Whether the treasured tipple is a tequila sunrise, or the loved libation is a lime rickey, it’s likely that we’ve all had a cocktail or two since reaching legal drinking age. And just as your cocktail tastes may change with the years, so do the cocktails themselves, which have evolved dramatically over the several hundred years they have been served at bars, taverns and speakeasies.
Mixed drinks such as punch have been created for centuries, while slings, fizzes and toddies appeared in the 17th and 18th century. But the cocktail as we know it stems from the 1800s. While the word “cocktail” had popped at the end of the 18th century, it was first defined in 1806 by “The Balance and Columbian Repository” of Hudson, New York as “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters, vulgarly called a bittered sling.”
The first bartenders guide “How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion” was penned in 1862 by the father of American mixology, Jerry Thomas, and featured a precursor to the old fashioned, which survives to this day. The Golden Age of Cocktails, between the 1860s and Prohibition, delivered other cocktails which have survived the ages including the martini, the daiquiri and the Manhattan, with the daiquiri specifically being invented by American engineer Jennings Cox while working in Cuba in the late 1890s.
Prohibition, enforced in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933, pushed drinking underground, and forced a change to cocktails, with the addition of fruit juices and other mixers, in an effort to overcome the somewhat inferior taste and quality of illicitly produced booze. The sidebar is one famous prohibition era cocktail, using cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice, while the bee’s knees used honey alongside gin and lemon juice to mask the smell of alcohol.
The late 50s and early 60s again were great decades for the cocktail. The Rat Pack were setting Vegas alight, and dry martinis were one of Sinatra’s drinks of choice. Cocktail parties in the 60’s were a normal and expected weekly occurrence and brought with them an array of specially designed glasses and cocktail tools.
2000s and beyond
Cocktails have seen a resurgence in popularity and the industry has grown leaps and bounds over the last decade. The use of new bar tools, fresh juices, a renewed interest in homemade bitters, the ability to increase bartender knowledge online, and an increase in global cocktail competitions have all fed this industry, which clients are lapping up sip by sip.