The World’s Best-Selling Classic Cocktails 2018

Hamish Smith takes the pulse of the top bars to discover which classics will be feeding into the mainstream

While the global bar industry continues to stride fourth, ever innovating, ever finding new flavours and ways to combine them, the foundation that is classic cocktails endures. They are the building blocks of the understanding of cocktails and therefore occupy a hallowed place in bartenders’ hearts. Indeed, many of their creations are embellishments on classical form.

There’s always speculation surrounding the classics that are popular at a given moment. For example, anecdotally, the Espresso Martini is on-trend, but our poll found it to be only the ninth most popular among the elite – it pales in comparison to the ubiquitous Old Fashioned. So, with this poll of our sample of the world’s best bars, we aim to find out with a little more certainty which classics top bartenders are making most right now.

We asked our 106 bars to rank their top 10 best-selling classics (giving each vote an incremental ranking to represent volume). Some of these drinks adhere to the original recipe, others will be twisted, but we take the view that, if it is sold as a Daiquiri, it is a Daiquiri.

What happens here among bar-world influencers trickles down to the mainstream. The average Joe didn’t just one day suddenly decide that he had a penchant for Negronis – it’s a process. So producers might take note – these classic cocktails have the power to propel both brand and category. Now for the ranking.


50. Cuba Libre

When is a rum & cola a cocktail? When it has some lime added. The Cuba Libre may not be the most complex creation, but the customer is always right. Indeed, in a busy bar, an order of Cuba Libres is sometimes quite helpful, if not for the bar’s street cred. Alternative premium colas are starting to find their way into the drink, which will commonly be made with the house-pour rum. The Cuba Libre only just makes the list, at the expense of Pegu Club, Bamboo, Rusty Nail and Kir Royal – oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

49. Sangria

This Iberian punch is another debutante in the World’s 50 Best Classic Cocktails. Traditionally we are talking red wine, fruit, orange juice and, if you’re lucky, brandy – though even the most rustic drinks can be reimagined. Indeed, among those to make their own Sangria are two of Taipei’s top bars. In short, they are refined versions of this famous holiday punch.

48. Brandy Julep

Absent last year, the Brandy Julep has re-emerged. This famous old cocktail’s issue is that it’s now not the coolest Julep in town. But, back when Americans looked to Europeans for drinking council, Juleps were more sophisticated with brandy not whiskey. The original to many, including brandy producers, is very much the best.

47. Paloma

This Mexican two-piece grapefruit and tequila drink is often seen with more complex riffs. Freshly squeezed grapefruit, lime juice and agave syrup, topped with grapefruit soda really make the drink take flight. The Paloma is the second most popular tequila classic on our list, even though it is down 13 places this year.

46. Hanky Panky

The Hanky Panky is a real classic, invented by the legendary Ada Coleman at the Savoy’s American Bar. Coleman tells the story of how she invented the drink for actor Charles Hawtrey, one of the “best cocktail judges” she knew. She said: “He sipped it and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky Panky it has been called ever since.” The Hanky Panky is still driving posh men to exclamation 100 years on at The American Bar – now the world’s best bar.

45. Black Russian

We’re at number 45 and we have our first debut cocktail in the list – it goes to show that, in the world of classic cocktails, things move slowly. In the event it’s at the expense of its sister the White Russian. Kaluah (other coffee liqueurs are available) won’t be too bothered, as it features in both. The Black Russian is vodka and coffee liqueur – essentially a White Russian without the cream. Cream really is getting it from all corners.

44. Caipirinha

After what was a busy few years for Brand Brazil (the country hosted both the World Cup and Olympics) it’s back down to earth for the Caipirinha – it has dropped from 25th. Now it looks like the Caipirinha will never be the next Mojito. It’s still a solid cocktail if you make it as the Brazilians do – strong, with lots of cachaça, sugar and lime. Muddle in a strong glass to avoid a fourth ingredient.

43. White Lady

The White Lady returns, having last been seen in this exact spot two years ago. Harry Craddock is said to have made it for F Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. They still do good White Lady business at the American, where Bombay Sapphire, dry orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice and a dash of egg white are the favoured ingredients.

42. Clover Club

It’s dropped from 29 but the Clover Club is an ever-present in the 50 Classics list. This pink pre-Prohibition drink is the child of Philadelphia but today can be found in cities around the world. Julie Reiner’s bar Clover Club – which is a five-time member of the World’s 50 Best Bars – is, of course, named after the drink. The Brooklyn bar uses gin, dry vermouth, raspberry, lemon juice and egg white.

41. Bramble

Another neo-classic from Dick Bradsell, the Bramble is a mix of blackcurrant and gin. Edinburgh hotspot and World’s 50 Best Bars stalwart, Bramble – which is named after the drink – opts for Hayman’s London Dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Merlet Crème de Mures. Down four from last year but one of the most famous good drinks invented in the ’80s.

40. Old Cuban

Another modern classic that proves the art of creating a lasting drink has not been lost on today’s bartenders. This cocktail was invented by New York legend Audrey Saunders in 2004. Something of a cross between a Mojito and a French 75, it takes in aged rum, lime juice, mint leaves, Angostura bitters and sparkling wine. Having made its debut in this list last year, the Old Cuban has risen six places.

39. Mint Julep

The Mint Julep is waning at the world’s best bars – to think in 2015 it was ranked at number 17. Still, it’s a true classic. This drink is less about the ingredients and all about the preparation. Once you’ve refrigerated the Julep tin for so long it’s colder than the fridge, the drink is almost done. Just add mint, sugar and bourbon and there you have it. At the Kentucky Derby 120,000 Mint Juleps are served each year to race-goers, though not jockeys. That would be dangerous.

38. Corpse Reviver

Whether this drink can revive the dead is a moot point but it can certainly rouse you from your senses. There are many versions but the original is cognac, calvados and sweet vermouth, stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. Harry Craddock recommends you drink one before 11am. But that does depend on what you have planned.

37. Americano

A lightweight Negroni, popular among restrained Italians and booze-fearful millennials, is the Americano. Simply sub the gin for soda in your Negroni spec and you have it, the 37th most popular classic at the world’s best bars. A great aperitivo for a sunny and civilised day or an able Negroni stand-in for the drunk customer. Down five places this year.

36. Ramos Gin Fizz

This half milkshake, half Gin Fizz concoction was named after the New Orleans bartender who created it in 1888 – Henry Charles Ramos. The original saw silky-smooth cream and orange flower put a new spin on the fizz. While this cocktail has dropped seven places from last year, you’ll still find the occasional Ramos at the world’s best bars – though cream is sometimes eschewed in favour of a less fattening thickener.

35. Zombie

The drink of the living dead still has some life, despite slipping 15 places from last year. Pour the contents of your bar’s rum collection into a large glass along with apricot brandy, lime and pineapple juice. Or listen to Martin Cate from Smuggler’s Cove. He uses Jamaican, demerara and Puerto Rican rums, grapefruit and lime juice, cinnamon syrup, falernum, grenadine, Angostura bitters, drops of Pernod and a mint sprig.

34. Bellini

In Italy peach-marinated wine is a traditional thing, so the Bellini draws on this combination, though not always with fresh peaches. In the top bars, this prossecco drink is often seasonal. It’s up to 34th having not even featured last time out, so it must have been a good year for peaches. We won’t bother with a recipe, as there are only two ingredients. We will bother to say in 7% of bars this was a top-10 classic and in two bars the top seller.

33. Vesper

Most bartenders agree the story is pedigreed but the drink a crossbreed – the mongrel sort. That said, this vodka-gin-Lillet Martini yanks a chord for some punters, particularly those who like James Bond films, a character from which the cocktail was named. It’s a bit of a neither-here-nor-there drink but it’s up nine places from last year with one bar from our sample claiming it ranks as its best-selling cocktail.

32. Rob Roy

One of three Scotch drinks on the 50 Classic list this year (a record), the Rob Roy is a Manhattan with a Scottish accent. The scotch offers a bit more subtlety to proceedings and, in tandem with the Angostura bitters, pulls up its kilt to the sweet vermouth. Bartenders often use a scotch with peat, for a bit more fight. But the standard recipe, from the Waldorf in 1894, just asks for blended scotch.

31. Piña Colada

Somewhere between cool and uncool lives the Piña Colada. Right now it’s in a cool phase with bartenders in cocktail capitals giving it a revamp. Piña Colada means ‘strained pineapple’ and harks back to the first rendezvous between pineapples and rum. Coconut then at some stage got in on the action in what is the vaguest history of anything ever written. Having fallen off the list last year, the Piña Colada is back in the bars’ good books.

30. Gimlet

This gin-turned-vodka-turned-gin-and-lime cocktail has slipped 14 places since last year. In a sense this is a Daiquiri for gin drinkers and three of our polled bars said it was their most-made classic. It’s essentially gin and juice but somehow has credibility beyond its ingredients. The ratio was originally 50/50, but that was when people didn’t care much for their teeth. Now a 75/25 gin-to-lime cordial is what the dentist ordered.

29. Champagne Cocktail

When champagne isn’t quite enough, you have the Champagne Cocktail, a decadent embellishment on the finest fizz around – and up from 46th last year. To be broadly, though not wholly, accurate, the French add cognac and the Americans don’t. Both daub a sugar cube with bitters before pouring over champagne, though Jim Meehan of PDT recommends that the sugar cube should be added second so the champagne doesn’t get rowdy.

28. French 75

Made popular in Paris in the ’20s, the French 75 retains its charm. Up two places in our top 50 list this year, 11% of bars said it’s among their 10 most-made classics. Indeed, like last year, in two of the world’s top bars, this London Dry gin, lemon juice, sugar and champagne drink is their number one classic. At Arnaud’s – home of the drink in New Orleans – the French 75 is made with Courvoisier VS, sugar, lemon juice and Moët & Chandon champagne.

27. Aviation

Losing a lot of altitude in the list this year – 10 places – is the Aviation. Essentially a refined Tom Collins with some maraschino, this is a top-10 seller in about 11% of polled bars. The recipe first appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, where crème de violette provided an extra floral dimension.

26. Cosmopolitan

There is a softening of the mood towards the Cosmo. Bartenders are past their hate phase and now residing somewhere around indifference. This year the Cosmo rings through the tills as a top-10 classic at 13% of bars polled. You won’t find too many menus sporting its name, therefore you might not know the ingredients: vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and lime juice. Individually fine, together a Cosmo.

25. Tom Collins

The Tom Collins is quenching thirsts in about 12% of the bars we polled. Traditionalists reckon Old Tom, rather than London Dry, is the spirit to use here, but most will hit the speed rail gins. This is a drink that has procreated – now the family includes the Pedro Collins (rum), Pepito Collins (tequila), Colonel Collins (bourbon) and Captain Collins (Canadian whisky). Whatever spirit you use, the hero here is the humble lemon. Get good ones.

24. Sidecar

This is the highest-ranked brandy-only classic in our list – and we’re almost halfway through. Brandy and cognac aren’t having a great time of it among the world’s top influencers (the category sits eighth among the most used spirits in our poll) so it makes sense that the most famous brandy drinks are languishing in mid table. In the good news column is that the Sidecar is up from 36 last year. This brandy, triple sec and lemon drink is essentially a sour but can be sweetened to taste. It has Parisian roots but the original creator has never come forward – or at least not in the singular.

23. Blood & Sand

A great name but the Blood & Sand is not to everyone’s taste. It was first made in 1922 and was inspired by the eponymous film. Fast forward 96 years and it’s still going strong, re-entering the list after a two-year absence – with a cluster of top bars telling us it is among their top 10 best-selling classics. Mixed with scotch, cherry brandy (the blood), sweet vermouth, and orange juice (the sand) this drink is possibly a little sweet for more discerning palates.

22. Amaretto Sour

Rising 19 places, the Amaretto Sour has long been due a comeback which has never quite materialised. Could it be? Well 18% of those polled said it was among their top 10. Mostly part of the back catalogue, say our respondents, but one brave bar even had it as its best seller. The almondy Amaretto Sour is as approachable a cocktail as you are likely to find, and a comeback would be stellar news for Disaronno.

21. Vodka Martini

While bartenders tend to prefer their Martinis with gin, Vodka Martini (aka Kangaroo and Vodkatini) is up 17 places, reinforcing the theory that vodka is now off the naughty step. If you’re a real vodka enthusiast, this is the best way to partake of your poison – there is only vermouth as a buffer. Weakling vodkas don’t work here – you’ll need one with muscle as, in the glass, it’s almost naked.

20. Dark ’n’ Stormy

This is the most likely thing to drink in Bermuda (that and the Rum Swizzle) and the 20th most likely in the world’s best bars – it’s a top-10 classic in 17% of our polled bars. How did this drink come about? To cut a story’s length, British seafarers brought the ginger beer, Goslings the rum. Add lime and there you have it, the Dark ’n’ Stormy – worthy of any bloke with a beard and tatts, on or off land.

19. Pisco Sour

So much of pisco sales rely on the fortunes of the Pisco Sour – this year down one from 18th. This cocktail was an early explorer, finding its way to the dock of San Francisco bay in the 1930s and wasting little time before rising to popularity in New York in the 1960s. With Peruvian food now a fixture internationally, this limey cocktail is back in the limelight. 17% of bars named the Pisco Sour a top 10 classic cocktail.

18. Mai Tai

The Mai Tai is down seven this year. As a bastion of tropical culture the Mai Tai has been swept along by the tiki revival and come ashore in many of the world’s best bars. A fifth of bars had it in their bar’s top ten but mostly this is part of the support act rather than a volume protagonist. A kitsch classic loved by bartenders in their less serious moments.

17. Vieux Carre

Named after New Orleans’ French quarter, this Manhattan-esque classic returns this year with 17% of polled bars naming it among their top 10. It was invented by Walter Bergeron, head bartender at the now Monteleone hotel bar in New Orleans, which is home to all manner of activity during Tales of the Cocktail – not least its revolving bar. Have a Vieux Carre there but don’t have too many – alone brandy, American whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychauds are enough to put you in a spin.

16. Gin Fizz

Up from 23 last year, the Gin Fizz has regained its sparkle. 17% of the world’s best bars have attested to its selling prowess and it’s a classic that remains popular globally. It’s gin, lime or lemon, sugar, egg (optional) and soda. This is more of a blank canvas drink, yearning for embellishment, but in the right setting, at the right time, it’s hits the right notes.

15. Penicillin

This medicinal mix is the highest-placed present-century classic. Breaking the mould, the Penicillin is our first scotch cocktail and comes courtesy of Sam Ross, ex-Milk & Honey bartender and now Attaboy co-owner. It uses blended scotch, lemon juice, honey-ginger syrup and Islay scotch and is garnished with candied ginger. As the years slip by, it seems to gain in popularity in this classics list – it’s up four this year. A legacy drink without the competition.

14. Bloody Mary

Bringing much to the morning economy is the Bloody Mary. As long as there are hangovers, here is a drink that will never go out of fashion. It is among the top 10-selling classics in more than a quarter of bars we polled. If you are in reach of the Connaught and in need of a Bloody Mary, go there – they do the best ones. Ago Perrone uses Ketel One vodka, fresh tomato juice, a homemade spice mix, fresh lemon juice and celery air.

13. Sazerac

Dropping three places is the Sazerac. This boozy classic remains a stalwart, with 28% of polled bars saying it was among their top 10. Purists use cognac and so did bartenders in the 1850s, until phylloxera ravaged French vineyards and the American Civil War made the sourcing of cognac something of a triviality. It was replaced by whiskey and many today prefer the double booze hit to be propelled by the grain not the grape. Rimmed with absinthe, the fumes tell you this is not a session beverage.

12. Boulevardier

Take the gin out of a Negroni and replace with American whiskey and you have a Boulevardier. While this was a popular drink back in the ’20s, more than a quarter of our polled bars had it among their top 10 repertoire. If Negroni-weariness ever sets in, the Boulevardier is well-placed as an evolution. So is it rye or bourbon? We lean towards rye, but at the Everleigh they opt for bourbon, Cocchi sweet vermouth, Campari and a cherry to garnish.

11. Aperol Spritz

Normally up around the 20th mark, the Aperol Spritz is knocking on the door of the top 10 this year. More than a third said it was in the top 10 classics they serve. The Aperol Spritz is never going to be a badge of honour for a bartender, but when they’re in the weeds, bring on the Spritz order. With wine, Aperol and soda all making friends in a glass, it is a refreshing Italian-style aperitivo perfect for the more sober occasion.

10. Mojito

Down one to number 10, the cocktail of the indiscriminate masses is still looking pretty stable in the upper reaches of this list. Almost a third of bars said the Cuban classic is in the top 10 of their repertoire. Bacardi and Havana Club are the first choices, but Plantation gets a shout too. For authenticity the rum should be of Cuban style, the greenery is best in spearmint form and the sugar dissolved – it’s amazing how this last step is neglected. Not in the world’s best bars, of course.

9. Espresso Martini

Perhaps its renaissance was triggered by the sad passing of Dick Bradsell, its creator, because the Espresso Martini has been one of the most talked about drinks in the last year. Led by the UK bar industry, this after-dinner cocktail of espresso coffee, vodka and coffee liqueur is among the top-3 classics in 13% of polled bars but among the regular top-10 roster in 40%. Whichever way you play it, its back and will likely continue to rise up the charts.

8. Moscow Mule

Frozen in eight is the Moscow Mule. A high ranking for such a simple drink, and perhaps evidence of thawing attitudes towards vodka. The Mule is the top vodka serve this year and present as a top-10 classic in almost 40% of our polled bars, with 8% having it down as their top classic serve. It’s vodka, lime, ginger and soda – one for the less adventurous punters.

7. Manhattan

Seventh seems a little low-rise for the Manhattan – it’s only ever been placed high up in the top four. Around 9% say it’s a top-three classic in their bar but 45% count it within their top 10. The mix of peppery rye, bitters and sweet vermouth are most frequently partnered with Rittenhouse, Bulleit and Woodford Reserve. Jim Meehan of PDT has the recipe: rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and two dashes of Angostura, stirred with ice, strained into a chilled coupe and garnished with brandied cherries.

6. Margarita

The Margarita, up one from last year, is the top tequila classic in our sample of the world’s best bars. This is the sort of drink that every bar can make, so long as they have tequila and limes. Very few made it their top classic served, but it’s in the top three in more than 10% of those polled. Let’s head to San Francisco for a Tommy’s Margarita recipe. Owner Julio Bermejo uses 100% agave tequila, plus fresh lime juice and agave syrup.

5. Daiquiri

The Daiquiri is the most ordered rum drink in the world’s best bars. A surprisingly low 5% said this was their top classic, but 17% named it in their top three and more than half in their top 10. At the drink’s home, Havana’s La Floridita, they prefer the frozen version, but mostly this is lime juice, white rum and sugar syrup, shaken and served.

4. Dry Martini

The Dry Martini – made with gin, not vodka – gains two places this year. This boozy yet refined favourite was the top classic in 7% of our polled bars and among the top three in 20%. Just over half said it figured in their top 10. There are many bars that might claim to make the exemplar but Barcelona’s Dry Martini (multi-time member of The World’s 50 Best Bars) is one. It uses half-and-half gin to French vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, a squeeze of lemon rind and a green olive. If it’s a Martini for bar owner Javier de la Muelas, drop the lemon.

3. Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour is up from no.5 this year, leapfrogging the Daiquiri and Manhattan. Only 5% of our poll said it was their top classic but 19% of those polled said it was a top-three serve and almost 60% made it in their top 10. That’s not too surprising as this is an everyman’s drink, hardly a house signature. The recipe is bourbon, lemon juice and a teaspoon of sugar. Egg white is optional, though this is a drink that benefits from texture.

2. Negroni

It’s looking pretty sweet for the embittered Negroni – that’s four years in a row as the runner-up in this list. The Negroni is no longer a bartender drink – it’s now a firm consumer favourite. 16% of bars said it was their number one classic and it was among the top three served in 45% of bars. It’s ironic really, if ever there was a cocktail that could be thrown together at home, it is the Negroni – it’s a third, a third, a third of Campari, sweet vermouth and gin.

1. Old Fashioned

Hello old friend. That’s four years straight this vanguard drink of the classic cocktail revival has topped our poll. The Old Fashioned shows no sign of waning – indeed, this American whiskey classic is picking up pace, says our poll. Almost 30% of bars said it was their number one-selling classic. Make it with bourbon, or rye as they probably did way back when. David Wondrich says: one sugar cube wetted with three dashes of Angostura bitters and a little soda, crushed, stirred with a large ice cube and two ounces of rye.