History of the Cocktail

History of the Cocktail

There are many theories about the origin of the word cocktail, but the strongest claim is that it is derived from the French word 'coquetier', which refers to an eggcup type measure. Apothecaries used these measures to dispense alcoholic 'tonics' in New Orleans. It's only a small step from 'coquetier' to 'cocktail', especially after you've had a few!

What we do know is that the first time the name cocktail was mentioned was in 1798 and the first time it was described was in 1806. A cocktail back then was a concoction made of a spirit, sweet part, bitters and water. Think of an Old Fashioned for instance!

The father of bartending

The accredited father of bartending was Professor Jeremiah 'Jerry' Thomas, a native of Westchester, New York. He led the life of a celebrity in his heyday in the mid-1800s, bartending and running bars in New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco. He also toured the US and Europe with a traveling bartending show, during which he made signature cocktails like the flaming Blue Blazer.

Thomas is best remembered for publishing the world's first cocktail and bartending book, The Bartender's Guide to mixing drinks, in 1862, which is still a standard reference work today. The recipes contained within its pages are still used all over the world, such as the famous Collins. 



Recent research has shown that 6 times more Genever was imported into the US than gin during that time. Thomas' biographer David Wondrich also confirms that recipes made with (Dutch) Gin were meant to be made with Genever, since Genever was one of the 4 main cocktail ingredients and was often (mistakenly) called Gin at the time. Genever gives its cocktails a smooth and characteristic depth and allows classic cocktails such as the famous The Holland House cocktail to be recreated perfectly.


From prohibition to Tiki

Long after Jerry Thomas wrote his book, prohibition happened. From 1920 on, it was not allowed to buy, sell, drink or own alcohol in the United States for a period of 13 years. This resulted in skilled bartenders looking for luck elsewhere and introducing the cocktail to Europe.

When prohibition ended, Tiki took over. Extravagant, rum-soaked drinks that were there to celebrate and enjoy.



Vodka, liqueurs and sex

The 1980s are best described by vodka, liqueurs and sex. Most of the cocktails had a vodka base, contained a liqueur and had sexual innuendo in the name. Sex on the Beach, Slippery Nipple and so on. A great time, with some memorable cocktail creations.


Second Golden Age of cocktails

Since 2000 we are in what we now like to call, the second golden age of cocktails. Bars are specializing again, make homemade ingredients and the most creative and flavourful creations. Consumers are picking up again as well, making cocktails from home and enjoying them in the better bars!


Reading next

Cocktail Chronicles: The Story of the Cosmopolitan
How to blend a cocktail