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Categories of drinks

This topic is rather for the pro's for us. It is pretty controversial - and it is rather important when you teach. I believe though, that drinks categories are also important, when it comes to understand drinks and drinks culture - and to memorize many drinks - what you categorize you will remember...

Let me be frank. Through more than 2 decades I found that below categories make sense. It is not the answer to anything - and I don't claim that. At the end it is a theorem, which depends on your views (but also off priorities and cocktail history).

First shocker: cocktails are short drinks! Always. 
We are not discussing here what average Joe (and Jane) are calling cocktails. This is about people who have an insight into drinks. No Piña Coladas and Mojitos are no cocktails. Neither are frozen drinks.
The Cocktail Evolutionary Tree

We can further consider categories as an evolutionary tree. There are "living fossils" being still created (and going strong) - for example the Old Fashioned Cocktail. Like in "real evolution", these drinks defying further categorization, as they came before further specialization. Other drinks (categories) have a common ancestor - at times hidden or lost.

The Cocktail Evolutionary Tree

Above you can see the most basic tree - extremely simplified. There are no sours (are sours cocktails? Maybe medium cocktails), or daisies (...) listed. 
There are also no (Italian) aperitifs listed, which kinda appeared without relation to previous drinks. 
But it should be quite straight forward to understand: the 1806 cocktail was basically an Old Fashioned (interesting enough, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Old Fashioned, was not "old" at all - but was a new drink. Only when "fancy cocktails" appeared, which basically utilized ingredients like curaçao, maraschino and other ingredients like wine aperitifs, people referred to the original cocktail as "Old Fashioned"). Dry Cocktails appeared pretty soon, with the popularization of wine aperitifs (especially vermouth) in the middle of the 19th century. Medium drinks appeared rather in the early 20th century - while sweet cocktails appeared much later toward the middle of the 20th century.

This evolution tree deals with the chronological appearance but also "connection" between drinks. 
This is though only the half truth. It is very important to understand what defines the respective drink:

  • Old Fashioned Cocktail
    • Taste characterizes the spirit used - however smoothened out (more palatable), "longer" than the spirit itself.
    • Contains:
      • (Oak aged) spirit
      • Rather straight forward sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup) 
      • Bitters
      • Water from dilution
      • Served in a Whiskey Tumbler (Old Fashioned glass)
      • Served on the rocks.
    • Doesn't contain
      • Flavorings (e.g. syrups, liqueurs etc)
      • Dairy
      • Juices, purees, fruits (except of peels)
  • Dry Cocktails
    • Aperitif / cocktail hour drinks. Character still focuses mainly on its main spirit - only slightly modified by a wine aperitif or rarely cordial. Served "up" in a cocktail glass.
    • Contains:
      • Spirit
      • Wine aperitif (mostly vermouth) - most likely
      • Bitters (likely)
      • Cordials (rarely)
    • Doesn't contain
      • Fruits
      • Liqueurs
      • Syrups, fruits
  • Medium Cocktails
    • Entertainment drinks - at times also used as Aperitifs - characterized by their medium focus on their used spirit - but also their sweet & sour palate. Served up in a cocktail coupe
    • Contains:
      • Spirit
      • Citrus juice
      • Liqueur or syrup
    • Doesn't contain:
      • Other fruits (filler juice)
      • Dairy
      • Vermouth (mostly)
  • Sweet Cocktails
    • Mostly entertainment drinks and digestifs - characterized by their heavily modified palate.
    • Two type of sweet cocktails prevail: one mostly with 2 (or occasionally 3) ingredients built on the rocks - the other one mostly made with cream, shaken and served in a cocktail coupe.
    • Contains: 
      • Spirit
      • Liqueur
      • Cream (optional)
    • Doesn't contain:
      • Wine aperitifs
      • Fruit
      • Sour citrus juice

This is just the first step on the blog, to dive into topic of categories. Definitely there is far more to come.

How would you categorize "cocktails"? Are Sours cocktails or are they in their own group?

Please comment below!


  1. Sours should be included in the cocktail family just like sweet & dry. And can you explain the reasoning behind "Mojito is not a cocktail" ?


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