20 Sweet Cocktails, Ranked Worst To Best

Whether you're newly 21 and hitting the bar scene for the first time or just enjoy indulging your sweet tooth along with your alcohol, sweet-forward cocktails are popular among all ages and levels of drinking experience. Sure, there can be a downside to drinking sweet cocktails — sweetness can overpower more subtle flavors, for one, but using sweetness to play off of the other elements of the cocktail can create a highly balanced, and enjoyable drinking experience.

Sweet cocktails not only pair perfectly with a tropical getaway (whether you're actually at the beach or just manifesting your next vacation) but with embracing the season, by embellishing more alcohol-forward classics like a Christmas-inspired candy cane martini, or an autumnal apple cider hot toddy. This list encompasses more classic choices — all included cocktails have been chosen based on popularity. A variety of vodka, rum, tequila, gin, and whiskey/whisky-based cocktails were selected, and compared using a range of criteria, including creativity and attractiveness.

20. Dirty Shirley

This sugary concoction comes with a heavy dose of childhood nostalgia, as it's the boozy version of a classic Shirley Temple. The iconic beverage was named for the 1930s child star after she was allegedly served the mocktail version at a party.

Although a mix of bubbly lemon lime soda or ginger ale and grenadine cherry syrup makes for a nearly sickeningly sweet beverage for adult taste palates, the addition of vodka adds a bit of balance to the drink, although not enough to rank it higher on this list. It also ranks low for creativity and appearance, although its ease of preparation and simplicity still make it a worthy drink to have in your cocktail wheelhouse. Just don't forget the iconic maraschino cherry on top, and if you're looking to add a new layer of flavor to this classic cocktail, try adding a splash of a different fruit juice.

19. Sex On The Beach

Attention-grabbing name aside, this cocktail has become a colorful classic, for its blend of vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, and orange juice. Although legend says this drink was invented by a Florida bartender vying to win a $1,000 cash prize from a peach schnapps company, the Sex on the Beach cocktail was actually already included in the 1982 "American Bartenders School Guide to Drinks." Regardless of its exact origins, this cocktail skyrocketed to popularity in the 1980s, and decades later, it still makes you feel transported to the beach.

Although its unbalanced, candy-like flavor profile has made it fall out of popularity (and rank low on this list), its bright layers of color and overall visual appeal make it a fun, tropical-inspired drink. If you're looking to elevate this cocktail, try freshly squeezed orange juice to balance out the sweetness and serve in a whiskey tumbler for added elegance.

18. Lemon Drop Martini

This citrusy burst of flavor entered the cocktail scene when it was first served at a San Francisco bar in the 1970s. As the country's first "fern bar," (aptly named for its choice of decorations: plants), amid a time when women were beginning to go to bars themselves, sweeter drinks such as the lemon drop martini became associated with a wave of more women-friendly establishments.

To make this cocktail at home, all you'll need is vodka, Cointreau (an orange-flavored triple sec liqueur), simple syrup, lemon juice, and sugar. An essential addition to the lemon drop is a sugar rim, which while adding to the visual appeal, veers toward overkill on the sweetness factor. But the tartness of the lemon offers a contrast to the sugar, making this a citrusy and photogenic favorite of many bargoers since its inception.

17. Mint Julep

This Southern favorite packs a powerful punch. Nowadays, mint juleps are practically synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, but the history of the mint julep traces back to its first iteration: a combination of brandy, water, sugar, and mint. In the 1820s, the addition of crushed ice upgraded the refreshing cocktail, which soon became associated with Black bartenders in both the North and South. After the Civil War, whiskey and bourbon took brandy's place, softening the cocktail's overpowering taste.

Although the sweet but spirit-forward cocktail's popularity waned by the early 1900s, it has since made a steady comeback. Its incorporation of mint syrup adds a layer of sweetness to this summery cocktail, but it can be difficult to get the proportions of this drink right, particularly when overwhelmed with crushed ice.

16. French Martini

Part of what makes the classic French martini shine is its simplicity. All it requires is a high-quality vodka, pineapple juice, and a splash of Chambord, which is a spiced liqueur made of black raspberry flavor and cognac with French origins, hence the name "French martini."

Created in New York City in the 1980s, this pink-hued cocktail is even credited with inspiring the flavored martini fad of the '90s, if that is any indicator of its deliciousness and popularity. Add a couple of raspberries or a slice of pineapple as a garnish, and you'll have a sophisticated drink that despite its sweetness, remains spirit-forward and light, with a touch of creaminess and frothiness from the vigorously shaken pineapple juice. Try substituting añejo tequila to the berry flavors, or add gin and vermouth to the original recipe to make it a true martini. Alternatively, top with Prosecco for a bubbly variation.

15. Irish Coffee

While sweet drinks are typically associated with summer and faraway destinations, we would be remiss if we didn't mention a cozy, wintery option, the Irish coffee. In 1942, a plane heading to New York from Limerick, Ireland had to turn back due to harsh winter weather, which is when a young Irish chef at the airport's restaurant, Joe Sheridan whipped up Irish coffees for the passengers. The drink gained international appeal soon after when a travel writer, Stanton Delaplane, introduced the cocktail to a bartender in San Francisco.

Brown sugar and whipped heavy cream sweeten up this whiskey-based beverage, but they also add weight, making this drink one of the less versatile and easy-to-make options here. To make a perfect Irish coffee, make sure to use fresh coffee to avoid a burnt taste, and allow the whipped cream to melt into the hot drink without stirring.

14. Dark And Stormy

Our next pick is a Moscow mule's sweeter, rum-based version that originated in Bermuda after World War I. Its sweetness is matched by the bite of ginger, and its warming quality makes it a perfect drink to enjoy during cooler autumn or winter evenings.

The dark and stormy cocktail calls for minimal ingredients: dark rum and ginger beer, although if you want to get technical, legally a Dark and Stormy (or Dark 'N' Stormy) requires the use of Gosling's Black Sea rum. But if you're making this at home, feel free to swap out any dark rum you have on hand. That, plus lime and Angostura bitters, which while not required can add a delicious depth of flavor, make for a comforting and effortlessly easy cocktail, albeit not particularly creative or visually appealing.

13. Miami Vice

This frozen cocktail is an ode to both a piña colada as well as a strawberry daiquiri — featuring rum, strawberries, cream of coconut, and pineapple juice. Named after the '80s hit cop show (which like the drink, featured a flashy, colorful style), each portion is blended separately, and when layered on top of each other in a hurricane glass, becomes an aesthetically pleasing cocktail that achieves a balance of sweetness and tartness.

Created amid a frozen drink boom, the Miami Vice is a little more complicated to make nowadays without a frozen drink machine at hand, as it involves two separate blending processes. So although this cocktail offers a burst of tropical flavor, the effort involved in its preparation holds it back from holding a higher spot.

12. Mojito

This pleasant summer staple utilizes lime, mint, white rum, sugar, and soda water. Although the exact origins of this cocktail are unclear, most references point to the arrival of Francis Drake, a 16th-century English explorer, in Cuba. While some claim that the beverage was invented by his soldiers and locals alike as a remedy for sickness, others say that the drink was created in celebration after Drake quickly left Cuba. Either way, the cocktail soon gained wide appeal, and became a worldwide favorite, catching the attention of prominent figures like Ernest Hemingway.

Although classic mojitos involve some effort due to their muddled mint leaves, mojitos strike an ideal balance between being spirit-forward while still light and sweet. If you want to add on an extra dose of sweetness, this cocktail lends itself well to cream of coconut, or fruits like strawberry, pineapple, or even watermelon.

11. Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri

Created in the small town of Daiquirí, Cuba in the late 1800s, the traditional version of this cocktail is a far cry from the syrupy, sweet version often found in tiki clubs and hotel bars. While traditional daiquiris just use three simple ingredients: rum, lime juice, and sugar, the evolution was steady — in 1920s Havana, daiquiris started using shaved ice, ushering in the popularity of its frozen, slushy-like rendition. Then, the 1980s saw a boom of sugar-infused cocktails bearing the original name.

Nowadays, strawberries are commonly incorporated to add more sweetness. Frozen strawberries over fresh will achieve that thick, frothy texture that you look for with this poolside cocktail. Simply blend the ingredients with ice, or use a cocktail shaker for a cocktail that's both sweet and tart — still reminiscent of its roots but geared toward a more sugar-inclined palate.

10. Bee's Knees

This Prohibition-era cocktail has stood the test of time. Appropriately named for the old-timey expression meaning "the best," its combination of gin, lemon juice, and honey is simple and not overly sweet, with flavors that pair well with each other while amplifying gin's citrusy, floral notes.

Credited to Austrian bartender Frank Meier, who worked at the Hôtel Ritz Paris in the 1920s, as well as to socialite Margaret Brown, (otherwise known as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" after surviving the Titanic sinking) — the use of a honey syrup instead of regular sugar adds richness. Make it by combining ½ cup of honey and ½ cup of water over medium heat, stirring until the honey is dissolved. There's a reason this sweet honey-gin cocktail has continued to make a splash since its Prohibition origins, ranking highly for the balance of flavor and ease of preparation.

9. Strawberry Margarita

While a classic margarita is more spirit-forward and sour, the addition of strawberries creates a more approachable cocktail. The added pop of sweetness from strawberries and subtle tartness from fresh lime juice make this margarita variation an in-demand option.

For a refreshing frozen strawberry margarita, frozen strawberries create a thicker, restaurant-quality texture, and utilize Cointreau (or a comparable orange liqueur like Grand Marnier) as well as honey, agave, or simple syrup. But serving this drink on the rocks is just as delicious, and if you don't have a blender, try making a strawberry simple syrup or simply muddling the strawberries at the bottom of a cocktail shaker.

This drink rates highly for a balance of flavor, visual appeal, and creativity, with an added bonus of versatility. Try exchanging tequila for mezcal to add smokiness, or swapping strawberries for blackberries, pineapples, or mangos.

8. Penicillin

One of the newer drinks on this list is the Penicillin, a scotch-based cocktail uplifted with fresh lemon and homemade honey-ginger syrup. This drink has sweetness, bite, and a hint of smokiness, making this a highly balanced drink and fixture in the artisanal cocktail renaissance since it was created by bartender Sam Ross in the mid-2000s. The Penicillin cocktail is unique due to its incorporation of two types of scotch: a blended variety within the cocktail, plus a peaty scotch, Islay malt, floated on top, which has a mossy flavor and aromatic quality and is a node to the discovery of the drink's namesake, the antibiotic Penicillin.

This cocktail ranks highly for creativity, balance of flavor, and appearance, although its use of homemade honey ginger syrup adds complexity to the drink-making process — a step that can be simplified by muddling ginger and then incorporating honey. You'll still get the right amount of zing from the ginger without the extra effort.

7. Piña Colada

Few drinks are quite as iconic as the piña colada, a tropical oasis in a drink born in 1954 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, thanks to bartender Ramón "Monchito" Marrero. Despite the cultural phenomenon that this cocktail has become, it's deceptively simple — just rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice make up this cool and refreshing summer beverage.

Piña coladas are so fruity, sweet, and delicious, that you'd even want to sip it without the alcohol, but its heaviness can be a deterrent. It's creamy, tropical, and best served icy and not too frozen, almost replicating the texture of a milkshake. The slight tartness of the pineapple is balanced by the coconut cream. While piña coladas are versatile and would be delicious with any choice of rum, a gold, aged rum offers complexity and contrast to the sweetness of this cocktail.

6. Cosmopolitan

A classic cosmopolitan cocktail, or a "cosmo" for short, is another drink that's reached iconic status, partially thanks to "Sex and the City" fame, but also to its own credit, as it's a delightfully sweet, punchy, and aesthetically pleasing cocktail. As unique flavored martinis sprung up in the late '80s into early '90s, the cosmopolitan made a splash while leading the modern cocktail scene. Although the trendiness has worn off, there's no doubt that cosmopolitans top cocktail lists when it comes to name recognition, and they are still a sought-after choice for bar-goers across the world.

Another cocktail lauded for its simplicity, all it takes to channel your inner Carrie Bradshaw is citrus-flavored vodka, cranberry juice, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and finally, an orange twist to garnish. If you're looking to switch up this classic, try topping with Champagne for an added bubbly effect, or swapping vodka with tequila for a bold twist.

5. Saturn

The recent craft cocktail revival brought back this tiki drink first developed by bartender J. "PoPo" Galsini back in 1967. Unlike most tiki cocktails, the Saturn utilizes gin instead of rum, plus quintessential tiki ingredients such as lemon, passion fruit juice or puree, orgeat syrup (made from almonds and sugar), and falernum, which also contains notes of almond and spices. The end result is sweet, fruity, tart, nutty, and slightly bitter from the gin, making for a deliciously balanced, flavorful, and visually appealing beverage. The Saturn is typically served as a blended drink, but can also be poured over crushed ice, and is always served with a lemon twist wrapped around a cherry, a nod to its planetary namesake.

This cocktail ranks highly for creativity, balance of flavor, and visual presentation. Its range of ingredients can be tricky to balance for an unseasoned home bartender, but still very much worth a try.

4. Bay Breeze

Another drink appreciated for its simplicity, vibrancy, and of course, deliciously sweet taste, is the Bay Breeze. With just vodka, cranberry juice, and pineapple juice, this cocktail rose to popularity in the '70s and '80s, quickly becoming associated with beach culture and tiki bars, along with the sea breeze, which incorporates grapefruit rather than pineapple for a more tart, sour punch.

The bay breeze is also lauded for its versatility. Coconut rum can also be substituted for vodka to channel even more summertime vibes, and a splash of lime can add a citrusy flavor. This fruity drink rates highly for its balance of flavors, ease of preparation, creativity, and visual appeal — and is an all-around winner, whether it's for sipping poolside, livening up a party, or enjoying a meal.

3. Tequila Sunrise

This summertime favorite, believe it or not, comes with a rock 'n' roll history — although originally invented in the 1930s, it was popularized in the early 1970s by rock legends the Rolling Stones, going on to increase liquor sales and even become immortalized in the Eagles' Top 40 hit "Tequila Sunrise."

Although revered for its layers of tropical colors, the real beauty of this drink is that it only requires three ingredients: tequila blanco, orange juice, and grenadine for a delicious and vibrant cocktail. Plus, no shaker or mixing glass is needed, meaning the tequila sunrise cocktail brings maximum easiness along with maximum flavor. Just make sure to pour the grenadine last so that it sinks to the bottom, giving you that coveted red-to-orange gradient. And if you're looking to sweeten it up even more, splash blood orange juice into your tequila sunrise rather than traditional orange juice.

2. Last Word

The Last Word is another inventive cocktail stemming from the pre-Prohibition era. Although it has sprung back into popularity and is popping up around cocktail bars around the globe, it still remains a vastly underrated beverage. Green chartreuse, gin, lime juice, and maraschino liqueur make for a sweet, tangy, herbaceous, citrusy cocktail, that is boozy and most importantly, balanced.

Despite the near-perfection of the classic drink, there are endless variations of the Last Word cocktail you have to try — Pete's word, for instance, opts for whisky instead of gin, while the other word cocktail swaps gin for the mezcal and green chartreuse for yellow chartreuse, adding both smokiness and softness to the cocktail. Whether you stick with the classic or go for a variation, you'll find that this cocktail is full of depth of flavor, creative, and simple to make.

1. French 75

No. 1 on this list is the only and only French 75. Bubbly, lemony, and effortlessly elegant, this celebratory cocktail pulls together gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and champagne.

Despite this drink's sweet disposition, its name has a rather bizarre origin story. Its earliest iteration was created in 1915 and was named for the rapid-firing 75-millimeter field gun used by the French during World War I. However, it was a little different from today's version and included dry gin, applejack brandy, grenadine, and lemon juice. The French 75 of today was created in 1927 and is now served in Champagne flutes, making it a worthy brunch cocktail instead of mimosas, or as a festive beverage to serve with dinner. The only element of a French 75 cocktail that requires a bit of effort is the simple syrup, but otherwise, it is remarkably simple, along with citrusy, herbaceous, delightfully effervescent, and, of course, sweet.


For this ranking of classic sweet cocktails, drinks were selected due to popularity — based on years of serving cocktails as a waitress, as well as frequenting cocktail bars myself. Criteria for ranking included a balance of flavors, creativity, appearance, and ease of preparation.