Speakeasies, Trash TV and The Big Apple.

The History of the Cocktail {part 2}

Cocktail history officially starts at the beginning of the 19th century. The word cocktail was printed in the Farmer’s Cabonet 1803. Speaking of a chap with a hangover who “drank a glass of cocktail — excellent for the head ...”.  Drinking was legal (and popular) for an entire century until 1919 when Prohibition started. Under the terms of the Eighteen Amendment in became illegal to manufacture, transport and sell alcoholic beverages throughout the United States.

The temperance movement had successfully passed the legislation and it was widely supported. However millions of Americans were still craving their booze fix, this led to a huge rise in bootlegging, an illegal alcohol industry, run by organised crime gangs in the USA. Prohibition caused bars to go underground, relocating to attics and basements or disguising themselves as cafes and soda shops. These illegal establishments became known as speakeasies and they were so profitable they began to flourish.

The poor quality and terrible flavour of the bootleg alcohol sold in the speakeasies caused a break away from the classic cocktails of the 19th century, which were mixed specifically to hero the flavour of the their liquor. The aim of these new cocktails was to mask the flavour of the cheap booze or disguise the drinks as something far more legal. Therefore spirits were mixed with honey, fruit juices or even cream.

Thankfully prohibition ended in 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution officially repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and the "Noble Experiment” came to an end. Folk were gratefully allowed to drink legally once more. However the popularity of the cocktail began to wane; now good quality liquor was back on the market the appeal of a mixed drink was not as prominent.

It stayed this way until the late early 80's when new liqueurs and vodka crashed on to the market, bringing with it the opportunity to create cocktails which tasted very little like alcohol at all. Mixed drinks became sweet, bright and incredibly tacky, approachable to the masses. We can turn our noses up at the sexual innuendo names and ridiculous glassware of the 80's cocktail all we want, but some note-worthy drinks were created in the heyday of the cocktail umbrella.

If nothing else the 80’s kicked open the door to the cocktail renascence of the 1990's, when sour-mix gave way to the Mexican elbow and fresh became king. Vodka soared to new heights, mainly paired with a fruit of some kind and encased in the triangular cocktail glass most commonly known as the martini glass. Sex and the City sprang onto our screen causing the Cosmopolitan to go nuclear and quietly in the background a cocktail resistance was forming.

Bars such as Milk & Honey and Angels Share were beginning to open, their focus was to create well balanced, challenging cocktails. Their customers were treated to passionate bartenders, skilfully making mixed drinks, once again championing the flavour of the liquor. Thus the era of the craft cocktail began, one that has continued its steady incline. It’s no surprise how popular the cocktail has become, with around two centuries of mixed drinks to inspire bartenders. With new techniques and ingredients constantly being developed, there really is a cocktail for everyone.

Written by Dee Davies