There seems to be an endless variety of cocktails, but there are a few core types that provide a template for the drinks we know and love. Once you know the standard builds, you can experiment at home to create novel and delicious drinks!
Stirred cocktails are spirit forward, boozy drinks that typically consist of a base spirit, a sweetener, and modifiers such as bitters, additional spirits, liqueurs, or fortified wines. Stirred cocktails may be served up or on the rocks. Hallmarks of the category include the original cocktail, the Old Fashioned, the Sazerac, and the Toronto.
Sours are shaken cocktails that are composed of something acidic, something sweet, and something strong. Citrus juices most often take on the acidic role, though a shrub is a delightful addition, like in the La Joya. The sweetener is usually a syrup. A subtype of sours is the daisy, which is sweetened by a liqueur, like the orange liqueur in a Margarita. The strong, is your base spirit, though fortified wines and liqueurs are often included. Bitters are less common, as bitterness will heighten the acidity in citrus juices. Sours can be served up or on the rocks. Classic sours include the Daiquiri, the Whiskey Sour, and the Army Navy.
Highballs are called "long" drinks as they are usually a sour or stirred base that is lengthened by the addition of carbonated water. The base may be sometimes be shaken before the addition of carbonated water or built in the glass and stirred to combine. Highballs are served in a tall glass over ice. Iconic highballs include the Gin & Tonic, the Moscow Mule, and the Mojito.
Flips, Fizzes, Swizzles, and Smashes
These are less common drinks but are becoming more and more popular with the craft cocktail resurgence. The flip has changed over the years but is now considered to be a shaken cocktail with egg and/or cream and is served up. A fizz is basically a sour with the addition of a small amount of carbonated water after being shaken. Fizzes may be served up or on the rocks. A swizzle is usually a sour that is built in a glass filled with crushed ice and stirred to combine. A smash begins with muddled herbs and/or citrus, which are then shaken with a spirit and sweetener and served over crushed ice.