If you ask a bartender for a custom cocktail the first question they will probably ask you back is “Would you like a spirit forward cocktail or do you prefer something with citrus?”
The difference between a spirit forward & a citrus based cocktail is quite simple.
A spirit forward cocktail consists of alcohol with perhaps the addition of bitters, a cordial, syrup and/or fortified wine. The only citrus element of a spirit forward cocktail would be the garnish (for example; lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit peel, or zest). Citrus flavored bitters or tinctures may also be used in a spirit forward drink.
Some of the most classic examples of spirit forward cocktails are the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sazerac and the Ford Cocktail. These cocktails are more boozy, and have a little bit more of a bite. Definitely not for “Felicia” who likes the lemon drops!
On the other hand, the basic components of a citrus cocktail would be the spirit and then citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc..), bitters or tincture, fresh fruits, and maybe something bubbly like Champagne, Prosecco, soda water, or ginger beer.
Some classic examples of citrus cocktails are a Sour, Gimlet, Bee’s Knees, Last Word and a Sidecar.
Go to my recipe page to check out the recipes I choose to use for these classic cocktails – some may be slightly different than what you use or have been taught. Bartenders around the world have been making and adapting these “classics” for years and many people use slightly different recipes. Mine are the ones that work best for me and taste the best to my palate but if you prefer yours a different way – by all means make what you like! Cocktails are meant to be enjoyed and it is unnecessary to have too many rules.