The World’s Best-Selling Classic Cocktails 2018

31 January, 2018

Hamish Smith takes the pulse of the top bars to discover which classics will be feeding into the mainstream

While the global bar industry continues to stride fourth, ever innovating, ever finding new flavours and ways to combine them, the foundation that is classic cocktails endures. They are the building blocks of the understanding of cocktails and therefore occupy a hallowed place in bartenders’ hearts. Indeed, many of their creations are embellishments on classical form.

There’s always speculation surrounding the classics that are popular at a given moment. For example, anecdotally, the Espresso Martini is on-trend, but our poll found it to be only the ninth most popular among the elite – it pales in comparison to the ubiquitous Old Fashioned. So, with this poll of our sample of the world’s best bars, we aim to find out with a little more certainty which classics top bartenders are making most right now.

We asked our 106 bars to rank their top 10 best-selling classics (giving each vote an incremental ranking to represent volume). Some of these drinks adhere to the original recipe, others will be twisted, but we take the view that, if it is sold as a Daiquiri, it is a Daiquiri.

What happens here among bar-world influencers trickles down to the mainstream. The average Joe didn’t just one day suddenly decide that he had a penchant for Negronis – it’s a process. So producers might take note – these classic cocktails have the power to propel both brand and category. Now for the ranking.


50. Cuba Libre

When is a rum & cola a cocktail? When it has some lime added. The Cuba Libre may not be the most complex creation, but the customer is always right. Indeed, in a busy bar, an order of Cuba Libres is sometimes quite helpful, if not for the bar’s street cred. Alternative premium colas are starting to find their way into the drink, which will commonly be made with the house-pour rum. The Cuba Libre only just makes the list, at the expense of Pegu Club, Bamboo, Rusty Nail and Kir Royal – oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

49. Sangria

This Iberian punch is another debutante in the World’s 50 Best Classic Cocktails. Traditionally we are talking red wine, fruit, orange juice and, if you’re lucky, brandy – though even the most rustic drinks can be reimagined. Indeed, among those to make their own Sangria are two of Taipei’s top bars. In short, they are refined versions of this famous holiday punch.

48. Brandy Julep

Absent last year, the Brandy Julep has re-emerged. This famous old cocktail’s issue is that it’s now not the coolest Julep in town. But, back when Americans looked to Europeans for drinking council, Juleps were more sophisticated with brandy not whiskey. The original to many, including brandy producers, is very much the best.

47. Paloma

This Mexican two-piece grapefruit and tequila drink is often seen with more complex riffs. Freshly squeezed grapefruit, lime juice and agave syrup, topped with grapefruit soda really make the drink take flight. The Paloma is the second most popular tequila classic on our list, even though it is down 13 places this year.

46. Hanky Panky

The Hanky Panky is a real classic, invented by the legendary Ada Coleman at the Savoy’s American Bar. Coleman tells the story of how she invented the drink for actor Charles Hawtrey, one of the “best cocktail judges” she knew. She said: “He sipped it and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky Panky it has been called ever since.” The Hanky Panky is still driving posh men to exclamation 100 years on at The American Bar – now the world’s best bar.

45. Black Russian

We’re at number 45 and we have our first debut cocktail in the list – it goes to show that, in the world of classic cocktails, things move slowly. In the event it’s at the expense of its sister the White Russian. Kaluah (other coffee liqueurs are available) won’t be too bothered, as it features in both. The Black Russian is vodka and coffee liqueur – essentially a White Russian without the cream. Cream really is getting it from all corners.

44. Caipirinha

After what was a busy few years for Brand Brazil (the country hosted both the World Cup and Olympics) it’s back down to earth for the Caipirinha – it has dropped from 25th. Now it looks like the Caipirinha will never be the next Mojito. It’s still a solid cocktail if you make it as the Brazilians do – strong, with lots of cachaça, sugar and lime. Muddle in a strong glass to avoid a fourth ingredient.

43. White Lady

The White Lady returns, having last been seen in this exact spot two years ago. Harry Craddock is said to have made it for F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. They still do good White Lady business at the American, where Bombay Sapphire, dry orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice and a dash of egg white are the favoured ingredients.

42. Clover Club

It’s dropped from 29 but the Clover Club is an ever-present in the 50 Classics list. This pink pre-Prohibition drink is the child of Philadelphia but today can be found in cities around the world. Julie Reiner’s bar Clover Club – which is a five-time member of the World’s 50 Best Bars – is, of course, named after the drink. The Brooklyn bar uses gin, dry vermouth, raspberry, lemon juice and egg white.

41. Bramble

Another neo-classic from Dick Bradsell, the Bramble is a mix of blackcurrant and gin. Edinburgh hotspot and World’s 50 Best Bars stalwart, Bramble – which is named after the drink – opts for Hayman’s London Dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Merlet Crème de Mures. Down four from last year but one of the most famous good drinks invented in the ’80s.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.