Cocktails vs. Mixed Drinks: What’s the Difference?

standard February 21, 2015 Leave a response

Cocktails vs. Mixed Drinks: What's the Difference?

As a cocktail beginner I’ve encountered an almost unlimited number of seemingly simple questions and I’ve been struggling with the question: What’s the Difference Between Cocktails and Mixed Drinks?

Opinions: Cocktails vs. Mixed Drinks

Frankly I don’t think that there is a right answer and we could all view it as a question for the ages. However, I’ve polled a few fellow cocktail novices to get their take on it. Here are their opinions:

Ryan - Cocktails vs. Mixed DrinksRyan

I’ve been thinking about this and I think the real difference is that a cocktail is a drink crafted from multiple ingredients to make something new to enjoy. A mixed drink is a liquor-based drink that’s combined with a mixer (coke, OJ, cranberry juice, etc.) to disguise the taste of the liquor. As a result, the patron can get drunk fast on cheap, terrible tasting swill.

David - Cocktails vs. Mixed DrinksDavid

When I think of a cocktail I think of a knowledgeable bartender mixing quality ingredients and spending a little more time and effort on the drink. Moreover, the cocktail experience should include something beyond just the beverage itself; a cocktail should have a story or something unique or special about it. For me, a mixed drink would just be a vodka soda – not a lot of thought put into it from either side…

Anthony - Cocktails vs. Mixed DrinksAnthony

I feel a cocktail is something that is made with passion.

I once read a story where a gentleman ordered a martini at a bar in NY. The bartender poured gin and vermouth into a clear glass and just walked away from it to continue a conversation with another patron. He ignored the cocktail for up about 3-4 minutes. Just when the gentleman was about to remind the bartender, he picked up a chilled glass, swirled the martini around a bit and poured it. The delay was intentional and the martini was perfect.

Bill - Cocktails vs. Mixed DrinksBill

After some thought, the answer to the question What’s the Difference Between Cocktails and Mixed Drinks? depends on who’s asking the question. The uninterested general public will use the term cocktail and mixed drink interchangeably, while others who have a greater interest will look more deeply.

For me the term cocktail means an alcoholic beverage that requires care and effort in creating. So all cocktails are mixed drinks, but not all mixed drinks are cocktails. So the basic ingredients of a Gin & Tonic served in a glass is considered a mixed drink, while the application of care (type of gin, brand of tonic, an additional ingredient, etc…) makes it a cocktail.

What Do You Think?

Needless to say there are quite a few opinions. Give us yours in the comments.


Suburban adventurer, beer lover and Cocktail Novice, Bill has a variety of interests including cooking, blogging and "bad" surfing. If you're keen to connect, give him a shout on Twitter.