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The History of Cocktails

Advanced Mixology guide us through the history of the cocktail

For those who love cocktails, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane.

These alcoholic beverages made using spirits blended with other ingredients have been around since the 1800s, and there have been many changes to them since then.

Let’s explore the transitions that occur throughout the history of cocktails, along with other historical facts you need to know about these beloved mixed drinks.

 

The History of Cocktails: Origin Story

A bartender in shadow pours cocktail mix into a glass

Cocktails were initially inspired by British punches, which contained spirits, fruit juices, and spices in big bowls. The term “cocktail” was first seen on March 17, 1798, as referenced from a newspaper.

Though the origin of mixed drinks can be traced back to the 17th century, it wasn’t clear where, who, and how the “original” cocktail was created.

The first-ever reference to cocktails appeared in a spoof editorial in the Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire, April 28, 1803).

It talked of a “lounger” who, while nursing an 11 a.m. hangover, “Drank a glass of cocktail – excellent for the head…”

But it wasn’t until 1806 when The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York pinned the definition down to what we know of cocktails today: “A stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water, and bitters.”

 

The Art of Bartending

A bartender pours spirits into a cocktail shaker tin

As cocktails made their way into becoming a social badge of honour during the Shakespearean times, developments into the mood-altering effects of booze turned mixing drinks and bartending into big news.

Jerry Thomas or Professor Thomas, an American bartender, helped define the art of bartending. Using the experience he gained from working all over Europe and America, he wrote “The Bartender’s Guide (or How to Mix Drinks).”

It is one of the first comprehensive recipe books that became a standard-bearer for new and experienced bartenders alike, becoming a significant milestone from the Golden Age of the history of cocktails.

 

Exporting of Ice

Ice in a glass

The story of how cocktails came to be will never be complete without mentioning the role of ancient, even primordial – ice!

Before Frederic “Ice King” Tudor, ice was hard to transport.

But thanks to his perseverance and dream of hauling it from colder climates to warmer ports, he made it possible for anyone to enjoy an iced drink at any time.

This shift in availability influenced the invention and popularity of cocktails in and around the U.S., eventually fuelling their rise in other parts of the world as well.

 

The Prohibition Era

Alabamians protesting the Prohibition, an era of the history of cocktails where spirits and other alcohols were banned. Via User:Abraccia2 on https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/File:Alabamians_protesting_the_Prohibition.jpg

It’s not always rainbows and sunshine, even for the fancy and colourful cocktails.

When the National Prohibition Act (a.k.a. the Volstead Act) turned into the 18th Amendment and went into effect on January 17, 1920, the cocktail world was thrown in a loop.

The law forbade the production of beverages that contained more than half a percent (0.5%) alcohol. Most breweries, wineries, and distilleries across America shuttered their doors, never to reopen again.

Even though Prohibition sent the cocktail industry (alcohol world) underground to develop, it still dealt a major blow.

Many talented bartenders moved abroad to continue their trade. Even after the law was repealed, the development of the American cocktails industry remained sluggish until recently.

 

Tiki Culture

A tiki cocktail in a ceramic tiki mug

From the tourism and war-ravaged era, the Tiki culture started to rise. But it wasn’t until Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt’s (a.k.a. Don the Beachcomber) Hollywood restaurant was opened that the Tiki craze started.

It became so popular that Gantt’s place later became a Polynesian hotspot.

Meanwhile, Victor Bergeron (a.k.a. Trader Vic) opened his competing location in San Francisco around the same time, boosting the popularity of exotic tropical and colourful mixed drinks.

The trend died down in the 1970s when the sluggish economy took a turn for the worse.

High-end Tiki establishments were forced to close down, leaving behind colourful signature drinks to be recreated for years to come.

 

Revival of the Classic Cocktails

A bartender pours cocktail mix into two rocks glasses

In the mid-20th century, cocktail drinks took a step back as drug cultures overtook them.

However, around the 90s, people like Dale Degroff of New York’s famous Rainbow Room revived the classic cocktail culture from Professor Thomas’ time.

Degroff’s craft cocktail movement brought historical values and strict quality standards back to a formerly devolved industry. This new era saw drinks like The Pink Squirrel and shooters such as Training Bra cocktails.

Mixology also became popular throughout this period. To this day, bartenders have been flourishing.

As some of Thomas’ original cocktail recipes disappear, new ones such as the Gin Basil Smash emerge daily, keeping the cocktail culture alive.

 

The History of Cocktails: In Conclusion

The history of cocktails has been through a lot, initially rising to fame due to Jerry Thomas’ talent in mixology. The rampant usage of ice then caused the cocktails to blossom.

But it was cut short due to the enacted Prohibition Law.

But even though the Prohibition caused a significant blow, the Tiki Culture arose from the ashes.

And finally, the craft cocktail movement was revived, surpassing the hard times and thriving to this day.

 

About the author:

Advanced Mixology was founded by two friends who had a passion for cocktails and the art of mixology.

Our goal is to create high-quality, aesthetically pleasing, and functional barware so you can enjoy making cocktails at home or in your restaurant – without breaking the bank!

Combining years of experience in the drink industry and our team of professional writers, we have created an online destination that is informative and fun.

Want to write for The Cocktail Service? Get in touch
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