There Are Fewer Types Of Cocktails Than You Might Expect

It's booze o'clock on a Friday night, you're staring at the bar's immense liquor shelf, and your friends are waiting. The bartender starts recommending choices like herbal red wine bourbon or a matcha gin cocktail. Feels overwhelming; perhaps just a rum and coke?

No need to get overrun by the seemingly limitless options. It turns out, classifying cocktails by their fundamental components yields a more digestible assortment.

The word cocktail was first mentioned in 1806 in "The Balance and Columbian Repository," per Food Republic, and its constituents were defined as water, bitters, and sugar — and liquor, of course. Chivas shares that many historians attribute the first cocktail to the New Orleans-born Sazerac, which contains this mix exactly (absinthe, whiskey, bitters, and sugar, if you've never had the pleasure). Variation is engrained into the nature of cocktails, so different ones shift around the liquor and type of bitters, giving you classics like the Old Fashioned. Sure, the ingredients may change, but the core remains the same. In a throwback to the Repository publication, some bartenders still call this most basic potion a "bittered sling," according to Steve The Bartender.

But what about all the other cocktails out there that don't fit in the classic bittered sling formula?

Don't get bogged down in the detials

Moving on from the original cocktail, there are about five or six more types. Want something fruity? Try out a cobbler, which just needs crushed ice, liquor, fruit, and a straw, explains Steve The Bartender. Kentucky's famed mint julep is of such a variety, as is the strawberry smash. Or how about something refreshing and citrusy, like a beloved frozen marg or a lemony amaretto sour? That's simply a sour cocktail, shares A Bar Above.

If it's a hot summer day and you want something refreshing, ask for a highball. A relatively uncomplicated creation, this type consists of a spirit and a carbonated mixer. Ubiquitous classics like the rum and coke and gin and tonic fit into this category.

From here, the categorization deviates depending on who you're asking. Some experts, like Steve The Bartender, like to include punch and milk punch — one made with dairy, the other without — as two separate categories. Others, like Vinepair and A Bar Above, include the flip (which is made with an entire egg, not just the white) in their list but exclude punch entirely.

When it comes down to it, nailing down a precise list isn't totally necessary. Pick a style for your fancy, and explore; the options are less intimidating than you think once you have the basics figured out. After that, it's as simple as searching for your favorite formula or asking the bartender to recommend something in the category.