A Short History of the Cocktail

Origin Story

Like many great inventions, the cocktail’s origins are claimed by a variety of sources.

Until recently, it was believed that the first written mention of cocktail as beverage appeared in 1803 in The Farmers Cabinet in the United States. Traditionally, cocktail ingredients included spirits, sugar, water and bitters – the soul of the Old Fashioned as we know it.

In 2012, a new written record was found, showing the word in print in London’s Morning Post and Gazetteer in 1789, in reference to a drink of spirits and ginger. Moscow Mule, anyone?

Grog was also popularised by the navy in the 1700s – following England’s conquering of Jamaica where rum began to replace beer as the drink of choice, and to this was added water, lemon or lime and sugar – the beginnings of the Mojito.

From punch to prohibition: the birth of the classic cocktail

Another known source is 18th-century British punches – served in big bowls in punch houses, mixing spirits, fruit juice and spices.

The cocktail as we know it became famous during America’s prohibition in the 1920s. While alcohol was banned, speakeasies took off where innocuous colourful drinks were served – with sweet ingredients like honey and fruit juice to mask the taste of bootlegged alcohol. There was a shift in vogue from whiskey to gin, given that it was easier to make quickly and illicitly.

The cocktail evolves around the globe

The World Wars also helped to evolve the cocktail, with global exposure to the flavours of the Pacific Rim. At the same time, legendary cocktails were emerging globally – from Egypt to Paris – with the likes of the Bloody Mary and the French 75.

From classic cocktails to mixology renaissance

While the traditional cocktail waned in popularity from the 1960s (bar a spike in vodka cocktails in the ‘80s), the end of the millennium saw a comeback. Esquire magazine’s April 1997 cover headline reads: Welcome to Cocktail Culture. The 2000s ultimately burgeoned into the mixology renaissance we find ourselves in today – where cocktail culture has brought back quality standards and craft to introduce evermore novel ingredients and complex flavours – like the kind you’ll find on our drinks menu at The Nines under Masterpieces.