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A Quick Cocktail History: Thirsting to Know More About Your Favourite Drink?

“Shaken, not stirred.”

Perhaps the most recognizable film franchise across generations, everyone – from geriatrics to Gen Zs – knows just how James Bond prefers his martinis. 

Make no mistake: cocktails are far more than a fun way to wet your beak; they’re a cultural phenomenon. With more than two centuries of punch-drunk history preceding our favourite mixed drinks, the stories of their origin are more voluminous and brighter than the drinks themselves.

We’ve done our utmost to distill a brief cocktail history, ensuring all the best bits are mentioned and credit is given where it’s due. From their alleged inspiration by British punches (big bowls of spirits mixed with fruit juices, spices, and other flavours) to a few of the most famous cocktails and their inventors, it’s officially Cocktail Tales O’clock.

Mix up your top liquor with a twist and swig it back as we unravel its very makings.

Tall Cocktails: The Colourful Origin of Classic Drinks

Here’s a 10-step breakdown of our history of cocktails based on hours of research and sieving out the lame, inane, and downright insane information swirling around out there. 

  • Origins: Although given true form and life by Americans, cocktails are generally believed to have come from British punch bowls served in the 18th century.
  • Name basis: The term “cocktail” first appeared in a British newspaper in 1798.
  • A definition: Cocktails were not merely myriad drinks mixed together. Traditional cocktails typically include spirits, water, sugar, and bitters. They usually have an epic backstory, too.
  • A Name Forever: In 1806, the term “cocktail” came to be officially defined as a drink comprising spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. A more colloquial moniker, “bittered sling,” was initially used before the term cocktail was cemented.
  • The “Professor”: New York barman, Jerry Thomas, had a significant impact on shaping the history and creation of cocktails. When you mention famous cocktails and their inventors, it’s impossible not to acknowledge Jerry ‘The Professor’ Thomas, and his 1862 book, The Bartender’s Guide, which became the standard for many cocktail recipes.
  • The Ice King: Frederic “Ice King” Tudor completely changed the game – although thought a lunatic for his dream of making ice a globally accessible and importable good – his perseverance paid off. This made Tudor a millionaire and prospects for future ice-cold drinks infinitely brighter.
  • Propelled by Prohibition: With the U.S. prohibition looming large over the alcohol industry during the 1920s, the cocktail zeitgeist was temporarily oppressed. This led to many skilled bartenders moving abroad along with a sharp rise in organized crime.
  • Post-War and Tiki Times: The origin of classic drinks like cocktails wouldn’t be complete without a little pain behind it. After WWII, and along with increased tourism, Polynesian culture was picked up by the Americans’ radar, renewing intrigue in cocktail culture with their beautiful presentations and fun flavours.
  • Salt-Rimmed Renaissance: Then, in the 1990s, a movement relying on cocktail history was led by famous bartenders like Dale Degroff at New York’s Rainbow Room, pivoting back to vintage recipes and quality ingredients.
  •  Modern Mixology: The mixology renaissance is ongoing, showing no signs of slowing down as we constantly think of new ways to invent the old and true. With that in mind, many hidden cocktail recipe gems remain untested in modern bars. 

    Famous Cocktails and Their Inventors

    Famous Cocktails and Their Inventors
    While we may drink to forget, it’s nice to try and remember all those fine people who have helped us to do so.
    Without these visionaries of liquid obliteration, there would be far less reprieve for us suckers wiling away at the long game of life. No cocktail history to disseminate. No cocktail history to celebrate. No cocktails to appreciate – and what a cruel world that would be.
    With that understood, here’s a breakdown of four of the most popular creations in cocktail history. 



    For a drink that has become symbolic of cocktails, ubiquitous wherever one goes, this cocktail history is about as nebulous as a shaken (not stirred) mix.

    Some claim the martini was first poured in San Francisco in the early 1860s at the Occidental Hotel, crafted for a miner on his way to Martinez, California. Others proclaim the drink to be a stroke of genius by a local bartender in Martinez.

    Whatever this drink’s origins, the martini’s enchanting elegance has brought it a global following, including its number one purveyor and patron: 007. 


    With numerous inception stories zestier than the lime juice that it contains, the much-loved margarita comes with tales fueled by tequila.

    One of the better pieces of fantastic cocktail history stories belongs to the Marg; it involves American socialite, Margarita Sames, and her band of merry friends for whom she concocted the drink at her Aculpuco villa gathering in 1948.

    Earlier claims give props for the margarita to Mexican bartenders who mixed the drinks as a festive twist on the tequila shot, served complete with salt and lime.



    Well, no one is denying the origins of this drink: the one and only Havana, Cuba, baby!

    Coming straight from the steamy streets among the swirling cigar smoke, the mojito has a cocktail history that reflects Cuba’s kaleidoscopic culture. This thirst-quenching masterpiece is made from white rum, sugar (the real method uses sugar cane juice), lime, soda water, and mint.

    Adding to its legendary status is that it was forever immortalized in the famous writings of Ernest Hemingway, who fell in love with the drink during his time in Cuba. 

    Fast Fun Facts About Cocktails

    Fast Fun Facts About Cocktails
    • The largest cocktail ever made was a 10,499-gallon margarita which gave Nick Nicora a Guinness World Record title in Sacramento, California in 2012.

    • The most expensive cocktail in the world is the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo’s Diamonds Are Forever Martini, featuring a one-carat diamond alongside Absolut Elyx Vodka – if you’re interested in buying it, be prepared to fork out a cool $18,500USD.

    • Undeniably, the grossest cocktail ever invented has to be the Sourtoe Cocktail. Somehow conceived of in Dawson, Yukon Territory in Canada, this drink is served cold with an amputated toe. A cocktail history we think best remains uncovered.

    • The most complicated cocktail to make must be the Commonwealth cocktail, containing 71 ingredients to honor the 71 countries competing in the Commonwealth games.

    • The most cocktails made in one minute goes to Sheldon Wiley – 18 cocktails in one minute brought him the world record in 2013. He went on to make 1905 cocktails in one hour in 2014. Now that’s making cocktail history!


    Cocktail History You Can Chew On

    Cocktails are much more than fun, fruity drinks as they carry with them different aspects of our past and, in the creation of new ones, come to define the present. They’re a bridge between cultures, introducing us to new places with taste. At Smith & Sinclair, we recognize the beauty of this and have taken the enjoyment of these flavors one step further by giving you the gum-smacking chance to Eat Your Drink!
    If you’d like to be part of cocktail history along with us, it’s as simple as browsing our online store for all the alcohol-infused taste sensations you can chew on.
    – Written by Adam Eli Bernhardt

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