It’s almost impossible to know when and where the cocktail was invented. People have been mixing drinks since the beginning of time. It seems everyone has their own theory on the history of cocktails, but it’s impossible not to question the “facts”.
Many of the theories purporting to be the true history of cocktails are nothing more than stories and suppositions. When tales stick around long enough they just become understood as the truth, but it doesn’t make them so.
Mixing drinks goes as far back as the invention of alcohol. According to some accounts, wine was first invented 10,000 years ago, and mead and beer are even older. We know from Homer’s Iliad that slave-girls mixed wine, cheese, honey and raw onions, while Vikings drank concoctions of fermented water and honey, known as mead.
When you think that alcohol was mostly used for medicinal purposes, it’s no surprise that they wanted to improve the flavour. With the discovery of new ingredients, such as sugar and various spices, people could make drinks that were much more palatable, whether for medicinal purposes or to enjoy the effects of alcohol.
The original cocktail formula of mixing spirits, sugar, water, and bitters has its own theories and adventures. If you’re up for a history lesson on cocktails, read on.
Who invented the first cocktail?
Legend says the British were the first to have mixed spirits when they came up with the famous punch. English sailors brought the recipe for punch back with them from India in the early 17th century.
Punch is a distilled spirit mixed with sugar, spices, citrus and water. The first time the word punch was ever mentioned was in English documents in 1632. With the discovery of new spices, spirits and sweeteners, the punch evolved, and many variations appeared.
The origin of the word cocktail
Cocktail lovers will tell you everything about a Cosmo, a Negroni, Americano or a Mojito, how they are made and maybe a little story behind them. But not many will know the history behind the word cocktail. So what do we know about it?
There have been many tales and beliefs behind the origin of the word cocktail. While nobody can say for sure where the word comes from, we know that it was initially used to describe one type of mixed drink, and somehow through the years, it became the catchall term for all mixed drinks.
Here are some of the most famous folk tales…
The Eggcup Tale
Legend has it that a New Orleans apothecary first used the word cocktail in the late 18th century. Antoine Amedee Peychaud, the inventor of Peychaud bitters, served brandy mixed with his bitters in eggcups.
The French word for eggcup is coquetier, which is pronounced as cocktay in English, so it’s believed that the term was mispronounced, and the phrase became cocktail.
The Tale of Betsy Flanagan
One of the most popular stories regarding the origin of the word cocktail involves an innkeeper during the American Revolution. Betsy Flanagan used chicken feathers to garnish the drinks of the French soldiers who were fighting for the Americans.
The soldiers would shout in Franglais, “ Vive le cock-tail.”
Cola de Gallo
While in Mexico, English sailors were served drinks mixed with the root of a plant known as Cola de Gallo, meaning cock’s tail in English. The root of this plant was rather long and looked like a bird’s tail. This story is mentioned in the “Old Mr Boston Bartender’s Guide” published in 1936.
The first cocktail book
While the tales we tell about the history of cocktails are mostly speculative, there is evidence of the first cocktail book.
The first cocktail book was written in 1862 by a prolific American bartender Jerry Thomas, who worked all around the United States and Europe and owned saloons in New York City.
Jerry named his book “How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion”. The book practically became an encyclopedia for all bartenders around the world. Because of his avant-garde work in popularising cocktails in the United States, he is referred to as “the father of American mixology” or simply “The Professor”.
While we see many of the classic cocktails from Jerry’s book on cocktail lists, many of the drinks in “The Bartender’s Guide” are long forgotten. However, if you can’t get a Duke of Norfolk Punch, which is made of brandy, wine, milk and sugar, you can still get a Milk Punch, so the influence of Jerry Thomas on modern day bartending can’t be denied.
How cocktails become popular
Some of the best classic cocktails, such as the Martini, the Manhattan or the Daiquiri, first appeared between the 1860s and Prohibition in the United States. This era is known as the Golden Age of Cocktails. This is when the real history of cocktails began.