Who invented cocktails?

February 27, 2018

Who invented cocktails?

The question of who invented the cocktail is a loaded one, requiring us to first define what exactly we mean by this name. The tradition of the cocktail is generally considered to be the convention of mixing two or more drinks together, but the more formalised version (and its famous name) took a little longer to develop into the tradition we recognise today.

Why do we call them ‘cocktails’?

The exact origins of the cocktail name is a hotly contested issue. The first acknowledged usage of the term ‘cocktail’ dates all the way back to March 1798, where it can be found in an issue of London’s publication The Morning Post and Gazeteer. However, others have different ideas, and the Oxford English Dictionary states that the word has a US origin from a little later, where the term is used to describe a beverage in an American publication, The Farmer’s Cabinet, dated from 1803. However, there’s no evidence to suggest either of these drinks contained alcohol, and the first time the addition of alcohol is added to a drink using this name is in 1806, when The Balance and Columbian Repository in New York addressed the question, ‘What is a cocktail?’ with an essay which stated that cocktails were “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”

The evolution of the cocktail

Nobody is exactly sure when the first ‘true’ cocktail was created, but by the 1860s the drinks using this name usually included some form of liqueur. Bartenders were introduced to the concept officially in 1862, with the publication of How to Mix Drinks by ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas, which included ten recipes for ‘cocktails’, differentiated from the other drinks in the manual by the introduction of bitters.  This charismatic American author and bartender helped to solidify the cocktail’s reputation as an overwhelmingly US-based invention, with a sophistication unmatched by early UK variants. However, the principles behind the cocktail originate far earlier, with some considering London punch-house proprietor James Ashley, who mastered his craft between 1731-1776, as the first to pioneer the mixology which led to the creation of the first ever cocktail.

Modern-day cocktails

Cocktails become a staple of underground US culture during Prohibition in the 1920s, which rendered alcohol consumption illegal. There was a proliferation of black-market booze which was often of very poor quality, and this required new and inventive ways of covering up the taste and making the most of even the most substandard alcohol.

The popularity of cocktails started to dwindle until the early 2000s, where traditional processes have begun to make a big comeback. Today’s modern mixologists are fond of experimenting with the old and the new, taking inspiration from established processes but using outlandish ingredients to create impressive cocktail concoctions.

How could we not have cocktails in our hampers? Our Cocktail Night Deluxe hamper is the ultimate party (or cosy night in?!) treat. This hamper includes a stylish cocktail shaker by Viski, a selection of four cocktail mixes – Pina Colada, Sex On The Beach, Margarita and Mojito. Also a selection of spirits - Russian Standard Vodka, Havana Club Rum and Jose Cuervo Tequila. Enjoy!


  (Header image - Getty Images)