13 Cocktails You Should Be Ordering On The Rocks

three tropical cocktails with ice
three tropical cocktails with ice - Static Media/Shutterstock/Getty

No matter what type of ice you use in your cocktail — whether it's regular ice, crushed ice, one large cube, or even infused ice cubes — it doesn't get much better than a cocktail on the rocks. It turns out that ice can serve multiple purposes when it comes to cocktails, from adding a refreshing quality to keeping your drink cool. Ice can also help to dilute the cocktail, which isn't as bad as it sounds — in fact, it can even be crucial when it comes to your drink's flavor profile, as it prevents the spirit or any given flavor from becoming too strong.

While plenty of renowned cocktails are automatically served on the rocks, there is a fair amount that can be served multiple ways, whether it's frozen, hot, or even up. With some cocktails, the addition of ice amplifies its complexity, while with others, it adds a necessary lightness or creates a smoother sipping experience. As someone who worked as a server for many years at cocktail bars, nightclubs, and several other types of restaurants, I know the importance of understanding the effect ice can have on a given cocktail. That's why we're here to take the guesswork out of your drink orders and tell you when on the rocks is the way to go.

Read more: The 40 Absolute Best Cocktails That Feature Only 2 Ingredients


lime margaritas with salt rims
lime margaritas with salt rims - Chas53/Getty Images

One of the most divisive drinks on this list when it comes to the iced-or-not debate is the classic margarita, which was likely created in the late 1930s. This drink is revered for its simplicity — all it takes is tequila, an orange liqueur such as Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Triple Sec, lime, and an optional sweetener like agave or simple syrup to concoct this refreshing, summery beverage. It's also a highly versatile cocktail; while it's delicious in its simplest, classic form, it can easily be dressed up with any number of sweet, fruity, or even spicy flavor combinations as well.

While we're not completely knocking its frozen version, the margarita is best enjoyed in its original iteration: on the rocks. You can craft the perfect margarita by using your favorite tequila and fresh ingredients, ensuring that you'll have a flavorful, balanced, and more sophisticated cocktail that doesn't need its elements masked by a slushie form.

Piña Colada

pina colada on the rocks
pina colada on the rocks - RFondren Photography/Shutterstock

There are few things that pair better with a tropical beach vacation than a cool and refreshing piña colada. Since its creation by bartender Ramón "Monchito" Marrero in Puerto Rico in 1954, not only has this drink been declared the official drink of Puerto Rico, but it has become an iconic beverage worldwide. While you may instantly picture the frozen version — whipped cream, cherry, and all — opting for it on the rocks allows the tropical flavors to shine without risking brain freeze. Rather than the overwhelming iciness of the blended piña colada, serving this cocktail on the rocks offers a smooth, creamy texture that is even more delicious and enjoyable to drink.

All you need is pineapple juice, coconut milk or cream (or cream of coconut for a sweeter drink), rum, lime, and maraschino cherries to garnish. You'll be left with a velvety, tropical oasis in a glass — no cumbersome blender needed.

Spiked Hot Chocolate

three iced hot chocolates
three iced hot chocolates - Rimma_bondarenko/Getty Images

This quintessential cold-weather beverage doesn't have to be just for the wintertime. Serving a not-so-hot chocolate on the rocks keeps all the warm, cozy vibes, but is also refreshing, adding a needed lightness and balance to the heaviness and sweetness of the classic drink.

An added bonus of this drink is that it's perfect for customization. If you prefer tequila, opt for a Mexican (iced) hot chocolate recipe, or try it with rum, which plays off of the drink's sweetness. Liqueurs such as the coffee-flavored Kahlúa or Baileys Irish Cream are also delicious options. This cocktail also lends itself well to additional layers of flavor, whether it's chocolate, mint, or cinnamon. Although the end result is decadent, opting for on-the-rocks over blending keeps this cocktail low-maintenance and absolutely delicious. No matter which indulgent variation you try, just don't forget the topping. Marshmallows, whipped cream, or chocolate shavings are non-negotiable.

Mango Tango

tropical mango cocktail
tropical mango cocktail - 5PH/Shutterstock

The history of the Mango Tango cocktail isn't perfectly clear, but it likely originated in Cuba as a mango version of the daiquiri. In the 1940s, it took the tiki bar scene by storm, and for good reason. Although recipes for this tropical cocktail diverge, the most classic includes just a few simple ingredients, while still packing a flavorful punch. Mango nectar, orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed), lime juice, triple sec, and coconut rum come together for this absurdly easy but delicious summer cocktail. This cocktail has sweetness, a bit of tartness, and all the tropical ambiance.

Unsurprisingly, this is a drink that is often served frozen — some versions even combine a frozen strawberry daiquiri with a frozen mango daiquiri for a vibrantly layered cocktail. However, to really allow the mango flavors to shine in a fruity but not overly sweet form, serving this cocktail on the rocks instead is the way to go.

Strawberry Daiquiri

strawberry cocktail with ice cubes
strawberry cocktail with ice cubes - Ekaterina Markelova/Shutterstock

The daiquiri is another classic cocktail that has been entirely co-opted by the frozen beverage craze and has nearly lost sight of its original iteration. Traditional daiquiris, first created in Cuba at the turn of the 20th century, are deceptively simple, and just incorporate rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. The original cocktail is spirit-forward and balanced, with just a hint of sweetness. Unlike the frozen daiquiri, which was popularized during the tropical drink boom of the 1940s and '50s, the classic cocktail is distinctly served up, meaning it is served chilled but with no ice.

These two versions couldn't be more different, but why not combine the best of both? By taking the popular strawberry flavor and serving it on the rocks rather than frozen, you'll be left with all the fruitiness and sweetness of the modern version, with a more elegant, smoother sipping experience inspired by the original.


Manhattan cocktail on the rocks
Manhattan cocktail on the rocks - Evgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock

This next one may be blasphemous for the cocktail purists out there, but hear us out. Although the Manhattan is, yes, traditionally served up, ordering this cocktail over ice became popularized in the '50s and '60s, and as it turns out, there are a number of reasons you may want to order your next Manhattan on the rocks.

Made with only whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, and a maraschino cherry garnish, you may find that the addition of ice eases up a bit of the drink's boldness, which is perfect if you're trying to pace yourself a bit. Plus, it keeps your cocktail cool in the summer, which is always an added bonus. Apart from that, it becomes easier than ever to whip up your favorite cocktail. By serving it on the rocks, all this rendition requires are your ingredients and a rocks glass, no extra supplies, like a shaker or strainer, are needed.

Blue Lagoon

blue lagoon cocktails
blue lagoon cocktails - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Since springing up in the late 1960s or early 1970s at Harry's New York Bar in Paris when it was created by bartender Andy MacElhone, the sweet, tart, and eye-catching Blue Lagoon cocktail has been commonly served either frozen or over ice. But with only three simple ingredients — vodka, blue curaçao (a Caribbean liqueur made from the dried peel of the Laraha citrus fruit and then colored blue), and lemonade, opting for on the rocks saves you time and effort with pulling this zesty retro drink together.

Despite its minimal ingredients, this cocktail is bold, refreshing, and balanced, but if you're looking to add extra complexity to this distinctive cocktail, try adding berries, a bit of lime juice, or a touch of ginger syrup for even more depth of flavor. Garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry and then serve in a hurricane glass for the optimal vacation drinking experience.

Irish Coffee

iced coffee cocktail
iced coffee cocktail - Igor Normann/Shutterstock

A classic Irish coffee is soothing, sweet, and strong, and there's no reason you wouldn't enjoy the icy version. Attributed to Joe Sheridan, a chef at a Limerick airport, legend says that he whipped up this classic drink in 1943 after a flight heading to New York had to turn back due to weather. Ten years later, this drink was introduced to a bartender in San Francisco, and the rest is history.

The ice adds a refreshing spin to this relaxing beverage, making it perfect for hot summer days, without sacrificing any of the Irish coffee's comforting qualities. Either make it regularly with hot coffee and chill before drinking over ice, or try swapping regular coffee for cold brew. And if you're looking for a boozy addition to spike your iced coffee that's not whiskey, there are plenty of options to choose from, such as bourbon, mezcal, or Kahlúa, depending on what flavor profile you're going for.

Tropical Rum Punch

tropical rum punch
tropical rum punch - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

It doesn't get more festive than a tropical rum punch. Perfect for relaxing poolside or for summertime parties, this is another beverage that is better on the rocks.

Rum punch can be made in several ways, and it doesn't always strive to be the most balanced. Made with your choice of fresh fruit juices, a high-quality rum (or two), a spice element, and a sweetener, the rum punch is boozy, fruity, and light-hearted. One popular variation features orange juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, grenadine syrup, and light and dark rum, plus additions like nutmeg and cloves for seasoning, and pomegranate seeds for a pop of color. Add star anise, cinnamon sticks, and a touch of sparkling water to make this rum punch a hit when serving a crowd. Although it can also be served frozen, its variety of flavors can get lost when blended, and at this drink's core, it's supposed to feel fresh and homemade, so keep things simple and ditch the blender for this one.


negroni on table by pool
negroni on table by pool - isilterzioglu/Shutterstock

Okay, we know what you're thinking — isn't this drink always on the rocks? Sure, if you're sticking to the classic Negroni cocktail, then yes, it is served with ice (or one large ice cube, to be exact). However, it's become increasingly popular to order this drink up, meaning it's chilled but has no ice in the final product. Or, if you're looking to veer even farther from tradition, Negronis can be made frozen.

While we're never opposed to trying new varieties of classics, there's no doubt that a negroni is best served the way it was created. The ice cube adds balance to a bitter and spirit-forward cocktail, thanks to the inclusion of Campari, an Italian aperitif. It also keeps your cocktail chilled over time, which is especially important considering that this drink is meant to be sipped slowly to really appreciate its complexity, which would get lost if frozen.

Mai Tai

mai tai cocktail
mai tai cocktail - 5PH/Shutterstock

The citrusy, sunshine-hued Mai Tai is made up of white and dark rum, orange curaçao, fresh lime juice, and orgeat, which is an almond syrup and classic tiki cocktail ingredient. The Mai Tai was actually created in the 1930s or '40s — its exact origins are debated, but it is often credited to two cocktail legends: Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (also known as Donn Beach) and Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron, both of whom had notorious California-based, tropical-themed establishments.

In fact, the Mai Tai was actually made specifically to highlight the flavors of high-quality rum and was meant to be only slightly sweet. But in the decades that followed, this quintessential tiki cocktail has morphed into a sugary — often frozen — concoction, with typical additions such as orange and pineapple juices. But in its original form, the Mai Tai is rum-forward, fruity, and balanced, and serving it on the rocks, as it was initially intended, is the way to highlight its nuanced flavor palate.

Mulled Wine

Red wine with ice
Red wine with ice - Yury Sevryuk/Getty Images

Ice isn't a typical addition to mulled wine, but there's no reason it can't be. Whether you're in a warmer climate or just have leftovers and are wondering what to do, serving this comforting beverage on the rocks is the way to go. Just keep in mind that when serving it cold, it may taste less sweet due to the temperature, so if you make your mulled wine with the intention of serving it cold, perhaps consider using a sweeter wine or adding extra sweetener elsewhere.

To make a delicious mulled wine, combine red wine with sugar, water, and brandy or rum. Oranges, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and cloves add a dash of citrus and warming spices to this classic cozy drink. But this is another drink that allows for creativity. Experiment with different spices, play with the level of sweetness, and try using different red wines to find your ideal combination.


Painkiller cocktail and pineapple
Painkiller cocktail and pineapple - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Created in the 1970s in the British Virgin Islands, the painkiller is rich and refreshing. A twist on the classic piña colada, the tropical painkiller cocktail swaps light rum for dark rum, resulting in more depth of flavor and a hint of spice. The dark rum in this cocktail is particularly important; traditionally, it uses Pusser's rum, which actually owns the trademark for this drink. While you can certainly swap for any other dark rum you have on hand, Pusser's has notes of nutmeg, cloves, tobacco, caramel, and leather, which balance the sweet elements of this cocktail

Combined with pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut, and nutmeg (which plays off the rum's flavors), you'll be mentally transported to the beach in no time. Like the other tropical cocktails on this list, the painkiller can certainly be made frozen, but we would advise against it. When served over ice, this cocktail is perfectly creamy, sweet, slightly tangy, and bold. And you don't want to mess with perfection.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.