Cocktail Culture: An Evolving Craft
The history of cocktail culture is diverse, one rich with many interesting stories and legacies. But like all good things, cocktail culture has evolved over time to satisfy the changes in society, tastes and popular culture. Traditional recipes and style still live on, but things have certainly changed. Is it a changing preference for spirits, mixers or garnish? Is it the way in which we consume them? Or, is it the type of people who consume them?
Cocktail culture is never set in stone; it's an evolution of the times we live in. And what a time to be alive. Cocktail culture is exciting, fresh and oh so Instagrammable. So let's take a look at the past and see how we wound up at today's cocktail culture.
History of the Cocktail
Alcohol has been around forever – our forefathers have been getting wasted since the dawn of time. There's nothing new here: drinking liquor is ingrained in the roots of societies from the past and you can bet it will be around when we are flying cars and living on Mars.
But when did someone mix a few spirits and other liquids together and begin to give it its own special classification?
The term “cocktail” first made its appearance in The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York in 1806. The originators defined it as “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters”, which was a broad term that could be interpreted in many fashions. However, the essence of this definition still holds true despite a few common exceptions and misuses. People of the time mixed drinks well before this definition, but it was at this time when they began to record the names and recipes for their beloved mixtures.
As you can imagine, there were popular cocktails of the era: the Sling, Fizzes, Toddies, and Juleps. Never heard of them before? You aren't alone. However, if you want to taste the “Adam and Eve” of cocktails, you can find the recipes with a few quick google searches and a few bottles of liquor from your cabinet.
The reasons for making these concoctions are varied. Some believed that the use of bitters mixed with spirits had medical benefits and were also a cure-all for hangovers. And when Dr. Smith prescribes you some more liquor, well, you listen to what the Dr. says. Other drinks were made from necessity – the liquor tasted so bad by itself that you needed to cover it up with sugar and spices. Eventually, people realized that the flavors from adding bitters with sugar or juices tasted really good. So good that they should sell them to the masses.
The Golden Age of Cocktails
Between the 1860's and the Prohibition era has been dubbed by many as the golden age of cocktails. I'm sure you can imagine old men wearing suits, top hats and smoking cigars with cocktail in hand. This was a time of simplicity – where cocktails were generally composed of a few simple ingredients. Think of the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Daiquiri. Not a lot of flare but a lot of basic ingredients that compliment each other perfectly.
Creativity was becoming in style and barkeeps were growing famous for inventing something different and impressing their customers. Many classics were created during this time and the best live on through hipsters and modern bartenders praising the legends of the past. Perhaps the drinks were too good. Perhaps this is the reason that America drank itself under the proverbial table and felt that the Prohibition of 1920-1933 was a necessary evil to make America sober again.
Despite it being illegal, America continued to drink (who would have thought?). And, during this time, the popularity of cocktails continued to grow. Because things are just sexier when you are told you can't have them right? Drinking went underground and the prevalence of jazz parties, bootlegging, speakeasies and the like became the cool thing to do. Even after the prohibition ended, the glory of this drinking era continued onward and lasted into the mid 1900's.
Juice Me Up
During the mid 1900's there was a shift in thinking for cocktail culture. Instead of using sugar, bitters and spices to hide the flavor of poor quality liquor, people began drinking cocktails for the pleasure of taste. The popularity of mixing of spirits and juices skyrocketed and ushered in a new wave of fruity drinks.
While the original definition of the name cocktail was being stretched (remember “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters”) the addition of different juices made for an interesting time of cocktail recipes. We can be reminded of this through some popular drinks you have probably have heard of or sipped: tThe Mai Tai, the Pina Colada, the Long Island Iced Tea – all drinks that have more flavor of the mixed ingredients than the spirit itself. Getting intoxicated without knowing it? Sign me up!
The New Era – Media Influence
In the 2000's to today, a lot of cocktail culture and preferences have been largely influenced by movies, TV shows and even more recently, social media. In the early 2000's the rising popularity of the Cosmopolitan was a phenomenon created by Sex in the City – a show that glamorized the sweet pink drink served in a martini glass to the dominantly female cast. Originally a drink created in the 80's, the popularity of the show influenced many fans to order it as well.
This is not the first or last time this has happened. Think of the Martini, a classy drink ordered by James Bond himself with a very specific serving instruction: “shaken, not stirred.” Or the Old Fashioned, another drink which has made an outstanding come back due to the show Mad Men, which glamorized drinking culture of the golden age of drinking as business men in suits sipped bottles of liquor in their offices.
Without media influence, the popularity of these drinks would not be the same.
This leads us to our current drinking culture, one that is certainly different and exciting at the same time. The rising popularity of finding recipes through online search, easy access to amazing lists of spirits throughout the world, and social media have changed the landscape of cocktail lovers throughout the world. Where in the past it was a tedious process to source the recipes, spirits, bitters, juices and bar equipment to make your own cocktails, now a person is a few clicks away from having the necessities delivered to your door at reasonable prices. Amateur mixologists are now making their own cocktails at home and putting their own unique twists.
Professionals are mixing the classics but are also inventing their own unique flavors and ways of serving them beautifully. Social media and Instagram specifically have encouraged bartenders to think differently and enhance the presentation of the drinks by using unique glasses and garnish. Cocktail bars around the world are generating a buzz with outstanding and photo worthy cocktails, bringing people from around the world to their barstool just to give it a try. Just take a look at the #drinkstagram hashtag and you can get a taste of the cool things professionals and amateurs alike are creating.
The Night Cap
Seeing where cocktail culture originated to where it is now gives us fantastic perspective. We live in an era where we can go to a bar to try professional quality cocktails, or go back home and gather the things we need to try to make it ourselves. With the amount of ingredients around the world, the potential of cocktail culture is limitless. Our mission here at The Cocktail Box Co is to explore everything that is cocktails. Because it's always time to celebrate. And baby, we celebrate best with a cocktail in hand, so grab a glass.