The World’s Best-Selling Classic Cocktails 2021

07 January, 2021

We asked our sample of 100 of the best bars in the world to rank their bestselling classic cocktails. Hamish Smith provides the commentary. 

50. Jungle Bird 

A 1970s gtropical drink from the Aviary bar in Kuala Lumpur, the Jungle Bird is made with rum, Campari, lime and pineapple juice and sugar. Back after making its debut in this list in 2019, the Jungle Bird combines two worlds –tropical cocktails and Italian bitter liqueur. Sometimes the twain shall meet.

49. Long Island Iced Tea 

Oh dear. The Long Island Iced Tea is back again. Little is known about the origins of this dastardly concoction,but one finger is pointed at Robert ‘Rosebud’ Butt from the Oak Beach Inn, Long Island. The recipe is essentially a ‘messy pint’ of spirits. It has to be assumed the world’s best bars have found a way to refine it.

48. Gin Gin Mule

This legacy drink of Audrey Saunders’ now-closed New York bar Pegu Club, is among a small number of modernday cocktails considered a classic. The drink is so named because of the ginger and gin and is kind of like a refined Moscow Mule – but with superior kick from muddled ginger.

47. White Lady

Harry Craddock is said to have made the White Lady for F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. At the American Bar, it’s still a must-order. That venue’s recipe sees gin, dry orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice and a dash of egg white. A famous classic, which you’d expect to be higher ranked than 47th.

46: El Diablo

Not a lot is known about El Diablo, but its first cocktail book mentions seem to cluster around the 1940s. We can tell you it’s a devilish mix of tequila, crème de cassis, lime and ginger beer. At the world’s best it endures, at least in a handful of bars. It’s back in our list for the first time since 2015.

45. Cosmopolitan

The days of the Cosmo as the bartender’s piñata are over. You sometimes even see crafted spinson this drink, but mostly there’s indifference. If you need reminding, it’s vodka, triple sec, cranberry and lime. Now we’re through our serious phase, it’s not such a bad drink after all.

44. Zombie

The drink of the living dead rises – it’s not been in this list of classics since 2018. The recipe is simple. Pour the contents of your bar’s rum collection into a large glass along with apricot brandy, lime and pineapple juice. Refined versions are available – but you’ll need a lot of rum.

43. Hanky Panky

Ada Coleman of the Savoy’s American Bar made this drink for an actor. Draining the glass, he remarked:“By Jove! That is the real hankypanky!’”And Hanky Panky it has been called ever since. 100 years on theHanky Panky is still driving guests to exclamation at the world’s best bars.

42. Vodka Martini

The preference is normally gin in the Martini and has been this side of the cocktail renaissance, but the Vodka Martini (also goes by Kangaroo and Vodkatini) is still a routine order in the world’s best bars. Go for a vodka with muscle – with only vermouth for company, the spirit has nowhere to hide.

41. Caipirinha

Up one is Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha. In recent years the availability of high-quality cachaça has increased outside of Brazil and this has certainly boosted the craft credentials of this mint-less, squat Mojito, even if tends to play second fiddle to the Cuban classic.

40. Tom Collins

This refreshing long gin sour is all about good lemons – for the gin element, well, purists reckon Old Tom, while everyone else goes for speed rail London Dry. Such a simple drink, there is the gamut of spirit twists, but the original is the best – after all, it’s gin and lemonade.

39. Bamboo

A rich yet low-abv vinous cocktail which doesn’t miss the spirit, the Bamboo isup seven places this year. The stories behind the origins range from songs about bamboo to bartenders in Japan… Anyway, it’s equal parts sherry and vermouth, two dashes Angostura bitters, two dashes orange bitters.

38. Tommy’s Margarita

This judicious twist on the Margarita by Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s in San Francisco has become the Margaritarecipe for many bars in the high-end trade. Bermejo’s twist sees 100% agave tequila, plus fresh lime juice and agave syrup.

37. Last Word

In the list for a second time, this gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino and lime gem was first published in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up. Lost for half a century, it was repopularised in 2004 at Zig Zag Café in Seattle and has been back in bartenders’ repertoire ever since.

36. Irish Coffee

If the Espresso Martini has gone mainstream, the Irish Coff ee was mainstream, fell away, and is now back again. Dead Rabbit’s recipe – Irish whiskey, Demerara syrup, hot brewed coffee and heavy cream, lightly whipped – is probably the best, though Swift and Homeboy in London do excellent renditions.

35. Aviation

Losing altitude in the ranking this year – 15 places – is the Aviation. The recipe first appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, where crème de violette provided an extra floral dimension. This point of difference, the crème de violette, is the reason people love it, and hate it.

34. Sidecar

This famous cognac, triple sec and lemon sour is normally the top brandy drink, but even the Brandy Crusta has pipped it this year. It’s said to have Parisian roots but the original creator has never come forward – or at least not in the singular.

33. Pornstar Martini

This passion fruit and vanilla vodka cocktail (with bubbles on the side), invented by Douglas Ankrah at LAB in London in 2002, is a pop hit which occasionally gets some airplay in the world’s best bars too. The customer is always right.

32. Piña Colada

The Piña Colada is no longer the ’70s kitsch classic – reborn it is, in a number of guises. Classically rum, pineapple and coconut, Chris Moore’s Champagne Piña Colada has been the most memorable of recent years. It’s white rum, Trois Rivières Blanc, pineapple, coconut sorbet and champagne.

31. Bellini

Invented by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, this peachy number started off as a seasonal serve, but eventually became a permanent fixture on the menu in both Venice and New York. After an absence last year, it’s back in season.

30. Brandy Crusta

Built around cognac, triple sec, maraschino and lemon, to look at, it could be any cocktail– until the half lemon is wedged into the top of the glass, acting as a sort of hat and filter for its contents. Last appearing in 2015, the Crusta is unexpectedly back in what has been an unexpected year.

29. Bramble

Another from the cocktail canon of Dick Bradsell is the Bramble, which is still a presence in the world’s best bars today. Bramble, the Edinburgh stalwart bar of the same name, calls for London Dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Merlet Crème de Mures. Up 11 places this year.

28. Gin Fizz

The Gin Fizz has regained a little of its sparkle, jumping two places. ‘Fizz’ was first referenced in the Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide 1887 edition, which included six recipes – this is the most famous. Simply, it’s gin, lemon juice and sugar, topped with carbonated water.

27. Rum Old Fashioned

Up 10, this spun Old Fashioned is the classic of the aged-rum drinker. Use two parts aged rum, two dashes Angostura bitters, one splash water, one or two teaspoons sugar, ice and garnish with an orange peel. You’ll find this being served regularly in 10% of the world’s best bars.

26. Amaretto Sour

An occasional sighting in their bars, say our respondents, the Amaretto Sour is still a regular feature of 10% of those we polled. The recipe? It’s two shots of amaretto, lemon juice and egg white, while Angostura bitters is optional. If that’s too sweet, make adjustments.

25. Americano

The Americano is a Negroni for restrained Italians and mindful millennials. Simply sub the gin for soda in your Negroni spec and you have it, once again the 25th most popular classic, says our poll. In 12% of bars it was part of the top-10 repertoire.

24. Vieux Carré

Invented by Walter Bergeron, head bartender at the now Hotel Monteleone bar in New Orleans (incidentally not the best place to buy one) the Vieux Carré is American whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s. Up 10 places this year.

23. Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour, the 1920s Peruvian cocktail, which found international fame in San Francisco, is a mix of Peruvian pisco and American sour. This year the luscious combination climbs five places and is a top-10 classic at almost 15% of bars.

22. Paloma

In its undies the Paloma is a two-piece tequila-grapefruit combination. But with freshly squeezed grapefruit, lime juice and agave syrup, topped with grapefruit soda, it really takes flight. This year it scales 14 places – it was found to be a top-10 classic in just under 15% of bars.

21. French 75

Down four, the French 75 was created by Harry MacElhone in what became Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, documented by The Savoy Cocktail Book and popularised in the Stork Club, New York. It’s adopted home is Arnaud’s in New Orleans. In short: gin, lemon and champagne are a tasty trio.

20. Sazerac

This boozy libation is a top-10 classic in 15% of polled bars. Purists use cognac and so did bartenders in the 1850s, until phylloxera ravaged French vineyards and the American Civil War made importing spirits less important. So, whiskey, rimmed with absinthe – no more than three to remain sensible.

19. Mai Tai

This kitsch titan of the tropical canon climbs four places this year – like most tiki drinks, it’s enjoyed by bartenders in their less serious moments. This year 15% of polled bars had the rum, orgeat, lime and curaçao classic among their regular roster of classics.

18. Boulevardier

Down three, this Negroni with bourbon was created by Erskine Gwynne, an American writer in the 1920s, and named after a Parisian monthly magazine. The Boulevardier is still on the regular roll call in 16% of our polled bars. Though blasphemy, some think it’s an improvement on the Negroni.

17. Clover Club

Up a notch for 2021, this gin, lemon, vermouth and raspberry gin classic has been around since pre-Prohibition and was named after a men’s club in Philadelphia. Feverishly popular in its heyday, it’s still doing good business today – indeed, 6% of our polled bars put it among their top-two sellers.

16. Corpse Reviver

Harry Craddock’s Corpse Reviver has risen, not quite from the dead, but eight places this year. The original recipe, known as Corpse Reviver #1, uses cognac, calvados, brandy and vermouth and Craddock recommends you drink one before 11am. But then, he is dead.

15. Dark ’n’ Stormy

This Bermuda-originated highball is rum’s Moscow Mule. The story goes that British seafarers brought the ginger beer and local distiller Gosling met them with the rum. They threw in some lime, and there you have it, the Dark ’n’ Stormy. Great for those with beards and tats on and off land.

14. Penicillin

Invented by ex-Milk & Honey bartender now Attaboy owner Sam Ross, the Penicillin is the most popular scotch cocktail at top bars. Made with scotch, lemon, honey-ginger syrup and peated scotch, it was a top-10 classic in 20% of polled bars. It’s medicine for any mood.

13. Moscow Mule

Up two places, the Moscow Mule is an easy-to-sling crowd pleaser and present as a top-10 drink in around 20% of our sample of the world’s best bars. It’s as simple as vodka, lime, ginger and soda – great for hot days or, for the bartender, bulk orders on busy nights.

12. Gimlet

This gin-and-lime favourite retains its 12th spot, with a fifth of bars naming it among their 10 most-served classics. The ratio was originally 50/50 ginto- lime cordial, but that was when people didn’t have teeth. Try favouring the spirit and use fresh lime, à la the Daiquiri.

11. Bloody Mary

This tomato and vodka long drink offers one of the few opportunities to drink in the morning respectably. It is among the top-10 selling classics in more than a quarter of bars we polled. If you are in crawling distance of the Connaught, London, its Bloody Mary is legendary.

10. Mojito

Cuban icon the Mojito is hardly en vogue, but maintains a steely presence in cocktail bars (bartenders may hate muddling mint, but consumers quite like the result). The white rum, lime and mint long drink is a top-10 classic in about a quarter of our sample of the world’s best bars.

9. Aperol Spritz

Up one is the Aperol Spritz. Just under 30% of bars named it in their top 10 – a sign of the spritz-loving times we live in. Created by the Barbieri brothers in the 1900s, Aperol is obviously the key to this mix, which includes prosecco and a splash of soda. Daytime drinking is where the Aperol Spritz is most at home.

8. Manhattan

It’s eighth again for the whiskey classic, the Manhattan, with 36% of polled bars making it among their top 10. This rye (and sometimes bourbon) and vermouth veteran mix may play second fiddle to the Old Fashioned in the whiskey cocktail stakes but it was still among the top-three classics in more than 10% of bars.

7. Whiskey Sour

Down a couple of places, this old timer comprising American whiskey and lemon was first published in Jerry Thomas’s book How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion in 1862. This isn’t too many bars’ top serve but was a top-10 classic in 40% of bars polled.

6. Espresso Martini

Now an established member of the top 10, Dick Bradsell’s vodka-coffee cocktail, infamously made for a customer to ‘wake her up and fuck her up’, retains sixth spot. It’s a top-10 serve in almost 40% of polled bars, and the number one classic in 5%.

5. Margarita

Up two places on last year, the Margarita is tequila’s flagbearer. Very few of our sample made this tequilalime- triple sec cocktail their top classic, but it’s among the top five drinks in 17% and top 10 in 46% of cases. If we hadn’t split out the votes for the Tommy’s Margarita, it’d be a place higher.

4. Dry Martini

The purist’s gin cocktail, the Dry Martini, completes a static top four this year. This boozy yet refined gin-vermouth classic was among the top five in just under a quarter of our polled bars, while just under half said it figured in their top 10.

3. Daiquiri

The Daiquiri is once again on the podium and the top rum tipple. Rarely the number one cocktail in a bar (only 3% said it was the top seller) this Cuban white rum and lime classic was among the two most likely served in almost of a third of venues polled.

2. Negroni

Seven years and seven runner-up positions for this Campari-ginsweet vermouth Italian classic. It’s made ground though, with 22% of respondents making it their most likely serve (up from 13% last year). As gin’s reach broadens, so does the Negroni’s. It could yet top this list.

1. Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned retains its throne – it’s been king cocktail for the seven years we’ve polled on classics. Though for the first time, succession looks plausible. This year only 23% of bars said the sweetened American whiskey drink was their top seller, down from 35% last year.

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