History of Cocktails
Everything you need to know about the history of cocktails, from its popularity during the Jazz Age, to cocktail culture today!
By Emma Zhao on Jul. 29, 2022
As the days grow hotter, sometimes, a beer or a wine won’t cut it. Cocktails are a signature summer drink, with multiple flavorful and boozy options.
Cocktails are less like the highbrow wines or the communal beers that have dominated drinking culture since its start. Instead, it resembles more of a fruity punch, with a bit of liqueur. Best known as the drink of choice that millennials indulge in during brunch, it’s a colorful and fun beverage to enjoy during an equally colorful season.
A History of Cocktails
Cocktails of the 1800s were really just fruit punches
Cocktails were initially a beverage inspired by fruit punches, stemming from England. British punches and fruit juices were becoming increasingly popular during the 1700s. It wasn’t until the late 1700s and 1800s that liqueurs were added into the fruity mixtures to create what is now known as a cocktail. In fact, this was when the ‘punch bowl’ became popular as well.
Many British ships and ports that were traveling, or facilitated travel back and forth from the east would carry juices, water, spices, citrus, and liquor. In fact, these were the original ingredients that made an early cocktail during that time period. While there’s no definition during this time, these juicy liquor mixtures became increasingly popular due to its accessibility and convenience.
The term “cocktail” would not be mentioned until 1803 in The Farmers Cabinet, which were a collection of books detailing all things agricultural. It really wasn’t until 1806 when the cocktail was given its first definition – “A stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water, and bitters.”
Cocktails entered the Golden Age (1800s-1900s) with a little more class. Instead of spices and citrus, people started using bitters. It graduated from a large communal mixing bowl, it a classy beverage drunk out of dainty little glasses. It remained a large part of a professional bartender‘s work at the time, meaning you would have to go out for cocktails.
Can a cocktail be made from beer?
With the craft beer boom in recent decades, beer cocktails are becoming increasingly popular. While cocktails are usually made out of all kinds of liqueurs and ciders, but beer is a suitable option.
The main ingredient is obviously beer, and you can add in any bitters, tonics, and flavorings according to what kind of beer cocktail you want.
Wine can also be used to make cocktails!
Where did the word “cocktail” come from?
There are many theories as to where the word “cocktail” came from.
The first theory states that the word was a mispronunciation of a French word, coquetier, an egg cup. It’s said that Antoine Amédée Peychaud, who invented Peychaud bitters, served brandy in egg cups.
The second theory suggests that “cocktail” came from “cock tailings,” which refers to the leftover tailings after beer brewing. The nozzles of the beer barrels used to be called “cocks.”
The last theory claims that the word comes from racehorses. “Cocktailed” referred to a horse with a short tail.
Who invented the cocktail?
It’s actually quite difficult to say who made the first cocktail, because it was more of a gradual creation rather than an immediate invention.
While it’s safe to say that cocktails, or at least, early versions of cocktails existed long before the late 1800s, there was a certain bartender that made cocktail recipes accessible and popular.
In 1862, Jerry Thomas, a popular American bartender known as the “father of American mixology,” published the first cocktail guide containing 10 different recipes. This is when cocktails really started to gain popularity, due to the sheer variety of different tastes.
Cocktail culture and the Jazz Age
The “Roaring 20s” boasted a huge cultural turning point, with women gaining the right to vote, jazz, flappers, parties, and more.
Yet, the rise in culture was opened by the era of Prohibition, which banned the sale, distribution, and trade of alcoholic beverages. This meant that people had to find loopholes in the law, which popularized speakeasies, bootleggers, rum running, blind pigs, and other underground ways to obtain alcohol.
A new social event rose during this time – the cocktail party.
If you’ve ever read any movies or watched any books set in the Jazz Age, you’ll notice that cocktails were a vital part to any large party.
In fact, the cocktail party was invented during this time! Clara D.D. Bell Walsh is known to have popularized the term through her extravagant parties, which helped counter social expectations that women should not drink in public.
These parties were considered to be rather ‘high-brow,’ as people often spent a large sum of money to host them. It was during this time as well, that cocktail related merchandise started hitting store shelves. Cocktails became a symbol for freedom.
Cocktails and Commercialization
After Prohibition in 1933, cocktail culture became legal. Secretive recipes were published in guides, and cocktail bars didn’t have to hide anymore. In fact, a new culture emerged, known as Tiki. This was a (rather inaccurate) American interpretation of the Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian cultures through art.
In general, cocktails during this time became commercialized and heavily influenced pop culture.
Cocktail Culture Today
The colorful beverage faded in popularity in the recent decades. However, this means that bartenders have buckled down to really learn their craft. Many mixologists these days are able to make their own tinctures, flavorings, and bitters.
Pre-pandemic saw huge popularity with short-lived themes bars, like Tiki bars. However, nightlife was more or less demolished during quarantine. Now, many bartenders are predicting a slow return to nightlife, which involves lowkey bars, where cocktails blur into coffee, food, music, etc., might become more popular post-pandemic.
In short, cocktail culture is here to stay!
For cocktail recipes, check out these articles:
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