The History of Cocktails

Our blogs posts regularly focus on the history of some of our most-loved classic cocktails, but the time has come to investigate when this beverage phenomenon originated. If you have ever wondered how cocktails evolved, read on!

How the Cocktail Began

In 18th century Britain, the place to socialise was the local punch house. These public houses specialised in Punch Bowls, which would combine spirits with fruit juices, spices and flavourings. These popular creations were clearly some of the earliest cocktails, although the term hadn’t really come into use at this time. Of course, people had been mixing their drinks long before then, with evidence from over 3000 years ago proving that this is really nothing new.

In fact, even Punch was an Indian creation, rather than a British one, where distillation technology had already been invented and the locals had greater access to sugars, spices and citrus fruits that made delicious additions to the alcohol. After the British colonisation of India, these blended beverages became popular in the UK.

Rum was the spirit of choice for those with money, having already made its way over from the Caribbean. Drunk warm in winter and cold in summer, the fruits and spices made this strong drink far more palatable and it became a social staple.

America was not far behind, with the term ‘cocktail’ finally being coined in 1806. It was described as ”
“a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters” in The Balance and Columbian Repository. In 1845, a Floridian man created the very first ice machine, which was a real game changer in the cocktail world, allowing bartenders to keep drinks chilled for their patrons, rather than serving luke warm liquids. In 1862, the very first Bartenders Guide was written by Jerry Thomas, an American bartender, when cocktail fever was in full swing. This book remains one of the most popular reference guides for professionals and amateur mixologists alike.

The Effect of Prohibition

Prohibition hit America in 1920. With it, came the closure of public houses and bars across the countries. The only alcohol that was available was on the black market, and it tended to be much lower quality than what people had been used to. This restrictive time was terrible for the alcohol industry, but some of the most well-known cocktails were born in this time, through a necessity of making alcohol beverages that people actually wanted to drink!

A lot of these cocktails were gin-based, simply because it was the easiest and cheapest spirit to find and purify, including the Gin Rickey and the White Lady. Rum was also still popular, spawning favourites such as the Mary Pickford and Bacardi Cocktail.

When Prohibition was lifted, the entertainment industry took some time to rebuild itself, but the drinks of the time had become firm favourites. The cocktail had been born and we are incredibly thankful!

This post was written by ....

Suzanna H
Hi, I am Suzanna. I would describe myself as a bit of a foodie with a side-interest in fancy cocktails. Anything sweet and alcoholic and I'm in! I am also an avid writer, proofreader and editor and work freelance through the website People per Hour.


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