The original Cocktail contained four ingredients: spirit, sugar, water (or ice), and bitters. This stroke of genius known as the Cocktail, first defined in The Balance and Columbian Repository in the early 1800s, forever transformed the consumption of spirits. This recipe, coupled with the American introduction of ice into beverages, evolved the drinking culture in an important way. The Cocktail was a refreshing way to enjoy spirits, a pleasant step away from the harsh booze slinging days of the past.
Think of a time when you could go to the pub, order room temperature spirit, and sip on it straight. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a time and a place for a worthy straight spirit. However, sometimes just the right amount of cold and sweet can really hit the spot.
During Prohibition, sweeteners such as fruit and honey were often added to alcoholic beverages to make them more palatable. The underground spirit scene produced predominately lower-quality spirits than what had been available previously, and sweeter beverages are generally easier for people to drink.
The true “Classicists” are happy to see that classic cocktails are again appearing on menus today. Looking at any of these you can still see this basic construct. The Old Fashioned, for example, contains spirit (my favorite is rum), sugar, water (ice) and bitters. The Manhattan is another winner, containing spirit, sugar (sweet vermouth), water (ice) and bitters. Or the Martinez? The list goes on. The cocktail is a thing of beauty. Over time, liqueurs were added, along with a cacophony of other interesting and unique ingredients.
Cocktails today often seem to be distant cousins of the cocktails of our predecessors. From squid ink, to smoke, to edible flowers, the possibilities seem to be endless! Now, go get yourself a craft cocktail. You’ve earned it.