The first publication of the word cocktail was in The Balance and Columbian Repository newspaper in 1806, describing the concoction as:
“Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.”
Cocktails really took off in the mid 1800s thanks to the original celebrity bartender, ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas. In 1862 Thomas published the world’s first cocktail and bartending book, How To Mix Drinks. It contained recipes for many classic cocktails, from the sling to the sour. It even included a handful of recipes for bottled cocktails, such as the Gin Punch, Punch à la Ford and less inventively, the Bottle cocktail.
The year 1920 saw the start of The Prohibition; despite a law passing criminalising alcohol, millions of Americans couldn’t or wouldn’t abstain. This led to a huge rise in bootlegging, an illegal alcohol-industry run by organised crime gangs in the USA. Prohibition caused bars to go under ground, relocating to attics and basements or disguising themselves as cafes and soda shops. These illegal establishments became known as speakeasies, and they were so profitable they began to flourish. But the bootleg booze sold in these establishments was such poor quality, cocktails had to adapt. Rather than the simple cocktails of the 19th century, which were mixed specifically to hero the flavour of the their liquor, these new cocktails were a blend of anything and everything to mask the flavour of the cheap booze or disguise the drinks as something legal.
The 1950s brought bottled cocktails back into people's minds and houses. With all the inventions modern living brought, canned and bottled cocktails were another part of the 50’s glamour.
The next wave of cocktails arrived in early 80's when new liquor such as vodka splashed onto the scene. The relative tastelessness allowed for new cocktails that tasted very little like alcohol. Mixed drinks became sweet and approachable.
Cocktails continued to rise in popularity with bars such as Milk & Honey and Angels Share opening. Passionate bartenders mixed well-balanced, challenging cocktails, once again championing the flavour of the liquor. Cocktails seemed to split into two camps, fun and fruity vs. stirred and serious. Whatever your preference, there was a drink to suit.
The trend of the current 20’s cocktails has taken a more homemade route. However it’s no surprise pre-made cocktails are back en vogue. With bars closed to the public, staff and customers had to get inventive. Be it a small batch of hand-canned cocktails from your favourite local bar or something on a larger scale, bottle cocktails are a fantastic way to enjoy a mixed drink at home.
Now, who’s thirsty?