10 Classic Cocktails and Their Murky Origins: Part I
Cocktail History and Legendary Bars
Everyone wants to claim the invention of the Martini, the Cosmopolitan, even the Gin & Tonic. Regional, city, and bartender battles exist over who really invented the most “Classic Cocktails.” Mixologists fight for the honor of the discovery. Cocktail historians disagree on the murky origins claimed in most cases, but I will present their cases in Part II of this series. I have been privileged to visit bars that have claimed cocktail origins, famous bars like the King Cole Bar in New York City; Dukes Bar, London, England; and Harry’s American Bar, Venice, Italy.
Let’s dive into 300 years of cocktail history, understand the debated cocktail origins, and together choose the version of cocktail history we want to believe. Join me for Part II, next Tuesday’s Wine Wandering newsletter (March 2). See introduction below.
What is a classic cocktail? The classic cocktail is a concoction that has stood the test of time. History has witnessed the spawning of multiple variations of each cocktail with new ingredients and different spirits conceived creatively by celebrity bartenders over the decades. These iconic cocktails were the game-changers that reflected the history of their era. Classic cocktails are served around the world. By the way, the term cocktail originated from the French word “Coquetier” (Cock tee ay)-- an egg cup used to toss a mix for the Sazerac cocktail invented in New Orleans.
I received my CSS - Certified Spirits Specialist designation in 2016. Since that time, I have formulated what I consider a list of the historic classic cocktails. You may disagree with the choices I have made and suggest others. I welcome your comments and your recommendations for additional nominees for the most iconic classic cocktails along with the world’s most impressive bars as a subject for future newsletters.
The History of Mixology- Early China, American Revolution, and British Empire Contributions
The earliest evidence of a mixture of spirits with ingredients was recorded in 7000 BCE in Jiahu, China at the site of a Neolithic settlement. Early mixologists in China combined rice spirits, honey, and herbs to make a pleasant, spirited drink.
The American Revolution introduced a turning point in the evolution of the cocktail. As you may recall, due to the exorbitant taxes on alcohol imposed by the British Empire, the American colonists decided to make their own spirits. Many of the original whiskies and moonshine were fairly crude, so sugar and bitters softened the XXX blow of these spirits. As early as 1806 there are references to the “Bittered Sling,” an early version of the Old Fashioned, a concoction of spirit, sugar, bitters, and water drunk in the morning. In 1862 “Professor” Jerry Thomas, who owned and operated saloons in New York City, wrote How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion, the first drink book in the United States which documented the Whiskey Cocktail recipe. Additionally, due to the potentially dangerous conditions of the water supply, especially in warmer months, it was safer to drink spirits than to drink water.
American Founding Fathers loved their spirits, as evidenced by the consumption of alcohol during the signing of the Constitution.
The bill for the celebration party for the 55 drafters of the US Constitution was for 59 bottles of Madeira, 76 bottle of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers, and 14 large bowls of alcohol punch – their early cocktail – large enough that “ducks could swim in them.” They used the Madeira – George Washington’s favorite drink – for the final toast on September 17, 1787.
As early as 1825 the British East India Company and the British navy gave soldiers and sailors a concoction of quinine, lime, and Gin. The quinine in the tonic water was used to treat malaria, the limes were drunk to prevent scurvy, and the Gin gave the sailors the “Dutch courage” needed for long, treacherous voyages to India. The Gin & Tonic was born. Afternoon social gatherings for expatriates in India would never be the same without it.
The World’s Most Legendary Bars and their Notable Celebrity Clientele
Skilled bartenders in impressive bars and hotels created classic cocktails. My votes go to the following locations for both their cocktail inventions and notable celebrity clientele:
· Harry’s New York Bar, Paris, has been frequented by the likes of Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Dempsey, Rita Hayworth, and George Gershwin. The bar introduced the world to the Boulevardier (a bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari cocktail) and perhaps the Sidecar (a Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon drink.)·
· The eponymous Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans, is the spot where the “Coquetiers” toss a Sazerac (a rye or Cognac-based drink with bitters and absinthe added.)
· King Cole Bar, St. Regis Hotel, New York City, is adorned with a cryptic “merry old soul” tapestry of the King and the invention of the Bloody Mary (traditionally a vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire, and hot sauce brunch libation). Ask why the figures in the tapestry are wrinkling their noses at the King.
· Harry’s Bar Venice, Italy, is the home to the Bellini, a Prosecco and peach purée blend. Since its 1931 opening, Harry’s Bar was a magnet for the likes of Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Aristotle Onassis, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, and of course, again, Ernest Hemingway. I visited Harry’s right off St. Mark’s Square and observed hundreds of Bellini’s being made. You will feel like you are part of cocktail history.
· Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, Singapore, has a19th-century colonial past and featured a “Writer Bar” where Rudyard Kipling and Noel Coward gathered. The Singapore Sling, a decadent mix of gin, Cointreau, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine, pineapple juice, bitters, and Grenadine, was created there.
· El Floridita, Havana, Cuba, is dubbed the “cradle of the double-strength Daiquiri,” a tropical drink, often frozen, prepared with a blend of rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. A life-sized sculpture of “Papa” Hemingway stands in this bar celebrating its well-known guest.
· Bar Hemingway at the Ritz, Paris, is a gathering spot where celebrities from Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to Cole Porter to Winston Churchill to Marilyn Monroe lingered. The Bar Hemingway is home to the world’s most expensive cocktail, the Ritz Sidecar. It’s a classic sidecar but made with 1830 Ritz Reserve Cognac. The supply is limited but the price tag grows steadily.
· The American Bar at the Savoy, London, was the place in the 1920’s and 1930’s where the famous barman, Harry Craddock, claimed to have invented over 240 cocktails. Celebrity visitors include Errol Flynn, Richard Harris, Cary Grant, and John Wayne.
“10 Classic Cocktails and Their Murky Origins” Part II- Details of all 10 Classic Cocktails- Posted in March.
Part II: 10 Classic Cocktails and Their Murky Origins” -Details of all 10 Classic Cocktails
Tune in Next Week. Here is a preview of this concluding article.
Last week you may have read Part I of my account of “10 Classic Cocktails and Their Murky Origins” where I detailed a bit of the 300-year history of modern cocktails and described some famous bars and barmen who invented them. I hope you have developed a sense that many well-known bars and professional mixologists want to claim the invention of classic cocktails. In Part II I will discuss the nominees for the Top 10 Classics, in my estimation. Surely my choices reflect an American palate and my generational choices. You may disagree or add to the list. If so, please COMMENT below and make your nominees known.
Here is my list. Below you’ll see more cocktail history, recipes, and the drink variations spun off these Classic Cocktails:
· The Martini
· The Gin & Tonic
· The Sazerac
· The Daiquiri
· The Bloody Mary
· The Champagne Cocktail
· The Old Fashioned
· The Margarita
· The Negroni
· The Cosmopolitan
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