The first precursor of the modern tradition of mixology is the punch thought to have been created in the early 17th century. At the time, a "punch" was made from spiced and sweetened spirit with a sour element and sometimes with fruit. The popularity of punch lasted through most of the 19th century.
Another early mixed drink was the sling, usually described as water, sugar and spirit. Bitters were introduced in the late 18th century. The origins of the word "cocktail", however, are still relatively obscure. Cocktail maven extraordinaire and best-selling author David Wondrich has suggested that the first beverage referred to as a cocktail was produced in New England, either in Amherst, MA, Albany, NY or New York City, and that the name may refer to a type of horse referred to as a "cocktail horse", which meant mixed breed horse.
A signal development in the realm of the cocktail was the popularization of ice, which became readily available in the 1820s. Around the same time, the first celebrity bartenders appeared in New York, such as Cato Alexander (b 1790 – c. 1830), a freed slave who ran a tavern outside of town in the area that is now approximately Third Avenue and 60th St. Another early hotspot was the City Hotel on lower Broadway.
Shed Sterling in the 1840s and 1850s brought the Astor House to great renown for its cocktails. Much of this business was driven by the gold rush, which provided a massive influx of cash, which drove in turn a spurt of bartending innovation. The best known 19th century bartender, however, was Jerry Thomas, who led a wandering life as a bartender and wrote the first bartender’s guide in 1862.
During this period, a cocktail consisted of spirit, ice, bitters, and sugar. Gin cocktails were popular, and rye was also a popular base. The Manhattan was introduced in 1863, and the Martinez (AKA Martini) slightly later. Another popular cocktail of the day is the one that we now call the Old-Fashioned.
In the last decade of the 19th century, citrus was introduced to cocktails for the first time, and the first two decades of the new century were the first golden age of cocktails. Although Prohibition didn't stop the consumption of cocktails, it drove it underground. The next major development was a drink called the "Tequila Daisy" introduced in 1937 – the forerunner of today's Margherita (a word which means "daisy" in Spanish), which is commonly spelled “Margarita” on most bar and drink menu cards.
The years following the Second World War saw the rise of vodka as well as the fashion for anything Hawaiian. Fertile ground for cocktails, of course, but the true renaissance of mixology was heralded by the 1985 invention of the Cosmopolitan.
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