The drinks that built the bar. 
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Hurricane Cocktail
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

When you taste a cocktail that goes back decades, centuries even, it's not just the combination of booze, bitters, sugar, and citrus that you're letting settle into your taste buds. Unlike the watery bite of a well whiskey Coke or the saccharine aftertaste of a cranberry vodka, a real cocktail doesn't need to be endured. It's to be enjoyed, down to the last smooth drop. 

In the South, we have been blessed with classic cocktail recipes that are older than many cities and wiser, too. So when you taste a Sazerac, Gin Fizz, or Mint Julep, it's not just the liquor coming through. These drinks have got soul and stories to tell, and they won't let us forget. All those watered-down well drinks and new-age craft cocktails might now rule the bar at times, but these classic cocktails built the bar. 

If anything, these 10 essential Southern cocktails are a rite of passage that shows respect for the past, even if that past took place at a dimly lit mahogany bar on an old leather stool. Read on for some of the most classic Southern cocktails to try at least once, with some of our favorite traditional recipes and other recipes that feature a unique modern twist.

Classic Mint Julep
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Mint Julep

This quintessential Kentucky cocktail will have you off to the races with all the components of a perfect drink that prove it really is that simple: bourbon, sugar, water, ice, and mint for garnish. 

Try Our Take: Classic Mint Julep

7. The Crunkleton
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Sazerac

This storied amber-hued sipper hails from New Orleans and the genius combination of rye whiskey, bitters, and simple syrup packs one of the most powerful punches to the tongue and belly you could experience. It's finished with a lemon peel, because the Cajun keep it classy. 

Try Our Take: Classic Sazerac

Hurricane Cocktail
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Hurricane

This sweet rum drink is like an island breeze with a cherry on top. Made popular in Pat O'Brien's bar in New Orleans back in the 1940s, it captures tropical flavor with a mix of passion fruit, orange, grenadine, and both light and dark rums. 

Try Our Take: Hurricane Cocktail

Caribbean Bushwacker
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Bushwacker

Like a boozy milkshake that you'll suck down as fast as you can say, "brain freeze," Bushwackers originated in the South after being brought over by a bar owner to Pensacola, Florida, after a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Expect chocolate, coffee, coconut, and all the rum flavor. 

Try Our Take: Caribbean Bushwacker

Spicy Bourbon-Citrus Punch
Credit: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Mississippi Bourbon Punch

This traditional big-batch bourbon punch—derived from the state of Mississippi—includes standout Southern favorites like muscadine wine, grenadine, and fresh fruit juices like lime and cranberry. Make it for a party and there won't be a thirsty mouth in the room. 

Try Our Take: Mississippi Bourbon Punch

Gin Fizz
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Gin Fizz

Back in 1888, a tavern keeper named Henry Ramos invented the Ramos Gin Fizz, which brought something interesting to the table: whipped egg whites. The frothy drink was originally favored in New Orleans as "the hair of the dog," thanks to the combination of sugar, cream, orange juice, and—of course—gin to keep the buzz going. 

Try This Take: Ramos Gin Fizz

Rum Runner
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Rum Runner

Turns out you don't need to head to the Florida Keys to get this tropical rum drink that packs a secret boozy punch—after all, rum is sneaky like that. Rumor has it that the orange-pineapple-banana sipper was created in the 1950s at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada, Florida, and named for the famous Prohibition era bootleggers. 

Try Our Take: Rum Runner

Milk Punch
Credit: Cedric Angeles

Milk Punch

In many households, it's not Christmas without a chilled glass of brandy milk punch, which is basically a Southern take on eggnog that involves shaking ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and brandy) with tons of shaved or crushed ice to ensure it's cold enough to almost have ice crystals on top. Some trade in bourbon in lieu of brandy. 

Try Our Take: Holiday Milk Punch

Julian's Old Fashioned
Credit: Photo: Jennifer Davick

Old Fashioned

Odds are everyone knows this most classic of all cocktails. Old Fashioneds are beloved by many, thanks to the characteristic muddling of sugar with bitters and water, before adding whiskey or bourbon and garnishing with orange twist and cocktail cherry.

Try Our Take: Big-Batch Old Fashioned

Bourbon Cola Grenadine Slush
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Cheerwine Bourbon Slush

This one might come as a surprise, but Cheerwine (or Cherry Coke, depending on your preference) has gone with bourbon for as long as Southerners could get their hands on the stuff. The most old-school of renditions? Snagging a Cheerwine or Coca-Cola slushie from the curb store and adding a pour of bourbon and grenadine for what Grandpa calls, "extra flair." 

Try Our Take: Bourbon Cola Grenadine Slush