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See Also: Cocktail Trivia

Americans are the world’s greatest cocktail consumers. The tradition was invented in America and Americans keep the tradition alive. Bartenders everywhere offer imaginative cocktails wherever Americans travel.

The famous Mayflower carried kegs of beer, wine, and spirits to provide entertainment to the pilgrims. Later on when settlers had planted and started distilling, anyone ordering whiskey was served rye distilled by George Washington’s small but profitable distillery at Mount Vernon. Shortly after the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, many distillers fled Pennsylvania and settled in Kentucky to avoid additional taxes. Governments everywhere have been taxing alcohol almost from the moment it was produced on commercial scale and continue to this day.

In America, cocktails started becoming hugely popular at the beginning of the 19th century.

The origins of the word cocktail are still unclear. Some researchers claim it to be a mispronunciation of coquetier, the French word for egg cup, others attribute it to French officers stationed in New Orleans and frequent guests in a tavern where mixed drinks were served garnished with the tail of a cockerel.

When bourbon whiskey producers in Kentucky started flooding the market, an imaginative bartender invented mint julep that consists of bourbon, fresh mint leaves, sugar and ice cubes. Even the famous English writer Charles Dickens consumed many mint juleps during his frequent visits to the U S A. Actually; he was fond of spirits including gin (gin, sugar and hotel water).

Cocktails were expensive as ice was rare, and costly. The invention by John Gorrie (a physician by trade) of inexpensive ice cube production around 1850’s made cocktails affordable.  Well heeled and socialites started frequenting sophisticated bars looking for new cocktails, excitement and adventure. Manhattan, one of the classic cocktails of all time was created for New York governor Tilden, by a bartender, upon request for a special cocktail. It consists of bourbon, sweet red vermouth and a maraschino cherry. In Canada, rye whisky is substituted for bourbon and in the United Kingdom Scotch whisky.

The “old fashioned” also a classic cocktail reflects the drinking customs of the time (bourbon, sugar and bitters). In those days, whiskeys were rough and hardly aged. Sugar mellowed the harshness, and ice cubes rendered the drink refreshing and palatable.

The undisputed king of cocktails remains the martini, which was created for a traveller by bartender Jerry Thomas at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. The name originates from the town of Martinez, the destination of the traveller, near San Francisco. Originally, martini cocktails consisted of 2 ounces of gin and one ounce of sweet white vermouth. Today, martinis contain very little dry vermouth.

In the 1970’s vodka replaced gin in popularity and today most cocktails aficionados want a vodka martini when they order a martini. Contrary to common belief, martini must be served with an unpitted green olive, never with a stuffed one.

Actually, modern martini’s popularity can be attributed to two things; first James Bond’s now famous phrase ordering the bartender to “shake” his martini and not “stir”. In reality, no self-respecting bartender will ever shake a martini. Vodka martini is preferred because one can barely detect it on the breath, whereas gin smells quite strongly, but gin distillers everywhere spend millions of dollars in marketing to keep it popular.

Cocktails are the domain of imaginative and entertaining bartenders who never tire of experimenting with alcoholic beverage combinations, fruit juices, sugar, ice cubes and other ingredients. Presentation and glassware contribute a great deal towards the appeal of any cocktail, and must be considered carefully.

Cocktail competitions organized by various distillers have contributed positively to the evolution of these intriguiging mixes that continue to please and relax  millions of people daily.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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