A Spirited History of the Cocktail

A Spirited History of the Cocktail

A Spirited History of the Cocktail

Have you ever wondered about the history floating around in your Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Strawberry Daiquiri? Spirits, historically seen as the “bad boys” of alcoholic beverages, carry a colourful and controversial history, winding through ancient distilleries, prohibition sagas, and finally, into the heart of today’s celebrations - just in time for World Cocktail Day.

 Very Old Fashioned

 The origins of distillation, the process critical for creating spirits, trace back to ancient civilisations, the archaeological record dating them as far back as 800 BCE in China, with subsequent advancements in ancient Greece, Egypt, and the Arab world. Initially, this technology served medicinal and perfumery purposes. It wasn’t until the Arab empires significantly refined distillation techniques between the 8th and 14th centuries that the stage was set for the eventual prominence of spirits in Europe.

 It’s Time to Take Your Medicine

 In medieval Europe, distilled spirits, known as "aqua vitae" or the water of life, were prized for their supposed health benefits. This medicinal era painted spirits in a benign light, far from their future reputation. However, as the 16th century dawned, the commercialisation and global spread of spirits marked a pivotal shift from healthful elixirs to everyday beverages. The Industrial Revolution later fuelled this fire by making spirits cheaper and more accessible, inadvertently fostering growth in both consumption and alcoholism.

 A Sixteenth Century Sidecar

 A pivotal moment in the story of spirits is captured in a 1673 petition to the English Parliament, highlighting the populace’s transition from beer and ale to the more potent brandy, sparking concerns over health, productivity, and societal well-being. “Before brandy, which is now become common and sold in every little ale-house and come into England in such quantities as it now doth, we drank good strong beer and ale.” Brandy did the humble English yeoman “great prejudice… hindereth their work, and taketh away their senses.” The prohibition of brandy would “prevent the destruction of His Majesty’s subjects.”

 The later gin craze in England epitomised the troubling impact of spirits. This period marked spirits as the villain in the narrative of alcoholic beverages, contrasting with the golden age of beer. This sentiment was vividly depicted in Hogarth’s “Gin Lane”, illustrating a society of drunken mothers abandoning their children (also legless) and the very fabric of society crumbling.

 Whiskey on the Rocks

 In America, Thomas Jefferson, obsessed with the moral and societal pitfalls of spirits, championed wine as a means to elevate the American spirit against “the bane of whiskey”. His efforts to produce a drinkable American wine, however, could not stem the tide of America’s fascination with spirits, which led to an explosion of creativity in how they were consumed. Enter a uniquely American invention that offered a palatable way to enjoy spirits. This “cock tail”, first mentioned in 1806 in New York’s The Balance and Columbian Repository magazine, comprised “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar water, and bitters.” The innovation was credited to a glad-handing New York politician who used it as an electioneering potion to “render the heart stout and bold,” though the magazine also commented that the drink appeared to “fuddle” his head at the same time.

 Many Americans looked to the cocktail as they could not “stomach whiskey solo in the morning.” Day drinking in the Americas in the mid 19th century was a common thing, where a “Kentucky Breakfast” was said to consist of “three cocktails” and a mouthful of chewing tobacco.

 Beer and Revolution

 Across the pond, socialists in Europe wrestled with the role of spirits in society. Figures like Karl Kautsky saw liquor as a foe, yet acknowledged the indispensable social and political role taverns and beer played in proletarian life. While the rich could socialise in “their parlours” with their mind-numbing brandies, the working man, “if he wishes to get together, if he wishes to discuss common concerns, he must go to a tavern. Bourgeois politics can dispense with such an arrangement, but not proletarian politics.” Beer in the tavern or pub was the key to the revolution, to Kautsky, “liquor—this is the enemy.”


Make Some Cocktail History

 Of course, things are a little different today where a morning mimosa isn’t a front line in the class war. Spirits are ancient ancestors to the cocktail, and history moves on, from cocktails to mocktails, virgin, or functional for the more adventurous. But what if you’d like to make a little bit of cocktail history yourself? Well, we’ve included a handy guide to mixing up a storm this World Cocktail Day, to help you unlock your inner mixologist.

 From ingredient selection to garnish, master the art of cocktail crafting and impress your guests with your unique creations. If you need any inspiration head on over to our instagram for an ever-growing mocktail cornucopia


 The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Cocktail

 1. Know Your Ingredients

 Before you start mixing, it's essential to familiarize yourself with the flavors of your chosen ingredients. Whether it's a premium bourbon or a specialty liqueur, take the time to taste and understand each component. By knowing your ingredients, you can create a well-balanced and delicious cocktail.

 2. Start with a Blueprint

 While bartending may seem like a spontaneous art, it's crucial to have a plan before you start mixing. Write down a rough blueprint of your cocktail, detailing the ingredients and their proportions. This roadmap will guide you through the mixing process and ensure consistency in your final creation.

 3. Don't Reinvent the Wheel

 With countless cocktail recipes available, there's no need to start from scratch. Take inspiration from classic recipes and put your spin on them. By using familiar ratios and flavor profiles, you can create a unique cocktail with ease.

 4. Borrow from the Best

 Great artists steal, and the same applies to bartenders. If you come across a flavor combination or technique you love, incorporate it into your cocktail. Whether it's a citrus blend or a unique garnish, don't hesitate to borrow from the best.

 5. Pair Ingredients Thoughtfully

 When selecting ingredients for your cocktail, consider how they will complement each other. Think about flavor pairings that work well together and enhance the overall taste experience. Whether it's sweet and sour or bitter and aromatic, thoughtful ingredient pairing is key to a successful cocktail.

 6. Balance is Key

 Achieving the perfect balance of flavors is essential in cocktail crafting. Taste your cocktail as you mix, adjusting the proportions as needed to achieve harmony. Whether it's acidity, sweetness, or bitterness, a well-balanced cocktail will delight the palate.

 7. Choose the Right Glassware

 The glass you choose can significantly impact the presentation and taste of your cocktail. Consider the style of your drink and select glassware that complements it. From elegant coupe glasses to sturdy rocks glasses, choose the vessel that enhances your cocktail experience.

 8. Garnish with Flair

 Don't overlook the importance of garnish in cocktail crafting. Your nose is half your palate and a  thoughtful garnish can elevate the presentation and aroma of your drink, adding visual appeal and complexity. Whether it's a citrus twist, a fresh herb sprig, or a cinnamon stick lit like a cigar, garnish with flair to impress your guests.

 9. Give Your Creation a Name

 A great cocktail deserves a great name. Take inspiration from the flavors, ingredients, or inspiration behind your creation and give it a fitting moniker. Whether it's whimsical or sophisticated, a well-chosen name adds personality to your cocktail. If you want to call it a Kentucky Breakfast, we won’t judge you.