Cocktail Vs Mixed Drink: Know The Correct Bar Terms Now!

If you’re looking for something sweet and fruity at the bar, then the first thing you’ll head to is the cocktails section.

Sometimes, you might tell the bartender you’d like a mixed drink rather than calling it a cocktail. That leaves you wondering: Can’t we just use cocktail and mixed drink interchangeably?

For alcoholic drink connoisseurs, this is probably a heated debate. But for others, it doesn’t matter what the differences are. Either way, it’s worth knowing what makes the cocktail vs mixed drink different or similar.

While cocktails are essentially mixed drinks, there are different components that make a cocktail considered one.

Let’s take a deeper look into the mixed drink vs cocktail comparison guide.

Image of cocktails

What is a Cocktail?

A cocktail is a drink containing several ingredients mixed together, including one hard liqueur and at least one fruit juice. You can also find virgin cocktails, known as mocktails, with no liqueur. (*)

Fun fact: While the name cocktail sounds a bit odd, these drinks are, in any way, related to cocks or tails! There are so many different origin stories for cocktail and how its name came to be, some of which relate to horses or English sailors!

Cocktails would follow the typical formula, including sugar, bitter, and spirit.

Uh, isn’t that a mixed drink?

Not really! We explain further by breaking down the cocktail.

  • The base is the spirit, which can either be vodka, tequila, whisky, gin, rum, or brandy, among others. It’s the largest portion of the cocktail, and usually, only one base is used. However, you can find cocktails that include more than one spirit.
  • The modifier is the body of the drink, binding all the ingredients together. This can be champagne, cream, vermouth, or light juice to enhance the base’s flavor without totally dominating it.
  • The perfume is the smallest part of the cocktail, and it can be anything like coffee, fruit syrup, bitter, or herbal liqueur to enhance the base. You just need to use the right amount to bring out the whole cocktail’s aroma and flavor.
Fun fact: Cocktail’s first definition dates back to the start of the 19th century. In 1806, cocktails were defined as a stimulating liqueur comprised of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. Before cocktails came to be, there were already precursors to them, referred to as juleps, slings, and fizzes.

Fast forward to today, there are tons of popular cocktails existing, such as the margarita, cosmopolitan, and martini. You can even find modern cocktails with different names and ingredients in bars.

Image of mixed drinks

What is a Mixed Drink?

A mixed drink is any beverage including alcohol as an ingredient. Essentially, different types of alcohols or spirits are mixed in without condiments.

Since cocktails are more than just alcohol and contain flavorings, that’s where the difference comes in. So, with that definition, we can say that martinis are mixed drinks and not cocktails.

Cocktail vs Mixed Drink: The Key Differences

Basically, cocktails are considered mixed drinks, but not all mixed drinks are considered cocktails.

Think of it this way; a mixed drink would usually only have two elements: the spirit liqueur and mixer—for example, a gin and tonic or a mimosa.

As for a cocktail, it would have three or more ingredients, like the Negroni or Old Fashioned. It all boils down to what that beverage contains.

It’s that simple!

We asked cocktail novices and bartenders about their take on the whole cocktail vs mixed drink debate, and their answers were interesting.

One mentioned that a cocktail was made with more passion than mixed drinks. Another thought of a cocktail being a drink made by a knowledgeable bartender, while mixed drinks didn’t have a lot of thought put into them.

Judging by some cocktails and mixed drinks we’ve tried, these people aren’t totally wrong, but we also can’t discredit people for creating mixed drinks because they are simple and taste great!

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re left with other questions about cocktails vs mixed drinks, continue reading!

1. What ingredients can you use when making drinks?

If you want to begin delving deeper into making your own cocktails or mixed drinks, there are certain ingredients you need to have in stock, such as:

  • Lemons and oranges are useful because they balance out the alcohol and sugary flavors because of their acidity. They’re great for cocktails, tequila shots, and light beers!
  • Sugar or other sweeteners are great in numerous cocktails to lessen the intensity of the bitter alcohol taste!
  • Ice is a no-brainer, which you most likely have ready all the time.
  • Bitters balance out the sugar in cocktails and mixed drinks. You can get herbs or concentrated extractions of plants and flowers. Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters are very popular staples in bars.
  • And of course, you can’t forget the alcohol and fruit juices. You can also try other beverages like soda, tonic water, or even milk and coffee!

2. What are the most popular cocktails and mixed drinks?

The most popular cocktails include the cosmopolitan, mojito, mai tai, mint julep, margarita, and pina colada, which you can find in numerous bars worldwide. As for mixed drinks, there’s the mimosa, Jack and Coke, gin and tonic, or the Americano.

3. Can you make cocktails and mixed drinks at home?

Heck, yes, you can! There are a lot of drinks you can make yourself as long as you have the right ingredients and tools. Some are very simple and will just require you to blend or stir them before enjoying. 

Wrapping It Up

There aren’t many differences between a cocktail vs mixed drink, but it’s worth knowing so you can share this tidbit with friends at the bar. It’s also one step further to know more about the drinks you order at the bar or make at home!

If you would like to learn more about cocktails, liqueurs, and other food and drinks, we’ve got you covered here at Nomspedia.

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