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Cocktails History 101

on January 15, 2020

Some people like to enjoy a nice cocktail after a hard day of work. Other people live for 2x1 weekend cocktail specials. Either way, it is fair to say that cocktails are a much loved drink option. But what exactly is a cocktail and where did they come from?

The modern definition of a cocktail is - “an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice or cream.” Basically now-a-days, the word cocktail can apply to just about any alcoholic mixed drink.

The history of the cocktail though is a bit more complicated.

Where the word “cocktail” came from is still a highly debated topic. Some scholars think it might be a corruption of “cock ale” which was a type of drink in 17th and 18th century England. Most scholars though think it comes from the word “cocktail” which referred to horses which were not thoroughbreds. Basically, in this theory, cocktail came to mean an alcoholic drink which was not pure (i.e. thoroughbred) and rather mixed with other spirits or flavors.

What we do know for sure is that by 1806 a cocktail was referred to as - “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” We can take this as the original definition of the “alcoholic cocktail.”

By the second half of the 1800s, cocktails were becoming more and more popular. The first real published guide to cocktails was written by Jerry Thomas in 1862. Called “How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant's Companion” this book helped land Thomas the title of “the father of American mixology.”

In Thomas’ book, he lists many alcoholic drink recipes including “punches, sours, slings, and toddies.” When it comes to cocktails, he defined the difference as an alcoholic drink with the addition of one or more bitters.

Using this definition and Thomas’ 1862 guide we can label the “Old Fashioned” whisky cocktail as the perfect example of an original cocktail.

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the popularity of cocktails continued to grow. This was helped in large part to the success of the ice business. In a time before modern refrigeration, the importing of ice to major cities around the world was a serious boost to the cocktail business.

Prohibition didn’t put a stop to the development of cocktails either. Rather, by forcing alcohol underground, bartenders were able to further expand what a “cocktail” could be.

Gin replaced whiskey, wine, and beer as the alcohol of choice during Prohibition. In a time when any alcohol production was illegal, gin was easier to produce and didn’t require aging. The lower quality alcohol though was more difficult to drink. As such, cocktails began to incorporate more sweeteners, juices, and other flavorings to mask the taste.

After prohibition, cocktails lost a bit of their popularity. However, by the 1980s, the martini had kickstarted a new era of cocktails. By the early 2000s, cocktails had entered a new “renaissance.” Today cocktails are seen as an art form by many and bartenders compete on the international stage for cocktail titles and awards.

Cocktails at Atlas Steakhouse

At Atlas we are best known for our delicious, high quality, naturally aged steaks. Being a steakhouse, we also, of course, have a wonderful wine menu.

However, despite what convention might say, a steak dinner does not have to always be paired with wine. Our bar staff is very knowledgeable when it comes to the more creative pairing of steak and cocktails.

We have all the classic cocktails, from the original Old Fashioned to the martini. Our bar is fully stocked and we are happy to create more elaborate and experimental cocktails for our guests as well.

If you’d like to join us for your own steak and cocktail evening, give us a call at 646-494-7227 and we would be happy to make you a reservation.

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