History of America's Favorite Cocktails
Learn the history of some of America’s most popular cocktails, and their geographic roots.
As every professional bartender knows, the secret to every great cocktail is twofold.
First it has to taste good. Obviously.
But, equally important, there should be a neat back-story, a narrative of how that thirst-quenching concoction came to be.
Trouble is, when new cocktails are being concocted, there’s lots of “taste-testing” going on. So memories of who exactly created what are often not true at all. As President John Kennedy (favorite cocktail: Daiquiri) reportedly said: “While failure is an orphan, success has many fathers.” He was speaking of politics, but even with cocktail creations, many of America’s favorite drinks seem to have many dads.
Colonial Eggnog from Boston
Few people think of eggnog as a cocktail; yet this creamy, sweet-tasting perennially popular Christmas drink, consisting of rum, milk, sugar, eggs, nutmeg and vanilla - is actually one of America’s first cocktails. It arrived here - probably in Boston first, from Merry Olde England in the 18th century when the United States was just 13 remote British colonies.
The early English version of eggnog used brandy. But because Britain placed heavy taxes on all brandy being sold in America, the cagey colonialists substituted Caribbean rum for costly cognac - thus making a winter time cocktail that not only tasted delightful, but was delightfully in-expensive.
Check out Boston
, the American home of eggnog!
A Classy East Coast Cocktail: Tom Collins
On a hot sticky day who doesn’t love the taste of a crisp clean gin & tonic? Like eggnog, we can thank America’s mother country – Great Britain, for this quenching summer cocktail. But in fact the British themselves concocted the cocktail when they were ruling India as one of their other colonies. To avoid malaria, the Brits first tried to down a class of raw gin every day. But the taste proved too bitter, so they added tonic water, together with a fat wedge of fresh lime. And presto – what once tasted totally medicinal suddenly became marvelously drink-able! Eventually, we clever Americans added lime juice and soda water to create the all-American Tom Collins, a perennially popular East Coast summer drink.
Irish Coffee Warms a Weary Traveler
It’s said that 40 percent of Americans can trace family linage back to Ireland. And so it is with this wonderfully warming winter cocktail. In 1942, the first commercial flights between the US and Europe began, using slow Pan American flying boats. After flying overnight from Canada, passengers would land in Ireland for a brief re-fueling stop before arriving in England. To warm up the passengers following a long bone-chilling night flight over the ocean, the Irish would hand out cups of black coffee, with a spoon of velvety Irish cream – plus a large shot of Jameson Irish; this Celtic concoction not only immediately warmed everyone up, it also instantly lifted their spirits! Today Irish coffee is a favorite cocktail from Boston and Chicago to San Francisco.
Taste an Irish coffee in the motherland of Ireland
Mojito Moves from Cuba to Florida
The mojito is one of those cocktails that tastes so nice, even people who insist they don’t like alcohol can be charmed by it. Conceived in Cuba, reportedly by African slaves working the sugar cane fields, the name of this rum, lime and mint drink is believed to have originated from the African word “mojo” meaning to ‘create a little spell.’ Despite its Caribbean origins, however, it was the famous macho writer Ernest Hemingway who introduce mojitos to Americans when he lived in Key West; and today it is by far the most popular cocktail in Florida.
Live like Hemingway and order a mojito on Key West!
Margaritas Keep You Cool in Texas
Many avid cocktail fans believe that the margarita was invented down in Old Mexico – no doubt due to its enchanting Latino-sounding name (‘margarita’ is the Spanish word for ‘Daisy’) and that the drink’s key ingredient is tequila – a distilled alcohol made from the blue agave plant, which only grows in…northern Mexico. However, the fact is, Mexico has never had any cocktail culture, whatsoever. So more than likely this simple but highly popular drink was invented by Americans, either living in Mexico, or visiting there in the 1930s, when alcohol was illegal in the United States.
Mixing this Southwestern favorite is remarkably easy: Simply combine 1.5 ounces of high-quality tequila, a half ounce of Cointreau, plus 1 ounce of fresh squeezed lime.
For the salt-rimmed glass that’s a Margarita-must? Just rub the rim of the glass with a slice of lime, dip it on to a small plate of fine-grained sea salt. Shake off the excess salt, pour into glass and serve! Margaritas are so popular in Texas and Arizona that they are practically those states’ official drinks.
Mai Tai - Oakland's Finest?
Despite its Tahitian-sounding name, this drink – which consists of white and gold rum, with pineapple juice and lime juice -- is as American as apple pie and was not invented in French Polynesia but by bartender/restaurant owner Victor ‘Trader Vic’ Buergon at Polynesian-themed restaurant in land-locked Oakland, California. Buergon claims that he invented the drink during World War II, when hosting some friends visiting from the South Pacific. Sampling it, they shouted: “Maitai roa!” – which means ‘Very good!’ in Tahitian.
Bloody Mary the Mystery Girl
So many people claim to have invented this drink, from an American comedian in Los Angeles, to an American bartender in Paris, that it’s not fair to give credit to any one person. Instead what makes this genuinely all-American cocktail notable is that many people believe it’s a genuine hang-over cure: to be prescribed early on the morning after your big bad night out.
And unlike most modern cocktails, the key ingredients of this classy drink have not really changed from its original simple recipe: mix 2 ounces of quality vodka with 4 ounces tomato juice in a tall glass, add 2 dashes of Tabasco sauce, 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch each of celery salt, ground black pepper and smoked paprika. So who was this Bloody Mary? Nobody knows!
? Try this orphan cocktail in the global city of your choice!
The Puerto Rican Pina Colada
The Pina Colada is probably America’s all-time favorite hot-weather vacation cocktail. Virtually every lady loves it, and most men do, too, though few males willingly admit it because a pina colada often comes with one of those colorful miniature paper umbrellas.
But pretty petite parasols aside, this sweet yet potent tropical drink is bursting with exotic flavors. The name literally means “a pineapple that has been strained” in Spanish (piña=pineapple and colada=strained). Aside from pineapple juice, the non-secret ingredients include dark or light rum, and cream of coconut, served with shaken or crushed ice. Caution with this cutie because this is the kind of tasty thirst-quenching drink that sneaks up on you.
Invented in the 1970s by bartenders in Puerto Rico, this cocktail also became popular thanks to the romantic song “Escape” - also known as “Do you like Pina Coladas?”
Taste America's favorite somewhere a little more exotic, and plan a trip to Puerto Rico
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