Modern cocktails are generally described as those that were created from the end of Prohibition to the end of the ’90s. While the Prohibition era saw the invention of cocktails designed to mask the presence of illegal spirits, the mid ’30s to the end of the ’50s was an era of greater innovation. Cocktail parties evolved into sophisticated affairs, with intricate appetisers being served with drinks. Bartenders experimented with more herbs, fruits and spices to create elaborate concoctions.
[Read: History of Classic Cocktails]
In the 1930s, vodka was still a little-known spirit and martinis were only made with gin. A couple decades and some seriously successful marketing campaigns later, vodka became something of a household name. In 1949 a Belgian bartender had the bright idea of mixing vodka and coffee liqueur, and the Black Russian was born. The White Russian followed in 1965 – essentially a Black Russian with cream. Then came the invention of the Vodka Martini, the popularity of which skyrocketed when it became James Bond’s drink of choice. Purists will insist that a real martini should be made only with gin, but both versions are still popular today.
Black Russian (1949)
20ml coffee liqueur
Pour the ingredients into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice cubes. Stir gently.
White Russian (1965)
20ml coffee liqueur
30ml fresh cream
Pour coffee liqueur and vodka into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Float fresh cream on top and stir slowly.
The origin of Cosmopolitan is widely disputed – various bartenders in the United States claim to have invented its modern incarnation at some point between the ’70s and ’80s. Its prominence in Sex and the City made it very popular with young women, and the drink has been a marketing magnet for cranberry juice company Ocean Spray as well as liquor brands Absolut Citron and Cointreau.
40ml Vodka Citron
15ml fresh lime juice
30ml cranberry juice
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and double strain into a large cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Possibly the most complex cocktail, the Bloody Mary started off as a simple mixture of vodka and tomato juice, mixed by the actor George Jessel to cure a bad hangover. Fernand Petiot, a bartender at the St. Regis hotel in New York, later added salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice and claimed to have invented it in 1921. Since then, bartenders have been adding various other spices and flavourings to this recipe, and it has become a popular drink to have with brunch.
Bloody Mary (1921)
90ml tomato juice
15ml lemon juice
2 to 3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Add dashes of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper into a highball glass, then pour remaining ingredients into the glass with ice cubes. Stir gently.
There is confusion as to the origins of Mai Tai. The name may be Polynesian, but it’s very much an American drink. No one knows whether it was Trader Vic or his friendly rival Don Beach who created it at one of their Polynesian-style restaurants in California right after World War II. The tropical and fruity flavours come from white rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and lime juice, but each of their versions was different from the other. Since the 1960s, the Mai Tai has been a prominent feature in Tiki bars but is also popular elsewhere.
Mai Tai (1933)
40ml white rum
20ml dark rum
15ml orange curacao
15ml Orgeat syrup
10ml fresh lime juice
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into the glass. Garnish and serve with a straw.
Brandy was known to be the best spirit to ward off a chill, traditionally served as an after-dinner drink. The story goes that an American captain once walked into a Paris bar, asking for something to warm him up. The bartender decided that brandy on its own was inappropriate before dinner, so he added Cointreau and lime juice, effectively creating the famous Sidecar. It was soon popular in England and France, but fell out of fashion by the 1970s. It is now making a comeback in contemporary bars.
20ml triple sec
20ml lemon juice
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.
It’s generally accepted that the Margarita was first created in Mexico, and the recipe soon travelled to Texas, and eventually to Hollywood. Around the time of Prohibition, Americans would travel across the border to obtain spirits, and tequila was the most common one to be found. It’s not known whether a bartender in Mexico created the Margarita in 1941 for a customer by the same name, or if it was first mixed in 1948 for singer Peggy Lee, whose Spanish name was Margarita. There is also a story about it being created earlier in San Diego.
15ml lime juice
Rub the rim of the glass with the lime slice to make the salt stick to it. Take care to moisten only the outer rim and sprinkle the salt on it. The salt should present to the lips of the imbiber and never mix into the cocktail. Shake the other ingredients with ice, then carefully pour into the glass.
In the 1960s and ’70s, cocktails became less popular but made a comeback by the ’80s. By the turn of the century, traditional cocktails started to be appreciated again, taking their place next to their modern counterparts on bar menus all over the world.
Now you know what to order to start the classic cocktail journey.
A few more tips:
Neat – Served without ice in an unmixed liquid, e.g. whisky neat.
Chaser – A milder drink that follows a shot of hard liquor, e.g. tequila with a chaser.
On the rocks – Served with ice cubes.
Straight up – Drinks mixed with ice but taken out when served.
Frozen – Served with crushed ice, e.g. Frozen Margarita