These are the most important cocktail families to know. Understanding them will allow you build the vast majority of drinks for yourself. Some have evolved from each other but have earned the right to be considered families of their own.
There’s a great deal of industry debate around the specifics of cocktail families but we’ve made it easy for you by taking on the tough decisions – please, no angry emails about where Boulevardier landed or why the Flip is under ‘Hot Drinks’, there’s a long history to arrive at the answer. Perhaps controversially, we’ve categorised the Negroni under Milanese instead of French-Italian Drinks due to its origins and name-calling Campari – but you don’t have to worry about these specifics.
Our categories have been adapted from Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan’s 2003 book, The Joy of Mixology and aren’t without editorial omissions – we’ve removed Bottled Cocktails and Infusions, considering them cannibalised by other families.
For recipes (‘specs’, for our industry friends) – we recommend referring to Difford’s guide.
Beer- and Cider-Based Drinks
If combined, this is effectively adulterated beer or cider – most often served today as two separate beverages, together.
Examples: Boilermaker, Snakebite.
These contain champagne or other sparkling wines.
Examples: French 75, Mimosa, Bellini, Old Cuban.
Built similarly to Juleps, these are drinks with a dominant base liquor (spirit, wine or fortified wine) and sweetening agent (such as a syrup or liqueur), served in glasses filled with crushed ice and fruit garnishes.
Examples: Bramble, Sherry Cobbler.
Duos and Trios
Duos contain a spirit and liqueur. Trios also include cream or a cream-based liqueur. They are typically consumed pre- and post-dinner, respectively.
Examples: Alaska, Rusty Nail, White Russian and the Brandy Alexander.
This family features sweet, dry or white vermouth and vermouth relations, such as Lillet. Regan notes that ‘French’ vermouths (dry and white), typically mix better with light spirits – and ‘Italian’ (sweet and red), with dark spirits.
Examples: Martini, Manhattan, Rob Roy, Vesper, Blood and Sand.
Try to balance a frozen cocktail and you’ll understand why this is a separate category.
Examples: Frozen Margarita, Frozen Daiquiri.
These drinks contain a spirit and carbonate. For ease of classification, we’ve relaxed the 10oz maximum rule and allowed for the addition of fruit juice.
Examples: Pimm’s Cup, Cuba Libre, Screwdriver, Tom Collins, Long Island Iced Tea, Ramos Gin Fizz.
This family combines the Blazer, Mull, Toddy, Nog, Posset – and traditionally the Flip (although they’re today served cold). These beverages are designed to be served warm.
Examples: Blue Blazer, Mulled Wine, Egg-Nog
There’s a richer history than the combination of gelatin and alcohol may imply. Jerry Thomas wrote of multiple recipes in How to Mix Drinks/the Bon-Vivant’s Companion – the first known cocktail book.
Thomas provided a fair warning in 1862 that, “many persons have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper.”
Comprising of muddled fresh mint, sugar and a spirit, these drinks are served over crushed ice into a julep cup.
Examples: Mint Julep.
Drinks that specifically call on Campari or an amaro. They’re often bitter and herbaceous for that reason. The category is named such due to Milan being the birthplace of Campari.
Examples: Milano-Torino, Americano, Negroni.
This category is held together by the process of ‘muddling’.
Examples: Caipirinha, Old Fashioned.
The things that don’t otherwise fit another category.
Meaning ‘Coffee-Pusher’ in French, these after-dinner drinks are ‘built’ by layering liqueurs with varying densities.
Examples: B-52, Slippery Nipple.
Alcohol, juice, sugar, water and spice – there’s debate on its origin but the punch is often considered the oldest cocktail family.
Examples: Fish House Punch, Artillery Punch.
This savoury family houses some timeless classics that often include tomato juice, hot sauce and pepper.
Examples: Bloody Mary, Bullshot, Red Snapper, Ceaser.
This family is tied together by the use of at least a spirit, citrus and sweetener. Regan gets specific with sub-classifications: New Orleans, international, sparkling and squirrel sours.
Examples: Daiquiri, Aviation, Whiskey Sour, Last Word, Side Car, Cosmopolitan, Margarita.
These combine tropical fruits and juices with a base spirit, often rum. Tiki drinks live here.
Examples: Mai Tai, Planters Punch, Hurricane, Zombie, Pina Colada.