Our Favourite 19th Century Cocktails

The 19th century has seen the cocktail being born, become a teenager and rise to adulthood. From a bartender's perspective, the 19th century is a source of inspiration and knowledge.

It's the century where in 1806 the first definition of the cocktail was given, the first sours were made, Jerry Thomas wrote his famous cocktail book and the first golden age of the cocktail started. All these beautiful events have been unknown to many bartenders, and they still would be if it wasn't for the likes of cocktail historian David Wondrich and influential writers like Ted Haigh, Dale Degroff and Gary Regan. Their books on Jerry Thomas, punch, classic cocktails and the history of bartending brought some long-forgotten cocktails, bartenders and stories back to the surface. 

The publishing of their books at the beginning of the 21st century marks what we call the second golden age of the cocktail. It sparked a renewed interest in the classic cocktails, their ingredients, and their stories. Brands like Bols, relaunch their classic Genever after the publishing of Imbibe! by David Wondrich and after Gary Regan started his hunt for orange bitters he couldn't find, companies started to produce them again. Bartenders started wearing bow ties and suspenders, grew their mustaches to look like Jerry Thomas and classics and twists on classics dominated the cocktail competitions. 


Photo by Daniel Angele on Unsplash

As bartenders, we are very thankful for these books. And guests seem to appreciate our classic concoctions as well. Today, we still find the classics and the twists on classics on many menus. Maybe not as much as in the beginning of this century, just after the publishing of the aforementioned books, but they are definitely here to stay. In our Bols Bartending Academy courses, we teach about many of these classics and to share our passion we share some of our favorites here. 

The original gin cocktail

For the 2016 Bols Around the World competition, David Wondrich wrote a great article on the history of the original gin cocktail. He writes about the origin of the cocktail, being an American appropriation and elaboration of an English drink. The dashing of bitters in spirits as a medicine drank in the morning, is known to be done in England since the 1690s and it was the Americans that started adding sugar. Another drink often drunk in England, and fans of Charles Dickens will know this from his books, is gin, sugar and water. Well, probably the Dutch that were living in America in the late 18th, early 19th century combined these two and this is the birth of the cocktail. 

David Wondrich points out in his article, that the region where the first use of the word cocktail origins, is somewhere between New York and Albany, a part of the United States where the population was largely of Dutch extraction, some of them still spoke Dutch. It is very probable that that early cocktail was made with the Dutch spirit genever, sugar, water and bitters. An early recipe from the 1840's that David Wondrich mentions is:

  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters 

  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) water

Muddle this until sugar has dissolved and add

  • 2 oz (60 ml) Bols genever 

  • 3-4 ice cubes (it's best if 1 or 2 of them has been cracked)

Stir for at least 30 seconds and then grate a little nutmeg on top (nutmeg and genever go together beautifully, by the way). To be really authentic, rather than stir the drink you can toss it back and forth between two tumblers.

You might recognize the predecessor of the old fashioned in this drink, and we like to think it is! The beautifully malty flavour of the genever pairs perfectly with the angostura bitters and sugar. A fairly unknown drink that is definitely worth trying!


Photo by Bon Vivant on Unsplash


We fast forward to 1884. O.H. Byron is the first one to write about the Martinez in his bartenders guide. He mentions the Martinez as being a Manhattan with gin instead of bourbon. The Manhattan recipe in the same book calls for 2 dashes of orange curacao, 2 dashes of angostura bitters, ½ wine glass whiskey and ½ wine glass of sweet vermouth. 

Jerry Thomas gives a recipe for the Martinez in the second edition of his bartenders guide. His recipe calls for a pony of Old Tom gin, a glass of vermouth, two dashes of maraschino liqueur and 2 dashes of boker's bitters. A slightly different recipe than O.H Byron as you can see. Jerry Thomas is often credited with being the inventor of the Martinez, unfortunately there is no real proof for this. Like with many classic cocktails, the exact history of the cocktail is not known. 

Nowadays, you see variations on both recipes on menus. Some even containing both maraschino and orange curacao liqueur. Of course we have our genever version of the Martinez. And if you think of it, it is quite possible that Jerry Thomas originally used genever before he wrote the cocktail down in his second book. Many cocktails in the second edition of his bartenders guide replaced genever for the then fashionable Old Tom gin.

The recipe we like to use is:

  • 50 ml Bols Genever

  • 20 ml sweet vermouth

  • 5 ml Bols Maraschino

  • 2 dashes angostura bitters



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