October 07, 2022 by Anna-Bet Stemmet
Fair warning dear reader, when you wander down the tangled footpath of the story of who invented the cocktail, there are countless twists, turns, and forks in the road. Like any good tale, it’s part truth, part yarn, and part glass-half-full (or is that empty?) fiction. Fortunately for you, we’ve ventured down this road less travelled, so we can share what we’ve found.
Whether you decide to take it as cocktail-lore gospel is up to you. We tend to think about it as notes jotted down on a fantastical journey down a somewhat besmirched memory lane. But you can totally dish it up as the truth (just be super confident in your delivery – that’s key).
What is the origin of the cocktail?
History is technically a written account of things that occurred a long time ago, so when we look for the origins of something, we look for the first mention of it in literature. If we take this route, the origins of the cocktail can be traced back to America in 1803, because this was the first time someone penned the word ‘cocktail’ in print.
It actually turns out this first mention was part of a satirical piece in a newspaper that was making fun of the frivolous pastimes of ‘fast’ young men, who apparently would drink ‘a glass of cocktail’ when they were feeling a little threadbare after a night on the town. (We hope it was a Bloody Mary.)
However, mixed drinks were obviously made long before that. It was perhaps just not called a cocktail at the time, or even written about. After all, hard liquor has been around since ancient Egypt, and it’s fair to assume that folks would mix liqueurs and spirits to make those early spirits more palatable.
Medical elixirs and digestifs have also been around for centuries, and those were bitter as anything, so it’s more than likely that people would mix it with something sweeter to get it down the hatch. This is, in fact, how the Sazerac, which holds the title of the world’s oldest named cocktail, came about.
New Orleans apothecary Antoine Peychaud was the inventor of Peychaud’s Bitters, which he mixed with brandy, absinthe, and sugar to create a signature ‘toddy’ — the name for cocktails at the time. The Sazerac Coffee House (AKA saloon) in New Orleans picked up on the theme and started serving it under this name. This is how the Sazerac came to be, setting the scene for far more cocktails to come.
Meet ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas
However, you are here to find an answer to the burning question of who invented the cocktail, and we are determined to give you a somewhat clear conclusion to that. So may we please introduce ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas?
This fine gent left an indelible imprint on the history of mixology with his 1862 book How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, in which he featured different types of alcoholic drinks. This included various cocktails, as well as the recipe for the Martinez, which has been commonly accepted as the frisky forebear of the Martini we know and love today.
*Jerry was not technically a professor, but knew a whole lot about his subject and got the nickname thanks to his knowledgeable prowess.
The most iconic cocktails ever invented (according to The Mixer)
While we love all the cocktails we share on The Mixer equally (come on, it’s not nice to play favorites!) there are a few completely iconic drinks that have stood the test of time. Most of them have also gone on to inspire many variations through the years.
So, if you want to go on a historic journey down cocktail lane, we recommend you start with the following:
Old Fashioned – Bourbon, sugar, bitters, and water create this classic amber-colored drink
Martini – A concise combination of vodka or gin, with dry vermouth
Daiquiri – Rum, citrus juice, and sugar come together in tropical symbiosis
Sidecar – Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice deliver a stupendously zesty serve
Whiskey Highball – Whiskey and club soda set the scene for effervescent refreshment
Read more: What are the 6 Basic Cocktails?
In summation – the question of who invented the first cocktail is a tough one to answer. It may have been a fanciful handmaid in ancient Egypt, a housewife in England, or a bawdy barkeep in Westchester County, New York. Without a time machine and a series of historic adventures, it’s very difficult to tell.
So, for now, let’s keep it simple and call Jerry Thomas the father of the cocktail. He went and wrote a whole book about it, after all! Thorough penmanship deserves a tip of the hat, and old Jerry did us all a solid by writing that first bartender’s guide. Salute, Professor!