Top 10 modern classic cocktails

by | Apr 1, 2021 | Style, Urban Life

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Ahead of World Cocktail Day, SB celebrates 10 contemporary cocktails from across the globe

World Cocktail Day is a global celebration of cocktails, and marks the publication date of the first definition of a cocktail in 1806.

In response to a reader’s question, a New York Tabloid defined a cocktail as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters”.

Bartending has evolved somewhat from this simple definition, and experimentation with flavours, ingredients, textures, garnishes and equipment has enabled the creative minds of the cocktail world to run wild.

While classics such as the Old Fashioned, Negroni and Martini will forever be revered, we seek to celebrate the creations of our time that will still appear on global bar menus in 10, 20 or 30 years and beyond.

The Spirits Business has selected 10 modern drinks that have travelled far beyond where they were created, appeared widely on cocktail menus, are highly regarded within the bartending community.

Click through the following pages to discover our top 10 modern classic cocktails and their origins.

Have we missed your favourite out? Do you have any predictions for future classics? Let us know in the comments below.


Created in the mid-1980s by the late Dick Bradsell, the Bramble is a twist on the Gin Fix cocktail. It combines dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and crème de mûre served over crushed ice and topped off with fresh red fruits and a slice of lemon. The cocktail was created at members club Fred’s in Soho, London, and is said to be inspired by the fresh blackberries Bradsell used to eat as a child on the Isle of Wight.


Australian bartender Sam Ross created the Penicillin in 2005 at New York City bar Milk & Honey, combining blended Scotch whisky, honey-ginger syrup, fresh lemon juice. An Islay single malt Scotch whisky is floated on top with a garnish of candied ginger. The drink is a riff on one of the bar’s best-selling cocktails Gold Rush, which in turn was a twist on a Prohibition era-recipe, Bee’s Knees.

Benton’s Old Fashioned

The Benton’s Old Fashioned is credited with bringing the world of fat-washing spirits and cocktails together. Created by Don Lee in 2007 at renowned New York City bar Please Don’t Tell, the drink combines Bourbon and bacon from US cured meat specialist Allan Benton. The addition of maple syrup evokes the flavours of a classic American breakfast, the resulting drink a balance of smoky, sweet and salt notes.

Breakfast Martini

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The Breakfast Martini is the creation of noted bartender Salvatore Calabrese, and a twist on the Marmalade Cocktail invented in the 1920s by Harry Craddock and published in the Savoy Cocktail Book. Calabrese’s creation, born in the Lanesborough Hotel’s Library Bar in 1997, is a gin Martini with marmalade, Cointreau and fresh lemon juice.


While the origin of the Cosmopolitan is a little fuzzy – with various recipes containing vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and freshly squeezed lime juice – bartender Toby Cecchini in credited with officially inventing the drink at Odeon, New York City, in 1988. The drink spread, ending up in The Rainbow Room, where Madonna famously drank it at a Grammy after-party. The cocktail gained popularity during the 1990s when it was frequently mentioned on the television show Sex and the City.

Gin Basil Smash

The beautifully smiple Gin Basil Smash is the creation of Joerg Meyer, who developed the concept at Le Lion in Hamburg, Germany back in 2008. The combination of gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and fresh basil Best New Cocktail at the 2008 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award – and not without good reason; the drink has such a cult following it even has its own Facebook page.

Tommy’s Margarita

This riff on a Margarita was invented in the early 1990s by Julio Bermejo, co-owner of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco. The Tommy’s version omits the Triple Sec staple in favour of agave nectar, which in turn helped to develop the signature West Coast style of creating cocktails with seasonal ingredients.

Oaxaca Old Fashioned

The Oaxaca Old Fashioned opened US bartenders’ eyes to the idea of using Tequila and mezcal in cocktails – and as such, represents somewhat of an agave gateway for stoic whisk(e)y drinkers. Created in 2007 by Tequila expert Phil Ward at Death & Co in New York City, the cocktail consists of Tequila, mezcal, agave and bitters, finished with that classic Old Fashioned orange twist.

Espresso Martini

The Vodka Espresso – later known as the Espresso Martini – is the invention of Dick Bradsell, and was first created in Soho Brasserie, London in the 1980s. This combination of vodka, espresso, coffee liqueur, and sugar syrup has a playful backstory; allegedly a famous (and unnamed) model approached Bradsell for a drink that would ‘wake me up, and then f*** me up’.TweetSharePin

White Negroni


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Created by Wayne Collins at Vinexpo Bordeaux in France, the White Negroni – or Negroni Bianco – substitutes vermouth for Lillet Blanc and Campari for gentian liqueur in equal parts, the same as the original recipe. The drink found favour in the industry after gracing the menu at Audrey Saunders’ pioneering cocktail lounge Pegu Club in New York.

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