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The Difference Between Cocktails And Mixed Drinks Is All In The 3rd Ingredient
Not every mixed drink can truly be termed a cocktail, as there are some drinks that we typically think of as falling under the cocktail umbrella that mixologists would say are nothing of the kind. According to several different bartenders, it's because these drinks are all too simple to merit the term “cocktail.”
As Chicago bartender Keith Meicher tells Food & Wine, "A mixed drink has a minimum of two ingredients, but once you get to a third ingredient, it's a cocktail." Joe Stinchcomb, a bar owner in Mississippi, agreed with this assessment, stating, "A mixed drink is a 'one and;' Jack and Coke, vodka and tonic, gin and tonic."
Louisville bar owner Nickle Morris defines things a bit more vaguely, saying, "I think it's about intention; if you don't put a lot of effort into the preparation, it's not a cocktail." While none of these mixologists addressed the martini, we'd be inclined to consider it more of a "one and" since the only liquids in a classic martini recipe are gin or vodka plus vermouth.