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A Brief History of Cocktails

The only thing certain about the origins of the cocktail is uncertainty. Even the name is steeped in mystery. It is said that, for one reason or another, a drink composed of various spirits was served with the colorful plumage of a rooster. Some stories point to a creative barmaid who speared cherries with feathers as a garnish. Others tell of pirates who had nothing else to stir their drinks with.

Whatever you believe, one thing is clear—cocktails exude refinement. Cocktails take time to make and time to savor. They exhibit the styles of the present day, and pay homage to the timeless classics that created this special genre of drinks. From the recipe to the glassware, cocktails are special. They transcend the everyday. Even making a cocktail requires a few specialized tools created just for the task.

The first written records of cocktails as a mixed alcoholic drink date to the early 1800s. However, by the 1890s, cocktails had grown in popularity both in the United States and abroad. As time marched on, each decade made its mark on the world of cocktails, inventing new drinks and even new spirits to use in them.

A Quick Timeline of the American Cocktail

  • 1850–1875: The term “cocktail” begins to be used by bartenders and bar publications for certain mixed drinks (usually those with bitters).
  • 1875–1900: Cocktails become wildly popular with bar-going patrons and those who can afford to make them at home. Distinct styles begin to take shape, like the Highball and the Old Fashioned.
  • 1900–1925: Prohibition begins in 1920, but illegal speakeasies continue to serve cocktails in clandestine settings. An underground cocktail scene thrives, and tastes move toward sweeter drinks made with gin or white whiskey instead of aged whiskey. Sweet recipes masked the harshness of inferior booze, while unoaked spirits were easier to obtain on the black market.
  • 1925–1950: Prohibition is lifted in 1933, and cocktails become more popular than ever. Bartenders become a valued member of the nightlife profession, and detailed recipes solidify what will become known as classic cocktails. Books begin to outline proper glassware, specific measurements and methods of preparation, along with acceptable variations. Tiki drinks like the Zombie and the Mai Tai pop up with the advent of Tiki culture.
  • 1950–2000: In 1951, the IBA (International Bartenders Association) is founded, solidifying the cultural and professional significance of cocktails. In 1960s America, however, the cocktail falls largely out of favor with popular culture, and stays at the edges of the limelight until the 1980s. Entering the ’90s, cocktails enjoy regained popularity with notable attention to the Cosmopolitan and dry vodka martinis.
  • 2000–2017: Renewed interest in classic cocktails like the Manhattan and the Sazerac explodes with popularity. A new wave of small-batch distillers, mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts have fostered the exploration of the old, along with the creation of the new. Modern-day mixology and distilling is pushing all the boundaries of what is possible in terms of flavors, aromas and preparations.

The evolution of the cocktail has always been a reflection of culture. Styles, fads, global events and legislation have all played a part in influencing the cocktails of the time. The legacies left by those drinks serve as a lifeline to the past.

Some things make a comeback, like the Champagne coupe. While flutes are now the preferred vessel for bubbly, many mixologists love the antique coupe shape for cocktails like the Pisco Sour. Other things are so closely associated with a cocktail that the glass takes on the name of the drink (as in the case of the Double Old Fashioned).

With so much history behind it, only time will tell what the future holds for the cocktail. Whatever it may be, one of the constants will be great glassware. From the vintage art-deco styling of the Bach Collection to the cutting-edge aesthetic of Veronese on the Rocks, we have the glassware that helps pave the landscape to the future of the cocktail. The unmatched functionality of our Mixology Collection adds one more piece to our great portfolio of Italian glassware for the cocktail enthusiast. Wherever the cocktail goes, we will go, too! Salute!

At Luigi Bormioli, we take pride in our Italian-crafted, superior quality glassware. You will enjoy their beauty, durability and strength for many years to come. We aim to enhance your tabletop lifestyle and entertaining experience with a glass for every occasion. When the moment matters, the glass matters.

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