The Definitive Cocktail Tier List

Warning: This post is for nerdy drinkers, not drink nerds. But we might be two in the same.

If you’ve ever played a video game, rpg, fighting or strategy, then you might be familiar with the term ‘tier list.’ It’s a list organised by tiers (voila) that ranks characters from the best or most effective to the worst or least effective. (Sometimes used for Waifus and Husbandos) Personally, I love these lists, and I wanted to create the first one (or first that I’ve seen) for cocktails.

So, I’ve taken the liberty to create a tier list for different types of cocktails. Each tier measures the potential of the drink.

That’s not to say that a bad Martini, for example, can’t be worse than a great Margherita or Piña Colada. In some circumstances, the latter is 1. more appropriate for the setting and 2. is made with higher quality ingredients, and therefore a better drink.

This post will be updated regularly.


Tier 8: The Well Drink

The Well Drink often gets spilled at the club. It also belongs in the bar you go to before you wait in line for the club. It normally doesn’t taste good. Like cheap liquor and sweetener. That’s because more often than not it is cheap liquor and sweetener. It’s a well drink for a reason, and it’s the cheapest cocktail you can find at any bar.

Examples: Screwdriver, Rum and Coke, Vodka and Tonic, GreyHound, Seven and Seven

Tier 7: The Craft Drink

Often dubbed ‘craft or ‘house’ drink. These are the drinks we learn about after Freshman year. Maybe there was that one bar who did Moscow Mules and pickle backs, or maybe the Generator hostel you were staying at in Barcelona labelled a strong rum and coke with a lime wedge the ‘exotic’ Cuba Libré. These drinks serve their purpose, whether it’s a Mojito on the beach or a Whiskey Smash at a Jockey themed party even though you’ve never been to the downs.

Examples: Moscow Mule, Mojito, Cuba Libré, Smash family (right), Piña Colada, The Lower Sour Family

Tier 6: The House Drink

The difference between a house drink and a craft drink normally lies in one ingredient. You can call it a Craft Drink + 1 or a slight departure, enough that bars feel they can name it themselves. Normally they are solid, and sweet with some kind of berry infusion and cost at least 2€ more than a ‘regular’ craft drink.

Examples: Rhubarb Sour (left) from Jameson distillery

Tier 5: The Specialty Drink

This drink is best reserved for cocktail connoisseurs. It belongs to a recently unearthed group of cocktails, which are making their way back into the heart of drinkers. Often simple to make, they require good ingredients and technique to make properly plus an overall knowledge of cocktail history.

Examples: The Rickey Family, The Higher Sour Family Bee’s Knees, Clover Club, Gin Fizz, Pisco Sour, Michelada (right), Paloma, the Jungle Bird

Tier 4: The Custom Drink

House-made syrups, local ingredients and top technique makes a one of a kind cocktail. You know you’ve stepped into a good bar when they have a small menu of 6-10 drinks that you can only find at that bar. Depending on whether it’s a rum bar or Mezcal, you’ll see that they use specific labels, a sign of experience and moxie.

Example: Des Chiffres et Des Autres from La Loutre in Paris (Gin infused with Thyme, Red Vermouth, Fig Syrup, Lime Juice, and Egg White)

Tier 3: The Classic Drink

These drinks shaped the world. They embody prestige and lineage, and should be taken seriously by any disciple.

Example: Draft Negroni from Danté in New York (Right), Martini, Manhattan, Sazerac, Gimlet

Tier 2: The Perfected Custom Drink

The Perfected Custom elevates itself in a bar of great renown as being either the best on the menu, or a drink of a distinguished excellence. I chose Fuubutsushi by the Little Red Door as an example, because not only is it fantastic drink, its composition is unique. The name, which expresses the change in seasons, parallels this meaning by creating a cocktail of seasonal produce and tea. It literally changes with the seasons.

Example: Fuubutsushi by the Little Red Door (Whiskey, Seasonal Tea, Rice Wine, Terroir)

Tier 1: The Perfected Classic Drink

The pinnacle of cocktails. When everything comes together–bartender expertise, ingredients, location–to somehow elevate a classic drink beyond it’s ceiling. This drink is a once in a lifetime creation, a distinct moment of time, separate from normal life.

Example: Sakura Martini from Bar GOTO

The Exceptions

Like everything in life, there are exceptions. Certain drinks do not fit into a particular tier because of either their cult status, their historical context, or a cultural phenomenon.

Gin & Tonic – The Gin and Tonic can be seen in the collins glass of London socialites and on the HH menu for $4. I’ve seen upscale bars approach it with love and tenderness. For example at Tiger Bar in Paris they have an entire menu dedicated to Gin & Tonics. I’ve also had it plopped in front of me, dripping over my napkin at the dive bar. They range from a Tier 8 Well drink to a Tier 3 Classic drink.

The Old Fashioned – The Old Fashioned on all cases should be a classic drink. It should, but it’s rise to fame through none other than Don Draper has muddled the true classic into a poorly guarded secret. I’ve had some terrible Old Fashioneds since it’s apotheosis, and what makes it all the worse is that it’s normally one of the more expensive drinks on the menu. I’m a bit confused on where to put it. Either a Tier 3 or Tier 7.

Margherita – The Margherita is technically Tequila with sweetened Lime Juice. Viola, a lowly well drink. Although ☝🏽I’d argue that most Margheritas rise above this formula in terms of complexity. Say Tequila, Fresh Lime and Agave nectar–already a better baseline, already in the sour family. Echoing the Gin Tonic, certain bars have perfected the Margherita, and certain bars have contorted it into Punch, a frozen drink or something available on draft. For the purposes of this list, I will place it in the High Sour Family, which I believe belongs in the Tier 5 Specialty drink.

These are just my thoughts. As I mentioned before, I’ll continue to modify and expand this list. Let me know your thoughts. If you have an argument for a specific cocktail, I’d love to hear it.

-Alex

Published by AlexanderGittleman

Alexander Gittleman aka Mr. Cohiba is the writer, editor, and creator of the cocktail blog African Bowtie. He has lived in Seattle, New York, and currently lives in Paris where he covers the burgeoning cocktail scene.

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