Our Cocktail Taxonomy

There is a multitude of ways that cocktails can be categorized according to. Here is one (that is certainly not 100% comprehensive):

TypeBase SpiritOccasionVolumeRatio
Old fashionedGinAperitifLongdrinkEqual parts
RickeyFortified wine

As can be seen, in most cases we need to add a category “other” to a criterion for classification. This is due to the simple fact that in cocktails, endless combinations are possible and, hence, there is an “unconventional” exception to almost any way cocktails can be classified.

In the following, we will describe the single ways of classifying cocktails. This will involve a detailed explanation of all the single categories.

This refers to the basic template of the recipe. For example, all drinks that mainly consist of a base spirit, a sour component (like some citrus juice) and some kind of sugar are refered to as sours. There is quite a number of these categories and many thereof are distinguished from each other by a particular property.
Base spirit
This category distinguishes cocktails by the main spirit in the recipe. Many (not all) cocktails are built around a certain spirit. A very clear example would be the old fashioned cocktail that consists mainly of (bourbon or rye) whisky. Sometimes, the “main spirit” cannot be identified by the volume added to the drink, but because it is the only actual spirit in the recipe. Even in those cases when the only spirit in a recipe is not a dominant ingredient volume-wise, we will refer to it as the “base spirit”. An example for this would be an equal parts Negroni where, according to this, you could still call the gin its base spirit.
Many (again, not all) cocktails can be assigned a certain occasion that they are usually consumed at. Of course, this is a very loose rule, nobody will judge you for having a Negroni after dinner despite it being an aperitif drink. Still, this is a meaningful property with regard to the character of a cocktail, but it is not always applicable.
Phrased in a simple way, this criterion distinguishes between “big”, “small” and “very small” drinks. An alternative way of describing this is actually the glass that is usually used to serve a particular cocktail. Anything drunk from a coupette, a Martini glass, old fashioned glass or tumbler would hence be considered a shortdrink, if drunk from a highball glass or similar, a longdrink.
Similar to the “occasion” criterion, the criterion of ratio cannot always be applied. However, there are certain ratios that occur frequently in cocktail recipes, the most prominent probably being the “equal parts” ratio, followed by the “2/1/1” ratio (i. e. the doubled amount of a spirit, but equal parts of all other ingredients). Most cocktails do not fall into a specific ratio pattern.


The type class is the most important one to describe a cocktail. As mentioned before, it refers to certain groups of cocktails that share a certain pattern in their recipes. The following list should cover a large proportion of the drinks anyone could imagine. Optional ingredients are shown in italics.

Old fashioned: Spirit | Sugar | Water | Bitters
Example: Old fashioned
Martini: Spirit | Fortified wine | Bitters
Examples: Gin Martini, Manhattan
Highball: Spirit | Filler | Modifier (in small quantity)
Examples: Gin and tonic, Dark and Stormy, Scotch and soda
Sour: Spirit | Citrus | Sweetener | Egg white
Examples: Whisky sour, Daiquiri
Sidecar: Spirit | Citrus | Liqueur
Examples: Sidecar, Margarita
Flip: Spirit | Sugar | Whole Egg | Water
Examples: Brandy flip, Port Wine flip
Sling: Spirit | Sugar | Water | Bitters
Examples: Gin sling, Scotch sling
Larger proportion of water than in the old fashioned category
Nog: Spirit | Sugar | Whole egg | Milk/cream
Example: Eggnog
Fizz: Spirit | Citrus | Sugar | Soda | Egg white
Examples: Gin fizz, Rum fizz
Mostly served up
Collins: Spirit | Citrus | Sugar | Soda
Examples: Tom collins, John collins
Mostly served on ice
Rickey: Spirit | Citrus | Soda
Examples: Gin rickey, Bourbon rickey

There are many similarities to be found between some of these categories: While the old fashioned uses (some form of) sugar as a sweetener, drinks in the Martini category contain a fortified wine to achieve sweeter taste. Furthermore, the “collins” and “fizz” categories are very similar in that they are sours with the addition of soda water. A collins usually contains a larger proportion of soda water than a fizz and is served over ice, whereas the fizz is usually served up. The drinks from the “sidecar” category are essentially sours where the sweetener is a liqueur instead of sugar. A nog is a flip with the addition of milk or cream etc. etc. The list goes on and on 🙂

Base spirit

Fortunately, there is not that much to be said about this category. Sometimes, the main ingredient of a drink is (strictly) not a spirit. We will still include this possibility here. The most common are:

Gin, example: Gin Martini
Rum, example: Daiquiri
Vodka, example: Vodka Martini
Whisky, example: Old fashioned
Tequila, example: Margarita
Liqueur, example: Midori sour
Amaro, example: Jägerita
Bitter Aperitif, example: Campari Shakerato
Sparkling wine, examples: Champagne Cocktail, Kir Royale
Bitters, example: Trinidad Sour
Fortified wine, example: Milano Torino

In some cases, it may not be possible to identify a single main ingredient of a drink, e. g. if there are multiple equally prominent ingredients that are added in equal proportions (like the gin and Chartreuse in a Last Word). In this case, all “most important ingredients” should be considered main ingredients.


Cocktails are traditionally consumed on a rather small number of specific occasions:

Aperitif cocktails are meant to prepare the stomach before a meal and stimulate appetite.
Examples: Negroni, Aperol Spritz
Similarly, digestif cocktails are supposed to calm the stomach after a meal. In contrast to the aperitif, there are fewer dedicated digestif cocktails, but rather some cocktails that are also drunk as a digestif.
Example: Manhattan
Dessert cocktail
In contrast to digestif drinks, these are not only consumed after a meal, but they are clearly “liquid dessert”. Dessert cocktails contain rather large proportions of liqueurs and (often) cream.
Examples: Grasshopper, White Russian
Using this term, we will refer to refreshing drinks that are “drinkers, not sippers”.
Examples: Tom Collins, Mojito
Brunch cocktail
Brunch cocktails are very light (i. e. low ABV) and usually based on sparkling wine.
Examples: Bellini, Mimosa
Corpse Reviver / Pick me up
These are the savory drinks that “revive” the body after a long night of drinking cocktails 😉
Examples: Bloody Mary, Red Snapper


This criterion considers the total volume of a cocktail. As this can vary a lot, we will only use three categories that are rather easy to distinguish.

These are “large” drinks, say more than 200 ml. We will use this term only to refer to a drinks volume, not as a synonym for highballs. Longdrinks are served in highball glasses, collins glasses or similar large vessels.
Examples: Mojito, Cuba Libre
For simplicity, we will use this term for all drinks with a volume of under 200 ml that are not shots.
Examples: Negroni, Martini
These are “very small” drinks that could (theoretically) be drunk in one sip, i. e. with a volume not larger than 60 ml.
Examples: Samtkragen, B52


Now this is a rather obvious way of categorizing cocktail recipes, but it does not have a lot of meaning with regard to taste. However, for the sake of completeness, here are the two most common cases:

Equal parts
There are a lot of cocktails where the “traditional” ratio of ingredients is equal parts. In most of those cases, the equal parts recipe is heavily debated, but still common.
Examples: 50/50 Martini, Negroni, Corpse Reviver No. 2
This is a common alteration of equal parts recipes, intending to give the base spirit more room.
Example: Boulevardier
Of course, there are numerous other ratios that might occur in cocktail recipes. As stated before, this criterion is not that important after all 🙂