To paraphrase W.C. Fields :
“Everybody believes in something. I believe I’ll have another cocktail.”
With London Cocktail Week upon us again next week I thought it would be the perfect time to share with you a little history of the cocktail.
This event, which is now in its 5th year, will see bars all across London participating in a celebration of the cocktail.
|The fine silver cocktail service of the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz, London. Image via.
This year's event runs from the 6-12th October with hundreds of bars taking part. Everything from tastings to masterclasses will be on offer, as well as the opportunity to buy equipment and ingredients.
The cocktail has seen its popularity increasing year on year with bars and clubs seeing an upturn in sales that shows no sign of abating.
|A selection of pieces we have to get your happy hour going!
The term cocktail, in reference to an alcoholic beverage, is said to go back to America in 1806.
Originally a cocktail would be made up of spirits, sugar, water and bitters but by the 1860s a cocktail might also include a liquer.
With the creation of the cocktail came the need to inspire and educate people on the subject and in 1862 we saw the first guide, which included recipes, The Bon Vivant's Companion (still available to buy today) by Jerry Thomas. Jerry was an American bartender, and such was his wizardry in mixology, he was nicknamed The Professor. His style was flamboyant and showy and his equipment was said to match this flair. His success within his industry meant he was invited to tour Europe, carrying his set of sterling silver bar tools.
He would use these silver tools and serving vessels often embellished with precious stones and other precious metals. He was quite the showman, and as such, commanded high earnings and was said to have earned more, at the time, than the Vice President of the United States!
|The Professor's flair was legendary. Image via.
His signature cocktail was the Blue Blazer, a kind of hot toddy with special effects. The spirit would be ignited and thus he had created the worlds first flaming cocktail.
With the cocktail, came the cocktail party and allegedly the first one to ever take place was held in St. Louis, Missouri in 1912 by a Mrs. Walsh. Quite the trendsetter I would say.
The cocktail proved to be a useful decoy when prohibition came into place. With alcohol illegal, speakeasies were able to serve up these fruit juice concoctions which not only looked innocent but the juices masked the taste of these poor quality illicit spirits and meant they could more easily be knocked back quickly should a raid take place.
After prohibition, the popularity of the cocktail waned, perhaps as a result of the availability of quality spirits which could now be enjoyed neat and unmasked.
Since the late nineties, with people such as Tony Conigliaro, Dick Bradsell and Nick Strangeways blazing the trail once again, London has found itself firmly on the map of cocktail connoisseurs everywhere. The cocktail has made a massive comeback and as a result it has become a serious business with the best in the industry once again commanding high respect and wages to match. Cocktails have become part of our culture once again and I say cheers to that!
Check out this article in the Guardian if you are looking to treat yourself to a cocktail in one of London's best bars.
And for inspiration, should you wish to shake it for yourself, check out these recipes.