cocktail history
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The Fascinating Origins of Your Favorite Cocktails

Some of the best adult beverages come from all corners of the world
cocktail history
Photo modified: istockphoto.com

For many, cocktails are an essential part of daily life. When we cozy up to the bar, we might order the same one or two mixed drinks and occasionally try something new, but have you ever wondered where your usual drink came from or who the genius behind its creation was? For some drinks, the exact details of their invention are open to debate, but others’ origins are surprisingly cut-and-dried. Read on to discover the fascinating origins of your 30 favorite cocktails.

Mudslide

Mudslide
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The mudslide was allegedly invented at the Rum Point Club Wreck Bar on Grand Cayman during the 1950s. Legend has it a customer came in for a White Russian (vodka, Kahlua and cream), but the bartender had just vodka, Kahlua and Bailey’s Irish Cream. There are different variations today — many of which include ice cream and chocolate syrup — but the recipe at Rum Point has always remained the same.

Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan
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The true origin of the cosmopolitan is widely disputed, but many recognize Tony Cecchini as the inventor of the drink. As the story goes, in 1988, the then-25-year-old bartender was working at The Odeon in New York City when he decided to update a drink that was popular on the West Coast that called for well vodka, Rose’s grenadine and lime cordial. To make it more upscale, Cecchini mixed Absolut Citron, Cointreau, fresh lime and Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail. His take on this flirty pink drink is now the gold standard.

Gin and tonic

Gin and tonic
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The faithful gin and tonic was introduced by the British East India Company’s military arm during the 19th century in India, where many had become infected with malaria. As a preventative measure, people drank tonic water, which is made with quinine, an anti-malaria medication. No one liked the bitter taste though, so British officers added gin to make it more palatable. Thus, the G&T was born.

Hurricane

Hurricane
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The hurricane is a sweet and potent New Orleans cocktail made with rum, lemon juice and passion fruit syrup. The beverage is credited to Pat O’Brien, owner of what was called Mr. O’Brien’s Club Tipperary in 1940s New Orleans, Louisiana, (today, it’s just called Pat O’Brien’s). Because of World War II shortages on imported booze, New Orleans bars needed to buy a certain quantity of Caribbean-made rum from distributors before they could get their hands on the good stuff. O’Brien experimented with the less-than-popular spirit, eventually settling on the sweet concoction we know and love, served in a glass modeled after a hurricane lamp. It became an instant hit and has been a staple in the Big Easy ever since.

Margarita

Margarita
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Multiple people claim to have concocted the very first margarita. The earliest and most widely-accepted account is from Carlos “Danny” Herrera, who reportedly made it for a client at his Tijuana-area restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, in 1938. Rumor has it the customer, actress Marjorie King, was allergic to all hard liquor except tequila. To make it more palatable for her, Herrera added lime and Cointreau, salted the rim and called it a day.

Paloma

Paloma
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Though no one knows for sure who invented the paloma, some credit Don Javier Delgado Corona, the owner of La Capilla bar in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico. He also created another cocktail called the batanga, which features Coca-Cola, tequila and lime juice. Other sources indicate that bartender Evan Harrison was the first to bring the paloma to the U.S. It’s made by mixing tequila with grapefruit-flavored soda or, sometimes, fresh grapefruit juice.

Mojito

Mojito
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The mojito — often touted as one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite alcoholic beverages — was born in Havana, Cuba, although the exact location is disputed. One story dates back to 1586, when British privateer Francis Drake sent his men ashore to acquire medicine to remedy dysentery and scurvy. They reportedly came back with a concoction of aguardiente (a precursor to rum that literally translates to “burning water”), lime, sugarcane juice and mint, which remain the cocktail’s primary ingredients.

Dark ‘n’ stormy

Dark ‘n’ stormy
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The dark ‘n’ stormy is essentially a ginger beer-based Moscow mule, but with black rum instead of vodka. It was allegedly invented in Bermuda sometime after World War I when sailors discovered that two of the island’s goods were best mixed together — ginger beer from a factory run by the Royal Naval Officer’s Club and Gosling’s Black Seal rum. Since 1991, the name “Dark ‘N Stormy” has been a registered trademark of Gosling Brothers, prohibiting anyone from marketing the drink under that name unless it’s made using that specific brand.

Irish car bomb

Irish car bomb
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An Irish car bomb is made by dropping a shot of Irish cream (like Bailey’s) and whiskey (usually Jameson) into a glass of stout (preferably Guinness). The drink was created by Charles Burke Cronin Oat at Wilson’s Saloon in Connecticut in 1979. The name was inspired by the small explosion caused by dropping the shot glass into the pint, though it has been the subject of controversy because some tie it to the IRA’s 1972 attack against Northern Ireland, when more than 20 car bombs were detonated in Belfast. Whatever you do, don’t order one of these in Ireland.

Irish coffee

Irish coffee
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In the 1940s, Foynes in Ireland was Europe’s biggest airport for flying boats. Because celebrities and politicians flew in regularly, a new restaurant opened to welcome them. Weather in that part of the world can often be cold and rainy, so head chef Joe Sheridan mixed Irish whiskey into their coffee to keep guests warm and fuzzy. San Francisco writer Stanton Delaplane claims he brought it to the U.S. after drinking it at Shannon Airport. It was first served internationally at Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco, California, on November 10, 1952.

Manhattan

Manhattan
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As the name suggests, this drink is rumored to have originated at the Manhattan Club in New York City in the early 1870s. Dr. Iain Marshall made it to serve at a banquet honoring then-governor and presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The first-ever recipe called for equal parts vermouth and whiskey, and a dash of orange bitters. Today, it’s made with two parts rye, one part sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters and a cherry garnish.

Daiquiri

Daiquiri
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Though there are plenty of variations out there today, the classic daiquiri is a simple blend of rum, lime juice and sugar. It’s named after its place of origin in Daiquiri, Cuba, where it was invented by an American mining engineer named Jennings Cox in 1898. The beverage was intended to protect against yellow fever. In 1908, the cocktail was brought to America by a U.S. Navy medical officer, who introduced it at the staff at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.

Martini

Martini
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The exact lineage of the martini is unknown, but it may have evolved from another cocktail created in Martinez, California, during the mid-1800s gold rush . As the story goes, a miner who had struck gold mosied into a bar for celebratory Champagne, but there wasn’t any, so the bartender used what he had on-hand — gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur, bitters and a lemon slice — and called it the Martinez Special.

Negroni

Negroni
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The Negroni is a classy Italian cocktail made with gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, garnished with an orange slice. The most widely reported account of its origin takes place at Cafe Casoni in Florence around 1919. It’s alleged that French general Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, for his usual Campari and vermouth to be topped with gin instead of soda water.

Old fashioned

Old fashioned
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The Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, has long been touted as the old fashioned’s birthplace. Here, people asked for a cocktail “made the old-fashioned way,” which, to many, meant adding sugar and bitters to make harsh alcohol (in this case, bourbon) taste better. Over time, people started muddling oranges and cherries into it, too.

Moscow mule

Moscow mule
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One might assume that the Moscow mule hails from Russia, but it was actually invented in Los Angeles, California. One night in 1941, a man named John Martin (president of liquor company Heublein) walked into his friend Jack Morgan’s bar, the Cock ‘n’ Bull. The bartender there, Wes Price, was trying to get rid of ginger beer because no one was buying it, and Martin’s company had just acquired Smirnoff, so he had a surplus of vodka. They put the two together and it was an instant hit. As for the famous mug, Morgan’s girlfriend, Osalene Schmitt, inherited a copper goods business, so they deemed it a match made in heaven (and very effective marketing).

Tom Collins

Tom Collins
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Before the Tom Collins, there was the John Collins, which was created by a man of the same name. He worked as a head waiter at Limmer’s Old House in London during the 1860s. The original recipe called for powdered sugar, lemon juice, Old Tom gin and soda water. It’s speculated that because the drink called for Old Tom gin specifically, the name was eventually altered. It could have also been inspired by the very strange Tom Collins Hoax in 1874, when people went around asking others if they’d heard of Tom Collins and, upon their reply, telling them that this nonexistent character was roaming from bar to bar talking smack about them. Believe it or not, it caused quite an uproar.

Bloody mary

Bloody mary
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A man named Fernand Petiot claims to have invented the bloody mary in 1921 when he was working at the New York Bar (now Harry’s New York Bar) in Paris. The original recipe was just tomato juice and vodka, but Petiot came to bartend at New York’s St. Regis Hotel years later and in 1934 he added salt, pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce and lemon. In 1942, the now famous brunch drink was featured in Life magazine under the name “Red Hammer,” and then it was renamed, but it’s unclear after who. It could be Queen Mary I of England, actress Mary Pickford, a waitress named Molly (she worked at a bar called Bucket of Blood) or several others.

Pina colada

Pina colada
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The Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, claims that the pina colada originated there. In 1954, bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero dreamed up the mixture of rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice, and first served it on August 15, 1954. In 1978, the pina colada was declared the official drink of Puerto Rico.

Mai tai

Mai tai
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The mai tai is a sweet potion made with rum, orange liqueur, orgeat syrup and lime juice, though orange and/or pineapple juices are also usually added today. Victor J. Bergeron reportedly conceived it in 1944 at the original location of his legendary Polynesian-themed restaurant chain, Trader Vic’s, in Oakland, California. It’s rumored that the name was taken from maita’i, which means “excellence” in Tahitian.

Mint julep

Mint julep
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Although the mint julep can be enjoyed year-round, most people go out of their way to have one during the Kentucky Derby. The first one appeared during the 1700s, and it likely evolved from a Middle Eastern drink called the julab, made with water and rose petals. After making its way to the Mediterranean, rose petals were replaced with mint, which grew locally. U.S. Senator Henry Clay is credited with bringing the boozy version to Washington, D.C,. at the Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel (one of America’s most historic hotels) around 1850. Though there have been many varieties to date, a true mint julep calls for just four ingredients: mint, bourbon, simple syrup and crushed ice.

Long Island iced tea

Long Island iced tea
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The Long Island iced tea is a potent, sweet drink made with vodka, tequila, rum, gin, triple sec, sour mix and a splash of cola. It does not contain any tea, though it does look like it. Robert “Rosebud” Butt claims to have invented this cocktail as part of a contest to create the best new mixed drink using triple sec in 1972. The name was of course inspired by Long Island, New York, where Butt tended bar at a now-defunct nightclub called Oak Beach Inn.

Bellini

Bellini
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The Bellini is a cocktail made with prosecco and peach puree served in a Champagne flute. It was created by Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy, sometime between 1934 and 1948. What started as a seasonal offering caught fire at the bar’s New York location, and it quickly became a year-round offering.

White Russian

White Russian
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Before the White Russian, there was the Black Russian. It was made with vodka and coffee liqueur (like Kahlua or Tia Maria), and first appeared in 1949. Years later, someone added cream and the White Russian was born. The first recipe was documented in the Oakland Tribune around 1965. The name might suggest it was invented in Russia, but that’s just a nod to the vodka in the recipe.

French 75

French 75
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The French 75 is made with gin or brandy, Champagne, lemon juice and sugar. The first one was allegedly made at the New York Bar in Paris (now Harry’s New York Bar) by Harry MacElhone during the early 1920s. As the story goes, it was thought to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with a French 75-millimeter field gun. The first version featured calvados (apple or pear brandy), gin, grenadine and absinthe. Gin wasn’t used until 1927, when the recipe was published in the cocktail book “Here’s How!” by Judge Jr.

Screwdriver

Screwdriver
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There are multiple stories about the invention of the screwdriver, but the most popular one claims that it was created by 20th-century oil workers in the Persian Gulf, who started adding vodka to their morning orange juice while on the job. (What a great work ethic!) Without a spoon to stir it with, they settled on using whatever was nearby, and in this case, that was a screwdriver.

Fuzzy navel

Fuzzy navel
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The fuzzy navel is made with peach schnapps and orange juice, and it was created by Bartender Magazine founder Ray Foley during the 1980s. Foley was reportedly cutting orange garnishes when a man mentioned that he could smell peach schnapps through the scent of oranges. Foley noted that he was slicing up navel oranges, and he added “fuzzy” to the name in reference to peaches.

Sex on the beach

Sex on the beach
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Although the name is risque, sex on the beach is sweet, fruity and pretty uncontroversial. Rumor has it that it was created by a bartender at Confetti’s Bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was inspired by a promotion for a peach schnapps company, so he used it to make the cocktail, which also includes cranberry juice, orange juice and vodka. It was named sex on the beach after the spring breakers who go to the Sunshine State for sex and the beach.

Sidecar

Sidecar
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The sidecar is traditionally made with cognac, orange liqueur (like Cointreau or Grand Marnier) and lemon juice. The true origin is disputed, but it’s alleged that a bartender named Frank Meier first made it for wealthy American clients at the Hotel Ritz in Paris circa 1922. And yes, it’s supposedly named after the motorcycle attachment.

Tequila sunrise

Tequila sunrise
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The first-ever tequila sunrise was made at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel by Gene Sulit during the 1930s or 1940s. The original recipe featured tequila, creme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), lime juice and club soda. Today, it’s built with tequila, orange juice and grenadine. The modern-day version is credited to bartenders Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice, who worked at the Trident in Sausalito, California, in the 1970s, but it was Mick Jagger who made the drink so popular. He tried it at the Trident in 1972 and liked it so much that he and his entourage started asking for it at bars across the country. Now that we know what the Rolling Stones were knocking back in the disco era, here’s a deeper dive into what the rest of the world’s most famous people drink every night.

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