolside-central drink has suffered some abuse. While it remains a sweet cocktail, a properly-made piña colada is a fine balancing act of tropical coconut, floral pineapple, crisp rum, and tart lemon juice. Don't even look at the blender: shake it.

old fashioned cocktail

Old Fashioned

Bitters, bourbon, and fragrant orange—plus a judiciously minimal touch of sugar. It doesn't get much better than the old fashioned, an understated, but beautifully calibrated cocktail.

negroni cocktail

Negroni

Above a foundation of aromatic gin, vividly bitter Campari is tamed by sweet vermouth. Don't skip the orange peel. Its essential oils are (literally) the transforming twist.

cosmopolitan-0722

Cosmopolitan

Born behind the bar of New York City's Odeon restaurant in the late '80s, the cosmopolitan has become a classic. It calls for lemon vodka, Cointreau, cranberry (for the necessary pink and some tannin), and fresh lemon juice. Never cloying, a good Cosmo is bracingly refreshing.

caipirinha cocktail limes

Caipirinha

Centered on Brazilian cachaça—a sugarcane liquor like white rum's smokier and funkier cousin—a caipirinha requires little more than fresh lime wedges; their bitterness, alongside sugar, brings this drink to life. Don't forget ice. You'll need lot's of ice.

a mojito next to a dish of lime wedges and mint

Mojito

Muddling the mint for a light rum-based mojito is scent-therapy at its best. Don't chop or blend the herb (this releases some bitterness). Instead, lightly press—then add the other ingredients. 

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