The History of Mixing Cocktails
May 19, 2022

The History of Mixing Cocktails

The drink of choice for many bars and restaurants, cocktails are often the star of the menu. They can be made with a wide range of ingredients and can be customized to the tastes of the drinker. They can also be a great way to introduce new flavours and drinks to guests who might not normally order other drinks, such as a wine or beer. Bars and restaurants that serve cocktails are responsible for their safe service to patrons as they often contain a high percentage of alcohol (more than normal beer or wine). This has led to countries like Australia requiring bar tenders to complete a RSA Victoria, or a Responsible Service of Alcohol Certificate that states they have learnt how to serve alcohol responsibly.

Cocktails can be the perfect pairing with food, such as a mojito or a daiquiri. When most people think of a cocktail, they think of a glass of liquor mixed with juice, soda and other mixer. Over the years, cocktails have evolved into an art form, with complex ingredients and complex preparations. The history of mixing cocktails is a long and interesting one.

Keep reading to learn all you need to know.

Early History

Cocktail connoisseurs can find many articles about mixing cocktails online. Although many people think cocktails are e an American tradition, they were seen in England back in the 18th century. Punch houses served big bowls of spirits combined with fruit juice, spices, and other flavors. A British newspaper printed the term "cocktail" in March of 1798. But, the term "cocktail" wasn't defined as we now know it until 1806. The Balance and Columbian Repository in New York used the word cocktail the way we understand it now.  

Jerry Thomas was a prolific American bartender who wrote The Bartender's Guide (or How to Mix Drinks) in 1862. This book contained all the mixed drinks that bartenders frequently served at bars. In the 1800s, Thomas owned and operated bars throughout New York City. He is often considered the father of American mixology. Consumers can still buy his book today. 

As people spent more time traveling, and industrialization increased, mixing drinks became more common. A key ingredient in cocktails is ice. Frederic "Ice King" Tudor found a way to transport ice around the U.S. and internationally, and the options for cocktails exploded. 

Prohibition Problems

Prohibition, in 1919, slowed the growth of cocktail consumption, and even after it was repealed, many talented bartenders had found other jobs. The alcohol trade became an underground movement illegally run by organized crime gangs. The beginning of "speakeasies" and more alcohol consumption became popular. Mixed drinks often tasted terrible, since bartenders needed to be creative in the ways they mixed drinks. They used creams and juices to disguise the poor quality of alcohol. 

During the Wars

World War I and World War II exposed people to the Pacific theater and the Polynesian culture. Tiki culture became widely known, and kitsch and rum became very popular. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt's famous Hollywood restaurant and Victor Bergeron's restaurant in San Francisco became popular Polynesian hotspots. Tiki culture gave way to the Mad Men, Manhattans, and Martinis. When the 1960s and 1970s came along, mixed cocktails declined in popularity, and the drug culture moved forward. 

Modern History 

In the 1990s, Dale Degroff at New York's Rainbow Room started reviving the classic cocktail culture again. This age is known as the "Mixology Renaissance". Bartenders took care to make authentic mixed drinks, not pre-fabbed bottled cocktails and simple sour mix cocktails. Good cocktails were back. 

Although today most historical cocktails are still available, many are not. Drinks like the "Brandy Crusta" and "Port Wine Sangaree" are not likely to be found or known today. However, many of the cocktails in Thomas' book are still available, such as Milk Punch or Professor Thomas's Blue Blazer. 

Today, mixed drinks are popular, and the tradition of mixing liquor to make something new is a hot trend all around the world. Polls suggest that America's favorite cocktails currently are a margarita, martini, mimosa, and the Moscow Mule. 

The next time you pick up your mixed drink, remember that long history is behind this delicious mix of flavors. Tested, tried, and true, mixology is here to stay. 

For your next event, elevate the experience by considering bartender hire services to ensure your guests enjoy expertly crafted cocktails and exceptional hospitality.