People have been mixing cocktails for centuries, with some of the best results achieving legendary status.
Many of our favourites have long and fascinating narratives, and just like every good bartender has a twist on a classic, the original stories of the most popular mixed drinks are rarely the same.
From Speakeasy-style classics to tropical throwbacks, just how well do you know your favourite cocktail?
It’s time to delve into the history of some well-known creations to separate the true cocktail connoisseurs from the casual drinkers…
Quite possibly the coolest drink around, and the ultimate classic. A favourite of James Bond himself and a much classier order when you swagger up to the bar than a Pina Colada or a Sex on the Beach.
But ever since Bond ordered his first martini, the debate has simmered among bartenders about the best way to properly make the drink.
Shaken or stirred?
Traditionally, recipes for the classic martini have included both methods, and there are benefits to either choice. A shaken martini will get much colder quicker than stirring, and it will be slightly less diluted.
But a stirred drink looks that little bit more impressive, without any bubbles or cloudiness, and some supporters of the spoon argue that vigorous shaking can ‘bruise’ the gin in a martini, making it taste sharper.
The disagreement over the martini’s origins is just as hotly debated, with some saying the drink’s name simply comes from Martini & Rossi, the company which makes the vermouth that gives the martini its distinctive taste.
Then there’s the legend that it was named after a bartender at the Knickerbocker hotel in New York City, Martini di Arma di Taggia. John D. Rockefeller was said to have popularized this version, which included an olive.
First the bad news. The Daiquiri—pronounced ‘dye-ker-ree’ in its native land—was actually not created by a Cuban. An American came up with the first known recipe in the late nineteenth century, but the tropical drink is named after a beach in Cuba.
Jennings Cox, a mining engineer living in Cuba during the US occupation of the country, is said to have come up with the drink completely by accident. The story goes that while he was entertaining friends one evening, he ran out of gin. He went out and bought the easiest liquor he could find, which was rum.
Adding lemons, sugar, mineral water, and ice to the rum, he turned it into a punch for his guests. They loved it, and he named it for the nearby beach and called it Daiquiri.
Another famous version—the Hemingway Daiquiri—was apparently consumed by the author excessively, earning the drink the nickname “Papa Doble”, with a record of 16 doubles in one sitting.
The Daiquiri was introduced to America when it was served at the Army & Navy Club in Washington, D.C. in 1909, and years later it’s said that John F. Kennedy drank them even during the embargo.
What’s more of a masterpiece than the Manhattan? It’s the pioneer of vermouth cocktails and existed well before classics like the Martini and the Rob Roy.
Known as the ‘King of drinks’, the classic recipe calls for American whiskey and sweet vermouth with a dash of aromatic bitters and a maraschino cherry, for a drink that’s perfectly balanced, elegant and deceptively strong.
As it’s been around for more than a century, it’s nearly impossible to correctly nail down the first recipe, but there’s a good chance that the Manhattan was invented at the Manhattan Club in New York, as the club has long claimed.
The most popular story proclaims that the recipe was created there for a party thrown in 1874 by a Miss Jennie Jerome, also known as the future mother of Winston Churchill.
An earlier claim contests that the Manhattan was invented by a man named Mr Black, who kept a bar on Broadway near Houston Street in the 1860’s.
One of the most popular cocktails ever invented, the Mojito was born on the Caribbean island of Cuba.
A refreshing summer drink, the modern version we all know is a combination of light rum, mint, lime, sugar, and soda water, with lots of crushed ice. The Mojito is the cocktail that bartenders love to hate, as it takes a long time to build, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
There are several theories on its origins, with some saying the drink was invented by African slaves working in the sugar cane fields, and the name comes from the African word “mojo” which means to place a little spell.
Another legend says it was discovered by an English pirate named Richard Drake who was on a mission to find gold in Cuba.
The creation of the Bacardi Company bolstered the popularity of the cocktail, and during Prohibition, the family invited Americans to Cuba for fabulous weekend-long parties.
Even people who aren’t that into cocktails know and love the silky-smooth White Russian. The signature drink of The Dude in the cult favourite the Big Labowski—although he called it a Caucasian in the film—this delicious cocktail has seen a resurgence in popularity ever since.
Strangely, this cocktail wasn’t invented in Russia, and the only thing Russian about it is the inclusion of vodka. The White Russian is the sweet and velvety younger sibling of the Black Russian, which was concocted in the 1940’s, and the version we know and love today was first recorded in 1965.
With just three ingredients—equal parts vodka, coffee liquor, and cream—this cocktail is a busy bartenders dream. No shaking or straining required, and garnishes like coffee beans or chocolate shavings are optional.
Just layer the cream over the vodka and coffee liquor using the back of a spoon into an Old Fashioned glass filled with cubed ice, and you’re pretty much done.
If you like your drinks strong but easy to drink, then it doesn’t get better than this.
The merry Margarita is often considered the perfect party cocktail, containing the barfly’s best friend and worst enemy—tequila.
No one knows who came up with the original recipe, but there are plenty of tequila-soaked stories to take with a pinch of salt.
Carlos “Danny” Herrera, the owner of a restaurant called Rancho La Gloria in Tijuana, asserts that he invented the drink in 1938 for a customer who was allergic to every spirit except tequila.
Dallas socialite Margarita Sames claims that she concocted the drink for a group of her friends while vacationing in Acapulco in 1948.
However, a few years earlier, Jose Cuervo had already been running an ad with the slogan “Margarita: It’s more than a girl’s name”, so we may never know which recipe came first.