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A guide to classic cocktails, Southern and otherwise

While we love to try new things, there's something to be said for the classics. Classic cocktails, that is. From Southern specialties, like the mint julep, to quintessentially American drinks, like the Manhattan, these drinks are reliable — in the most delicious way.

Read on for a guide to our favorite classic cocktails, both Southern and otherwise, plus a twist on each one (because we couldn't resist).

One of the most widely recognized yet still misunderstood cocktails, the martini is, at its best, made with a 2:1 ratio of juniper-heavy London dry gin to high-quality dry vermouth. Add a few dashes of bitters and please, please stir, not shake the drink. Garnish with a lemon twist or olive and serve the whole thing up. It's perfect for both a drink while making dinner as well as a party-ready aperitif.
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Want a twist? Try a 50-50 martini

Bee's Knees
This gin sour has its roots in the Prohibition era when people used the term “bee's knees” as slang referring to “the best.” Reportedly, the gin used during Prohibition days was so strong, honey and lemon were used to mask its strong taste. Today, honey and lemon act as a sweet and tart complement to the piney, herbal spirit. To make this throwback drink, combine gin, honey simple syrup and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Try it tonight; it’s the bee’s knees.
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Want some thing similar, with whiskey? Try a maple bourbon smash

Tom Collins
Think of this refreshing drink as gin with sparkling lemonade. Fresh lemon juice is mixed with gin and sugar, then topped with club soda. Pour into a tall Collins glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry and slice of lemon. A Tom Collins pairs perfectly with light vegetarian dishes like a cheese souffle or pasta.
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Want a twist? Try it with lavender

French 75
Similar to a Tom Collins, this gin cocktail has plenty of fizz. However, the French 75 boasts a boozier, bubbly kick with sparkling wine in place of club soda. We won’t judge if you have this Champagne-topped gin cocktail at breakfast.
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Want to up your game? Make one with apple cider

This classic is a whiskey-lovers martini made from dry, spicy rye and sweet vermouth. A couple of dashes of Angostura bitters bring balance and those Maraschino cherries? They add a touch of sweetness and flair. Purchase the best you can find.
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Want something totally different? Try a spicy, homemade Jack and Coke

The Old Fashioned
Believed to be one of the first (if not the first) cocktail, the Old Fashioned, made always from a spirit (today, usually bourbon), sugar, bitters and water, has likely been around in some form or another since 1806. It's easy to riff on, but there's little that can beat the classic recipe. Just make sure your bourbon is on point.
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Want a twist? Try a High Noon Old Fashioned

First appearing in New Orleans in the mid-19th century as an unnamed cocktail of sorts, the sazerac’s origins have been attributed to apothecary owner and bitters creator Antoine Peychaud as well as to the Sazerac Bar. This simple but strong drink consists of rye whiskey or Cognac (the original spirit used), sugar and Peychaud’s bitters, and the glass is rinsed with either absinthe or Herbsaint. 
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Like Herbsaint? Try an absinthe cocktail

Mint Julep
Most historians believe the mint julep was created in Virginia in the late 18th century as a brandy (not bourbon) drink, sipped as a morning tipple by the wealthy. Ice was added around the 1830s, transforming the julep into something more familiar to us today, but it wasn't until the repeal of Prohibition and the naming of the drink as the official Derby cocktail in 1938 that it really took off.
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Want more of a pick-me-up? Try an Arnold Palmer twist

Before you let your mind wander to the thought of one too many sugary frozen daiquiris out of the pouch, it might help to know that the classic daiquiri is actually a clear, light cocktail with fresh lime juice that brings a citrusy brightness to the drink. Like a margarita, a daiquiri can be transformed into several variations using different flavor combinations. But a made-from-scratch daiquiri is easy to master first, with a touch of sweetness from simple syrup and a splash of lime juice.
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Want something even more tropical? Try this blended drink

The combination of simple syrup, fresh citrus and cool mint pays a pretty compliment to the rum. In our classic mojito recipe, just-picked mint leaves are gently muddled to release the essential oils with rum, simple syrup and lime juice. After shaking up the ingredients, top off your glass with club soda and you’ve got a minty, light mojito.
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Want a twist? Try this fancier take

Vodka and Tequila
Moscow Mule
Our classic Moscow mule strikes the perfect balance between light, spicy and boozy. This simple recipe calls for less than five ingredients. Shake up the vodka and fresh lime juice, then top with sparkly ginger beer. Even though this cocktail is vodka-based, the ginger beer packs most of the punch. Using ginger beer instead of ginger ale will give you the classic Moscow mule spice.
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Want bubbles but no vodka? Try a paloma

This recipe for a classic margarita is light, fresh and easy. Just shake up tequila, lime juice and triple sec, and it's ready to serve. If you want to top the rim with salt, circle a lime wedge around the rim and dip the glass upside down into a plate of kosher or margarita salt. Using just lime juice and forgoing the typical agave or honey lends a bright, cheery kick to your margarita.
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Want more sweetness? Try it Texas-style

Photo (sazerac): Lauren Booker
All other photos: Ramona King

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Ramona King is the visual content producer for Southern Kitchen. She also produces our podcast, Sunday Supper. A native of Georgia and a proud Georgia Southern University alumna, Ramona has been a mixed media artist since 2009. She has grown her own studio, created for many, and is now as happy as a plum here at Southern Kitchen. A mother of two under the age of three, she spends her weekends in the 'burbs full of Barbies, bottles, craft beer and a peach cobbler recipe perfected 200 times over.

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Janice is an associate editor at Southern Kitchen. She's a native of Southeast Asia; specifically, Malaysia. Janice spent the last 12 years in Nashville, TN, where she learned and grew to love the ins and outs of vibrant Southern hospitality, and recently moved to Atlanta.

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Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.