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The History of Mixing and Making Cocktails

History of Mixing and Making Cocktails

By Roy YerkesPublished 2 years ago 7 min read

The history of mixed drinks is surprisingly long, dating back to early China and saloons of the Wild West. Here's what we know about it. People have been mixing drinks almost as long as they have been drinking alcohol (and wine is believed to be at least 10,000 years old and beer and mead to be much older). Homer's Iliad describes slaves who mixed wine, cheese, honey, and raw onions. 3000 years ago, the Minoan Cretans were blending a proto-cocktail of beer, mead, and wine.

The Concept of Mixing

Spice was also not a new concept. Greeks used honey and seawater in their wine; in pagan England, wassail, a cider-based aromatic blend, was served in communal bowls and cups as a harvest celebration. We can safely say that intoxicating beverages such as beer with henbane or wine with thyme have been around for millennia, along with the desire to enhance the effect of alcohol and to give an indifferent product a better taste. According to the experts at a gin distillery in Melbourne, when sugar was introduced, however, it opened up a whole new world of mixed drinks, according to the experts at a gin distillery in Melbourne. In the medieval era, the rich flavoured their ale, mead, and metheglin with spices and sugars brought all the way from the East by sea and land. It's this mix of spice, sugar, and booze that we find in the first cocktail. The distillation process added another dimension. While the Chinese probably knew about this technique by 1000 BC, more than two millennia passed before it reached Europe via Arabs and then, probably, monks. In the medieval period, monks and aristocrats alike began making liqueurs in house (for medicinal reasons, obviously), steeping herbs and spices in home-distilled alcohol, and sweetening to ease digestion. When Shakespeare was alive, mixing drinks was a big deal because palates were sweeter, says a wine connoisseur at a contemporary gin distillery in Melbourne. The drink of choice for watching the bear-baiting was 'sherry,' which people called 'sack.' The drink of choice was 'sugar sack,' (sweetened sherry), or sack-possets, which were a mix of ale, sherry, eggs, cream, sugar, mace, and nutmeg served hot.

The Indian Taste

Punch originated in India, of all places, and it has become the world's most popular cocktail. In this part of the world, distilling has been popular for a longer time than in Europe, and sugar, citrus fruit, and spices were available locally. The origins of punch, a spirit (originally arrack), sugar, spices, water, and citrus fruit, can be traced back almost 1500 years in its homeland. The 17th century brought the discovery and colonisation of India by Europeans, and punch made its way to Europe more quickly than curries, which took about three centuries to take hold and localise. High society soon adopted Rum as its preferred spirit. Hot punches were prepared with Rum to combat the cold weather in Europe. Featuring citrus fruits that were absurdly expensive at the time, they were drunk cool in the summer as an alternative to wine. It is reported that Admiral Edward Russell once held a party for a thousand people in his garden and converted his fountain into a huge punch bowl in which cabin boys rowed boats around the drink with ladles. Clubs and taverns concocted their own secret recipes for this very social drink in America, too. George Washington was given a most monstrous hangover after drinking the Fish House Punch at the State in Schuylkill, Philadelphia. Punch introduced the balance between sweet, sour, and spirit that lies at the heart of many of the most popular cocktails, along with the key flavouring ingredient, spice.

The Pioneers

Historically, mixed drinks flourished in the democratic world of America's taverns in the 18th century, according to the drinks writer David Wondrich. Most of these drinks, many of which were served warm, had a flavour profile that emphasised sweetness, perhaps with some spice - a taste that would seem more like dessert than a beverage to today's palate. In fact, some drinks, such as syllabub, would become desserts. In American taverns around 1690, the flip typically consisted of beer sweetened with sugar or molasses, with rum, eggs, and spices, topped with eggs and rum. Interestingly, the red-hot piece of iron used to heat the tankard gave the beverage its name. Negus, a claret-sugar combination that took its name from a colonial who died in 1732, also arrived in Britain around the same time. A couple of popular drinks of the 1700s were Sherry Cobblers (sherry with sugar and a bit of lemon or a liqueur), Slings (rum with water and sugar), Toddies (sweetened, heated, watered, spiced spirits), and Sangarees (a wine based on Spanish Sangria that was generally sweet and spiced). Folks in the Southern US would start each day with mint-flavoured whiskey, a precursor to the mint julep: the British mix of rum, sugar, and water known as grog appeared in print for the first time in 1718.

The Concept of Rocks

Around the turn of the nineteenth century, four significant developments took place at the same time as the word 'cocktail' appeared in print. Aeneas Coffey developed his still so that good quality spirits could reliably be mass produced. By 1800, artificial carbonation had been achieved; in 1803 refrigeration had arrived; and in 1826 Robert Stein had devised continuous distillation, paving the way for continuing production of good quality spirits. The development of a modern cocktail probably owes a great deal to the availability of ice, but it's no coincidence that the bartending profession developed during the decades following the introduction of decent quality spirits. A contemporary cocktail must always have ice, as anyone who has consumed a room-temperature cocktail can attest. In a way that water alone cannot accomplish, it dilutes the blend, melds its flavours and smooths rough edges. The emergence of the American West was driven by the ease of transport and perishability of spirits, rather than softer alcohols. American workers used to drink all day, every day (booze was a useful antibacterial agent in days when the water was bad). Disguising with whatever was available must have been worth it for the quality of the early American spirits.

The Later Developments

As early as the 1820s, saloons had their own in-house specialties, giving them quirky names such as Sweet Ruination, or even naming them after celebrities. The Mint Julep had mastered its classical form by the 1830s, when Captain Marryatt visited America: a combination of spirit, sugar, and mint, handcrafted with hand-crushed ice in two separate glasses, served ice cold. In addition, bitters were also developed in a significant way. Cold water was used to package the taste of spices, which were previously infused into a drink using either hot or warm water. As a result of the craze for bitters, cocktail flavour profiles became much more distinctive than those of sugar and alcohol or sugar, alcohol, and water in the original blends. This balance of bitter and sweet is actually referenced in the earliest known definition of the cocktail as a "bittered sling.". In the 1830s, Creole immigrant and apothecary Antoine Peychaud developed his bitters in New Orleans. Almost certainly descended from a drink he created, the Sazerac, which is made with his bitters, came to prominence in the 1850s thanks to Sewell Taylor, and may be the first example of companies advertising by using cocktails. Another well-known bitter, Angostura, was invented in 1824. Joseph Santina, who opened the Jewel of the South on Gravier Street in New Orleans in 1852, is credited with creating the Crusta, probably during the 1850s. However, it appears that the Gold Rush of 1849 stimulated the development of the cocktail. 'Gin Cocktails' were consumed for breakfast by California miners, slammed back for an immediate hit of sugar and alcohol, just as one might chug a strong espresso in the morning to wake up.


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