The History of Cocktails

The History of Cocktails

If you step into a bar like Giovanna’s Cocktails you are most likely going to encounter a range of delicious cocktails, but have you ever thought about what brought your favourite classics to the bar. Although a range of mixed drinks were developing in all countries, the first notable mention of the ‘cocktail’ was in 1806 in The Balance and Colombian Repository of Hudson which describes the cocktail as “ a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters”. This may be the first naming of the cocktail but it isn’t the creation of them. 

In the 1850s, it was common in France for Pousse-Café to be served after dinner, which was a mix of liquors. Greeks often flavoured wine with honey and seawater, or anything in between. In pagan England, Wassail was a popular beverage, this was an aromatic blend based on cider. In the time of Shakespeare, ‘sugar sack’ was very popular, which was a sweetened form of sherry. In the 1690s American taverns served the very popular Flip, which was beer sweetened with sugar and molasses or pumpkin. Punch was also very popular in India which was its own version of the cocktail dating back 1500 years, this became popular in Europe due to colonisation in the 17th century, and made rum a favourite of the high-class English. Ginger and pepper have always been popular for livening up alcoholic drinks, so the development of bitters, a liquid spice blend, increased the popularity of mixed drinks. The development of artificial carbonation in 1767 and the increasing availability of ice also contributed greatly to the popularity of mixed drinks, along with the development of filtered spirits, as less expensive alcohol needed to be used. This increasing popularity resulted in most salons offering speciality drinks by the 1820s. 

One of the first classic cocktails to reach its current form was the mint julep in the 1830s. 1849 saw the popularity of gin cocktails, a currently highly popular choice of spirit, and shortly after was the first use of cocktails as a marketing technique to sell spirits. Another classic cocktail, the Manhattan, was developed in the 1870s, and the Moscow mule after world war two due to vodka being the most easily accessible spirit. One surprising factor that saw a surge in cocktail popularity was the 1919 prohibition. Prohibition resulted in a large number of speakeasies selling moonshine, this was a harsh and unpleasant liquor so many bartenders used juices, cream, sugars and spices to mask the taste and create a more palatable drink, which was also useful in hiding alcohol consumption from the police. The birth of convenience foods in the 1930s also led to the first production of cocktail premixes in 1937. 

A more recently developed classic cocktail was the long island iced tea in the 1980s, which is very popular now due to its high alcohol content. Since then bartenders haven’t stopped developing new flavourful cocktails, and the increasing popularity of social media has only increased the creativity of mixologists, who often create twists on our classic favourites, unique creations and theatrical drinks.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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