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Cocktails are by no means a new way of selling us attractively decorated drinks in bars. They have been around since the early eighteen hundreds and I doubt there is a mix that has not been tried. The very first cocktail was concocted in 1806, in California, and was named the now famous – Martini. By the 1830s gin-cocktails were already being dispensed to New York’s high society and they were soon to be followed by whisky cocktails.
In England the first known mention of a cocktail appeared in Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857) but while the Martini had become a household name in America, it took a lot longer for cocktails to catch on in England.
It was in the Edwardian era that they became a must for the English so-called “fast set” and before long were playing a large part in the world of the beautiful spies and diplomats found in the novels of that self-styled “prince of storytellers,” Phillips Oppenheim. That was the dawn of the golden age of cocktails.
It was not until after the First World War that the English press and ordinary people eventually became aware of them. By the twenties it was The Bright Young Things who were spending a large part of their time and income in bars, sipping the potent concoctions and the Poor Little Rich Girls with their short cropped hair, silk-clad legs and short skirts, danced to the moan of the saxophone and the jingling of shaved ice.
There are almost as many stories as there are cocktails as to who first coined the name. The French claim that Antoine Amedee Peychaud, creator of Peychaud Bitters (bitters are an essential part of many cocktail mixes; Angostura being the better known of these) originally concocted and sold his bitters in Santo Domingo and later took the recipe to New Orleans with him.
He opened a drugstore called Pharmacie Peychaud on Royal Street. His drinks were served in a coquetier which is the French word for an egg cup. The mispronunciation of cocquetier may have resulted in the term cocktail. One of his preparations, the Sazerac (a mixture of brandy and bitters) is also claimed by some (the French) as being the first cocktail, but if we agreed on that, then it would be the French who started the whole business, so I will go for the Martini story.
I am told that there are three American cocktails which can be called the original ones. The Martini (a mixture of gin and dry vermouth), the Manhattan (a mixture of Bourbon whiskey and sweet vermouth) and the Bronx (a mixture of gin, vermouth and sweet orange juice). Since then there have been manifold varieties, from the Bosom Caresser, Between the Sheets and Gloom Chaser, to today’s submissions with their equally unique names, Sex on the Beach, Atomic Mind Blower, Dirty White Mother, Orgasm and innumerable others, many with names I would blush to order.
The Margarita, which must be the world’s most popular cocktail, came to be in 1948. It was named after a Dallas society hostess of that name, who mixed a miscellany of drinks for her guests to taste and subsequently to rate. The overall winning mixture became known as the Margarita; eventually becoming so popular that it spread from Texas to rest of the country and then the world.
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