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Cocktail vs. Mixed Drink: What’s the Difference?

by Alchemiq Team
cocktails vs mixed drinks

Cocktail vs mixed drink. Mixed drink vs cocktail. Is there really a difference? And if it is, you will soon find out with clear examples to back it up. So without further ado, let’s see what the difference between cocktails and mixed drinks is.

Cocktail vs Mixed Drink: Is There a Difference?

Even though they may look pretty much the same, there is one distinctive difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink. 


A cocktail is a type of mixed drink that – in most cases – requires you to follow a recipe to prepare. It also requires you to use a defined amount of ingredients and often needs to be made in a certain way.

In general, cocktails consist of: 

  • a base spirit: vodka, rum, or tequila to name just three 
  • a mixer: soda, tonic water, juice
  • flavoring agents: bitters, syrups, fresh fruit

The list of cocktails is impressively long and seemingly endless. However, some classic ones are widely recognized, probably known even by those who don’t reach for a drink often. These include:

  • Martini that is made with gin and vermouth, garnished with an olive or lemon twist. 
  • Margarita that is made with tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau or triple sec. 
  • Mojito that is made with white rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, and mint. 
  • Old Fashioned that is made with bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a twist of citrus rind.

Mixed Drink

A mixed drink is a broader term that stands for a beverage that is made by mixing just two or more ingredients. The interesting part is that while all cocktails are mixed drinks, not all mixed drinks are cocktails. It means that if you want to make a mixed drink, you don’t necessarily need to follow any recipe in particular. 

Now you probably think of the following drinks, which in fact are mixed drinks:

  • Rum and Coke, which is a simple mixture of rum and cola. 
  • Gin and Tonic, which is made with gin and tonic water, garnished with a lime wedge. 
  • Screwdriver, which is made with vodka and orange juice.

This basically means that mixed drinks can be as simple as combining a spirit with a single mixer, whereas cocktails often involve a more thought-out combination of ingredients and mixing techniques.

Cocktails vs Mixed Drinks: What Should You Serve at an Event?

Weighing the options of cocktails vs mixed drinks, and choosing between those two groups of alcoholic beverages depends on the type of gathering and the preferences of your guests, obviously. See the below guide to help you pick right:

Cocktails vs Mixed Drinks for Formal Events

For formal events like weddings, corporate parties, or gala dinners, serving classic cocktails can add a touch of fanciness. That’s why you may consider offering: 

#1: Martini: A timeless choice made with gin and vermouth, garnished with an olive or lemon twist. 

#2: Old Fashioned: A refined drink made with bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a citrus twist.

#3: Manhattan: A smooth blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a cherry.

Cocktails vs Mixed Drinks for Casual Gathering

For casual events such as backyard barbecues, birthday parties, or family reunions, simpler mixed drinks are often more suitable and easier to fix:

#1: Rum and Coke: A straightforward mix of rum and cola. 

#2: Gin and Tonic: A refreshing combination of gin and tonic water, garnished with a lime wedge.

#3: Vodka and Soda: A simple and very popular mixed drink adored for its low-calorie ingredients.

mixed drink vs cocktail - screwdriver

Cocktails vs Mixed Drinks for Themed Parties

For themed parties or special occasions, consider cocktails and mixed drinks that simply match the theme: 

#1: Tropical Luau: Serve Mai Tais, Pina Coladas, and Blue Hawaiians. 

#2: 1920s Speakeasy: Offer classic Prohibition-era cocktails like the Sidecar, French 75, and Bee’s Knees. 

#3: Holiday Party: Choose festive drinks like Eggnog, Hot Toddy, and Cranberry Margarita.

Cocktails vs Mixed Drinks for Mixed Social Groups

When you want to satisfy a diverse crowd with varying tastes, providing a small selection of cocktails and mixed drinks should be your safest option: 

#1: Cocktails: Offer a selection of classic cocktails such as Mojitos, Cosmopolitans, and Whiskey Sours. 

#2: Mixed Drinks: Include simple mixed drinks like Vodka Cranberry, Screwdriver, and Tequila Sunrise.

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