Nothing sums up the perfect hospitality experience like a cocktail. Whether it’s sipping a tropical Piña Colada on a beach in Mexico, or nursing a rustic Old Fashioned in Aspen.
The perfectly blended flavors and ingredients all combine together to create an unforgettable experience that you won’t soon forget.
But contrary to popular belief, the history of mixology actually is more recent and a little more complicated.
The idea of mixing drinks together has been a classic bar concept since the introduction of different drinks. A couple of examples of the predecessors of cocktails are Slings Toddies, Fizzes and Julips. These concoctions are mixed drinks that predate the word “cocktail.”
The term “cocktail” was defined by The Balance and Columbian Repository newspaper as “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters.”
There are three reasons why this definition is significant to mention:
1. Although the word “cocktail” is impossible to pin down in its origin, this would be the first time that it appeared in conventional print.
2. The inclusion of bitters was a new concept among mixed drinks in the United States at the time, giving a huge distinction to the term “cocktail” and other similar drinks.
3. The inclusion of the word “stimulating” is a perfect reference to what most mixologists strive toward in their craft.
The cocktail was distinct in being more than a beverage, but a way to tell the story. And it was under this new and powerful definition that the base of the modern cocktail was built.
Enter the Ice King!
Here is a quick scenario: There is a garden party going on and the host is currently setting up the bar area.
But wait! The ice isn’t here, what is he going to do? Odds are, today he would either have some in the freezer or he could buy some at the convenience store.
However, this wasn’t an option for those in the early 1800’s. At the time, ice was generally stored for the winter months in designated “ice houses” across the
In most of the United States, this was a luxury that very few could afford. That was, of course, before the Ice King entered the scene.
Frederick Tudor, aka the Ice King, was an American businessman with one revolutionary idea: to transport a lot of ice.
The core of his business was to carve ice blocks from the frozen lakes and ponds of Massachusetts in the winter.
He would then bring it down to the southern states and the Caribbean where demand was high and supply was low.
But he came across two main problems: The first was transporting the ice without it melting (as it tends to on long, hot journeys). The Ice King actually lost a small fortune in his first few voyages, until he refined his technique of packaging the ice by including sawdust as insulation. From this point on, he was able to take his ice blocks as far away as India!
With the supply problem fixed, Tudor needed to drum up demand.
The ice was mainly used to store food, medicine and for scientific purposes. The quantities needed for this application did not provide reasonable profits to justify such a long journey.
So Tudor needed to find more customers.
His solution? Cocktails. Cocktails had grown in popularity before ice had, but the two
needed to work together.
Essentially, Tudor could “piggyback” on the success of the former to gain success for the latter.
Tudor’s ice marketing tactics to cafes and bars were much like those used by less favorable, more elicit “entrepreneurs.”
He would give the first sample for free, and once the customers had been given a taste of an iced drink on a hot summer’s day, they would become “hooked,” meaning that the Ice King had gained a customer for life.
By the mid-1860s, ice would become common and a prime ingredient of most cocktails available at the time and today.
With the inclusion of ice, and other exotic ingredients added to the mix, interest and adoration of cocktails had spread across the United States. Cocktails were becoming a staple for the American saloon.
However, the majority of this spread came from popular word of mouth and trial and error.
At this point, there was no oversight or general guidelines for creating cocktails among bartenders.
And now is when the granddaddy of American mixology enters the scene, Jerry Thomas.
Jeremiah “Jerry” Thomas was a U.S. bartender who pioneered the tradition of
His influence on the modern American bar has given him the moniker of the
“Father of American Mixology.”
The beginning of his work was his release of “The Bartender’s Guide,” known as “How to Mix Drinks,” in 1862, constituting the very first drink-related book published in the United States. “The Bartender’s Guide” was a list of drinks that had become popular
throughout the 1800s, but had yet to be written down. This book (and its 1876 and 1882 editions) became a must-have for any big or small name bar.
This would begin the longstanding tradition of creating standardized cocktail recipes to be shared among various bars.
From the mid-1800s onwards, cocktail culture in the United States was booming.
As ice and other ingredients became more plentiful due to technological breakthroughs, recipes would develop.
Cocktails became common in every U.S, bar, enjoyed by the rich and middle class alike.
That is, until prohibition came along.
In 1919, the U.S. government took the bold step of criminalizing the transport
and sale of all “intoxicating liquors.”
Needless to say, this decimated the cocktail culture nationwide, with many of the United States’ greatest bartenders of the time choosing to practice their craft in more favorable countries or to go entirely underground.
While times were bleak for cocktails, they were not entirely hopeless.
As the old proverb goes: Every dark cloud has a silver lining.
Prohibition didn’t really stop alcohol consumption, it only pushed it underground, with bars becoming hidden “speakeasies” and normal alcohol businesses being replaced by criminal bootleggers.
This unique phenomenon birthed its own kind of cocktail culture.
During the years of prohibition, the two most widely available forms of alcohol were stolen industrial and home-brewed grain alcohol (e.g. “moonshine”).
These are two pretty awful-tasting options were generally eye-watering at best and undrinkable at worst.
So to mask this taste, many bartenders learned to be creative with mixing their flavors to mask the taste of the foul alcohol.
In addition, another (relatively) available alcohol was rum, previously not as popular in the United States.
This Caribbean spirit exploded onto the scene as it could be easily smuggled into the country.
Two examples of modern day cocktails that hold their roots in prohibition’s availability
of rum or the attempts to mask disgusting alcohol are: the Mary Pickford and the Bee’s Knees.
Thankfully, the United States eventually repealed its decision on prohibition and a universal cocktail culture would return, although, for the most part, this was a slow process.
Through increased exposure to the Polynesian and Pacific regions during World War II, the United States would have it breakthrough into Tiki Culture, a culmination of exotic decoration and food/beverage ingredients to create a beautiful experience for its guests.
It was the culture that translated into many of the ideal cocktails seen today.
As the world has become more interconnected, cocktail culture has become widespread across the world.
Many people have adopted the techniques originating from the United States and adapted them to their own culture’s ingredients and style.
Through this, the field of mixology has become an elegant and sought-after skill which many aspire toward, and new ingredients and techniques are being incorporated daily.