The history of cocktails is a bit fuzzy; imagine that. If you mix booze with anything else, you pretty much have a cocktail. Here are a few facts though that maybe you can throw out there at your next cocktail party.
A little Back-History
According to the Oxford Dictionary the word “Cocktail, “was first recorded in the U.S. in a publication The Farmer’s Cabinet in 1803 but it also states it may have been in reference to a non-alcoholic drink. Other sources list it as being mentioned in 1798 in England. The first recorded definition of cocktail as an alcoholic drink was in the May 13, 1806 edition of The Balance and Columbian Repository, where, when asked “What is a Cock-tail?” Editor Harry Croswell replied “Cock-tail is stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” He went on to state “it is said also to be of great use to a democratic candidate because a person having swallowed a glass of it is ready to swallow anything.” The first known book with a section of cocktail recipes was by Jerry Thomas in 1862, who some have gone so far as to call the “Father of modern bartending.” Not really sure if he got a tip for that but we maybe we should all tip one to Jerry.
The first known official “Cocktail Party” was allegedly thrown by a Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr in St. Louis, Mo in May of 1917. The party only lasted an hour before lunch was served but the site remains, being used now as the local archbishop’s residence after being purchased by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. Something tells me there may be a few cocktails still served at this site.
Cocktails Flourish During Prohibition
As you know, alcohol was illegal during prohibition from 1919-1933. Actually it was the sale, production, importation and transportation of alcohol that was against the law. You could drink it, just not too sure on how you could get it: legally that is. There were speakeasies set up all over the country to solve this dilemma. The problem was the quality of liquor was much worse than before. Gin took over from whiskey mainly because it did not need to be aged. Mixers ranging from honey to fruit juices were used to mask the awful taste of the bootleg liquors used in these joints. Another advantage was this made it easier to slam your drinks, since you could get raided at any time.
Here’s the Fuzzy Part
One of the more popular cocktails (and my personal favorite) is the Cuba Libre. This concoction is simply rum and Coke with a lime. Supposedly invented in Cuba during the Spanish American war, the fuzzy part of history pops up again as the war was in 1898 but Coke wasn’t available in Cuba until after 1900. Similar problems occur when researching everything from the Margarita which is rumored to have been mixed in Tijuana to impress actress Rita Hayworth to the Daiquiri which is named for either an iron mine or a beach in Chili, or was invented in Cuba, take your pick.
Bartenders can’t know every drink; if they do, tip them well. Every bar has at least one bartender’s guide stashed somewhere back there. The old standard known as the “Bible of Booze,” is The Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide first published in 1935. Owned and started by the Old Mr. Boston Distillery from Boston, Massachusetts, producers of gin, bourbon, rum and brandies along with cordials and liqueurs, their legacy remains due to the book. Newer favorites range from Drinkology by James Waller to Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh and also Modern Mixology by Tony Abu-Ganim.