The origin of the word "cocktail" will never be known for sure. Theories range from glasses decorated with tail feathers to a large ceramic rooster filled with leftover drinks to a Mexican girl named Cocktel. Whatever its beginnings, the addition of flavorings and fruit juices to gin, whiskey and vodka and other liquors makes mixed drinks more palatable and for a lot of people.
A mixer is just as important, if not more so, than the spirits that go into the cocktail. What would a Bloody Mary be without the Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces? Or a martini without vermouth? Probably not as popular as they are today. Fresh juices, tonics, creams and sodas will allow the bartender infinite opportunity to explore new cocktails. Juices that work well include cranberry, lemon, lime, orange and tomato. Sodas like cola, club and lemon/lime also lend themselves well to mixed drinks. And don't forget the ice.
Cocktails mixed with gin include the Pink Lady (gin, grenadine, lemon juice, egg), and the English Rose (gin, apricot brandy, dry vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine). Rum recipes include Strawberry daiquiris (light rum, triple sec, lime juice, strawberries), piña coladas (light rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream), and the Grand Rum Toddy (rum, orange liqueur, lime juice, hot water). Vodka mixed drinks like the Cosmopolitan (vodka, cointreau, cranberry juice) and the Mudslide (vodka, coffee liqueur, Irish cream liqueur) have easily withstood the test of time. Lots of customers belly up to the bar for Irish coffee (Irish whiskey, coffee) or an Imperial Fizz (blended whiskey, lemon juice, soda).
Because of the added sugar, cocktails are higher in calories than wine and beer. Wine may have 22 to 24 calories per ounce, while spirits have 65 to 74. That is second only to the highest category of liqueurs, with 85 to 105 calories per ounce. (reference 1) The option of having a non-alcoholic mixed drink may be appealing to those who do not like the taste of alcohol or pregnant women. These "mock" tails can be created from virtually any cocktail recipe by omitting the alcohol, which effectively lowers the caloric content.
Shooters and Shots
Served in a shot glass, shooters are short and potent mixed drinks (although they can be non-alcoholic too). Both shooters and shots are meant to be consumed in one swallow, with a quick tip of the glass. Some widely available shooters are Jäger Bombs made with Jägermeister and Red Bull, Jell-O shots made with vodka and flavored Jell-O (usually served in small paper cups) and the Snake Bite, a mixture of Yukon Jack and lime juice.
Other Types of Mixed Drinks
Champagne and sparkling wine can also be mixed with spirits, and there are recipes for mixed drinks using beer too. (Technically though, these are not cocktails as a cocktail is defined as having a spirit base.) Punches such as Sangria made with brandy, ginger ale and red wine are a great alternative to individual cocktails for a party. Experience with Ouzo and Absinthe for a change of pace to your mixed drink repertoire.