16 Cocktails You Should Order With Well Liquor

Most experienced drinkers will tell you to never opt for anything made with well liquor — known as a "well drink" — and go for a cocktail made with a quality liquor brand instead. After all, well liquor is generally known for being low value. A lot of customers will either opt for "call liquor", which is mid-range, or top-shelf liquor, so named because it's generally placed on a bar's top shelf (thanks to the fact that it's rarely used) and known for being quite expensive.

Well liquor is named after the "well" of the bar, which is the area underneath the bar counter that's meant to be easy for bartenders to grab. Generally, when you order a mixed drink or cocktail and don't ask for a brand of alcohol by name (for example, a Jack and Coke), you're going to get the relatively affordable but perhaps not top quality well liquors.

However, despite their reputation, well liquors actually work quite well for some pretty popular cocktails, and are sometimes even preferred. Using a combination of recommendations from experienced bartenders, online research, and personal experience with cocktails, we put together a list of drinks you should always get with well liquor.

Moscow mule

Perhaps most famous for the distinctive copper mugs they tend to be served in, Moscow mules actually work quite nicely with well liquor thanks to the bold flavors of the other ingredients mixed into this cocktail. The ginger beer, sugar, mint, and lime give the Moscow mule a big kick with a combination of sweet, sour, and slightly spicy ingredients. Ginger beer is a drink brewed and fermented from ginger extract, and it's this spice that gives the end result a peppery and somewhat herbal taste.

Because of the pronounced flavors of these ingredients, you should always opt for well liquor with a Moscow mule. Since you can barely discern the vodka flavor in the finished product, ordering anything more expensive is a waste. Not to mention, vodka is such a subtly flavored liquor in the first place that most people taste its alcohol content rather than any particular flavoring. At the end of the day, the vodka in a Moscow mule is mostly there to give you a buzz.

Cuba libre

The Cuba libre is a combination of two simple ingredients: rum and Coca-Cola. That's why it's very commonly referred to as a rum and coke. Bartenders started making the drink during World War II, when sugar was strictly rationed and the U.S.' favorite soda became a good way to sweeten rum cocktails.

However, the drink was also originally made with Cuban rum, which is not available in the United States today. At the same time, Coca-Cola cannot be found anywhere in Cuba due to the U.S.-Cuba embargo. Which means that if you want to make a Cuba libre the authentic way, no matter where you are in the world, you may be out of luck. However, most bartenders simply use another Caribbean rum instead.

The sugary sweet taste and fizzy feel of the Coca-Cola blend beautifully with well rum, meaning you don't have to splurge on a top-shelf brand to make a great cocktail. If you want some extra flavor in your Cuba libre as well as a fresh twist, try asking for a lime wedge and squeezing a little bit of its juice into your drink.

Gin and tonic

The slight bitterness and citrus-like kick of tonic blend well with various liquors, particularly clear ones like gin and vodka. And if you're ordering any alcohol mixed with only tonic, the well liquor option is generally the way to go. The classic gin and tonic is no exception. 

Part of the reason gin and tonic works with well liquors is because they tend to be higher quality than most other liquors. A lot of these brands tend to include standards like Beefeater, which is a classic London dry gin that most bartenders prefer to use in a gin and tonic. Another well liquor possibility is Tanqueray, another pretty tasty yet affordable gin, according to several knowledgeable bar managers interviewed online and bartenders we spoke to for this article.

Vodka cranberry

A very highly-ranked mixer for vodka, cranberry juice has a sweet and sour taste that complements the alcohol in this cocktail very well and gives a fruity punch to the somewhat straightforward taste of the distilled beverage. In fact, this is such a popular flavor combination that you can now find (and make) cranberry-infused vodka.

Some bartenders will add a little bit of soda water or a fresh lime twist to the drink, but it's generally pretty straightforward to make. Not to mention, bartenders can easily make vodka cranberries in bulk, meaning they will almost always use the well liquor for this cocktail. According to many experienced bartenders, the sweet, fruity, and slightly sour taste of the cranberry juice covers up almost any trace of vodka flavor, so even the most inexperienced drinker will likely find this mixed drink very easy to ingest. Given both the taste and price of this particular beverage, well liquor is highly recommended.


It seems fitting to include the orange juice-filled screwdriver here. According to several bartenders, the taste of an acidic fruit juice like OJ will completely disguise the strong alcohol content of the vodka. That's partly because the drink is usually only made with 2 ounces of vodka, while the rest of the tall glass is filled with orange juice. It's one of the simplest two-ingredient cocktails to make with components you can find in the fridge, making it popular both at parties and at home.

You can make screwdrivers with a whole variety of vodkas, from some of the most well-known brands like Grey Goose to craft vodka, and, of course, whatever well vodka the bar has on hand. If you want to add an even fresher twist to the drink and enhance the screwdriver's fruity flavor, you can ask for it with an orange slice. Put some ice in it and enjoy it on a great summer night out.


Is there a more classic brunch and happy hour beverage than the margarita? One of the reasons for its ubiquity, especially as a daytime drink, is its strong flavor — sweet, salty, and sometimes even spicy depending on the variation. Margaritas with a salt rim have become very popular both as ordering choices and menu offerings at bars, further diluting the flavor of the alcohol once it hits your tongue. 

Definitely choose well tequila brands like Casamigos and el Jimador for this ice-cold cocktail. The flavor generally comes from the quality and proportions of the drink's other ingredients, like the triple sec and lime juice, not to mention whatever fruit flavorings the bar uses. The sweet taste completely covers up any trace of alcohol, which is what makes these cocktails a popular choice for novice drinkers. The refreshing temperature of a margarita also makes it a great choice for warm climates and the summer months.


Use well tequila for this bright, summery drink that has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. Since a paloma is a two-ingredient cocktail at its core, it's also quite straightforward for bars to make — another reason they don't use top-shelf liquor. The light yet flavorful grapefruit soda — along with the optional lime wedges and Tajin seasoning — mix very nicely with a well tequila.

Not to mention the proportions of a paloma greatly favor the grapefruit soda over the tequila. Only 2 ounces of tequila are used in the mixture, while the rest of the highball glass is filled with grapefruit soda. If you would rather be more particular with your measurements, you can also use one part tequila and two to three parts grapefruit soda, depending on how strong you want the resulting drink to be. This is also a cocktail you will definitely receive with a fair amount of ice — another reason to order it with a well tequila instead of an overpriced brand you won't even really taste.

Scotch and soda

Though you may think Scotch and soda by itself would end up tasting fairly alcoholic, the lemon twist in this particular cocktail gives it a note of citrus and less of a strong flavor than you might expect. Most well Scotches work in this drink. In fact, a very pricy Scotch is likely to have a much stronger taste and complex flavor profile, which can ruin mixed Scotch drinks.

If you're wondering why this is the case, premium whisky is made with higher-quality ingredients and production methods, which often translates into better flavor. In addition to what personal experience has shown, many bartenders will tell you that people usually splurge on Scotch when they're ordering it straight or on the rocks. So for a Scotch and soda, definitely get the well Scotch — it's truly a shame to order a really expensive Scotch for a mixed drink.

Long Island iced tea

Let's be honest: If you're ordering a Long Island ice tea, it's unlikely you're looking to discover the subtle notes of finer liquor brands. This mix of a lot of popular liquors — vodka, white rum, gin, tequila, and triple sec — has become famous mostly for its ability to get those who imbibe it drunk relatively fast. The combination of so many different clear alcohols (almost all of them, in fact) cancels out the specific taste of any one in particular. As we have previously mentioned on Tasting Table, "the flavor of the alcohol is almost indiscernible."

This means you can definitely opt for the more affordable and less flavor-forward brands for a Long Island iced tea, which is one of the strongest well drinks out there. It's also a cocktail you should drink with caution — this mix of so many types of alcohol can hit you much faster than a regular cocktail and make you feel intoxicated sooner than you might have anticipated. 

Whiskey smash

The whiskey smash is named after the way it's made, namely by crushing (i.e. smashing) lemon wedges to release that bright citrus flavor from both their juices and peels. Thanks to the citrus taste that overtakes this drink — coupled with garnishes of mint that add yet another herbal flavor — you don't need to splurge on an expensive, high-level whiskey just to get your whiskey smash at a bar.

According to an experienced bartender who has worked all over Los Angeles, most well whiskies work very nicely for a whiskey smash — as long as they have that slight smokiness that the alcohol is known for to complement the lemon mixer. Served over ice, the cocktail is surprisingly cool, bright, and refreshing for a whiskey-based drink. For drinkers who would like to venture into whiskey cocktails but are a little intimidated by the strong, smoky flavor of this liquor, a whiskey smash may actually be one of the best choices.


It's become clear through several drinks on this list that almost any cocktail with soda can probably be served with a well liquor. Not only do mojitos have soda, but they also have mint, lime, and sugar flavors mixed in with white rum, creating a refreshing, sweet, tropical cocktail. 

The key component of a mojito cocktail is the mint syrup, usually made by dissolving granulated sugar into water over heat, then adding the mint leaves into the remaining mixture while everything simmers. Lastly, the whole mixture rests for a while so the mint leaves can soak and the flavor can dissipate into the surrounding syrup. 

Most bartenders will add more mint leaves into the final mixtures, at the very least as a garnish. The strong herbal flavors of mint and the sour, acidic flavors of the lime flavorings mean you can use a well brand of white rum without worrying too much about the final flavor of your mojito.


Don't confuse this daiquiri drink with the fun, beach resort frozen version. Classic daiquiris are made with light rum, lime, and Demerara syrup. This tasty combination means a well liquor is the way to go. In one article on Punch, bartenders praise Plantation 3 rums, among other brands, for being great yet affordable mixing rums, particularly for making daiquiris. 

Since all the ingredients are vigorously tossed around in a shaker with ice, they are well-blended in the resulting drink and should always feel chilled when served. Many bars will serve daiquiris with a final lime garnish for a boost of extra delicious flavor at the end. In case you're wondering whether this means you could also use well liquor with the summery, frozen version of a daiquiri, rest assured you can — those cocktails are even sweeter, colder, and more full of crushed ice than the classic version. 

Mai tai

The mai tai is made with a combination of light and dark rum, with some bartenders blending up to three different kinds of rums in their preferred mix. Given that so many bartenders like to employ at least two different brands for mai tais, if not more, well liquor is the way to go — unless you want to pay an extravagant amount for three different kinds of top-shelf rum.

Classic mai tais are usually made with orange curaçao, though there are many variations on the original recipe, some of which lean even more strongly into the orange and citrus flavors. The white rum is shaken together with any orange-flavored liquids, and the dark rum (or rums) usually tops off the mai tai after it has been poured into its glass. Chilled, citrus-flavor-filled, and served on the rocks, the mai tai is definitely another cocktail that doesn't need anything fancier than well liquor to taste delicious.

Sex on the beach

You may be sensing a trend in which breezy, refreshing, summertime cocktails seem to be less likely to require top-shelf liquor and work just as well, if not even better, with well liquor mixed into them. Well, according to several experienced bartenders, this observation is correct, as yet another popular well drink to serve and order is sex on the beach.

Even those who have never tasted this cocktail have likely heard of it thanks to its somewhat provocative name. However, if you can muster up the curiosity to order this drink, you will be surprised to discover just how tasty it can be. Dreamed up by a Florida bartender trying to win a competition, sex on the beach features peach schnapps, vodka, cranberry juice, and orange juice. Two fruit juices in the same drink, as well as the use of plenty of ice, preclude the need for any overpriced vodka brands.

Rusty nail

A great two-ingredient cocktail for those looking for a Scotch-based drink without the very strong flavor of that liquor, the rusty nail is almost always served with a lemon peel garnish. You should order well liquor for this drink, and the bartender will likely use it anyway unless you specifically request something else, as the mixer of Drambuie dilutes and softens the strong flavors of the Scotch.

Unlike what many people think, Drambuie is not just another type of Scotch, but actually a Scotch liqueur. That means that instead of featuring that smoky, aged taste that Scotch has, Drambuie is more likely to have other infused notes, leading to a more muddled flavor profile than pure Scotch — at least in the way a purist or Scotch aficionado may describe it. However, it is also pretty tasty, especially for those who don't always favor brown liquors. Since you're already mixing Scotch with a modified liqueur, there's no reason to bother with a pure, high-class Scotch for this drink.

Dark and stormy

Despite the ominous name of this drink, the dark and stormy is actually a pretty fun cocktail with a lot of bright notes. Essentially, it's a riff off a Moscow mule, using rum instead of vodka as the base liquor. Bartenders add ginger beer and lime to the well rum of their choice, as well as Angostura bitters. 

Made in Trinidad and Tobago, Angostura bitters are very popular and on hand at most bars you will visit, especially if you're heading to a cocktail bar. As you may imagine from the name, they taste a little bitter. Though they would be hard to ingest alone, they generally work wonders when used as a garnish or small addition to another cocktail and add another layer of flavor to the drink. You will often get a dark and stormy in a tall tumbler glass, unlike the shorter glasses pictured.