The Wimbledon crowd is expected to drink more than 270 000 servings of Pimm’s Cup cocktails during this year’s tournament. While a refreshing cocktail might not be top of mind for South Africans, who enjoy the tennis from under a wintery knee blanket, cocktails are one of the year’s biggest drinks trends and as I realised lately, perhaps not as frivolous as us wine drinkers often like to make them.
In my world, men don’t really drink cocktails, but perhaps we should. Remember Don Draper in Mad Men, sipping on an Old Fashioned? And even if it is a little cliché, James Bond and his Martini? These two share the 1960’s and a certain sleek sophistication and while it would’ve been great for the wine industry if these two iconic characters ordered a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, there is just something about a cocktail. Something that can almost be seen as social commentary or a history lesson!
While there is a lot of speculation about the actual origin of the word cocktail (read more), prohibition in America was one of the reasons why cocktails became so popular as these drinks disguised the alcohol. Gin and vodka became the main alcoholic ingredients as they were easy to make illegally and didn’t affect the colour of the drink.
Here are some interesting cocktail stories reflecting on history and society:
- The Whiskey Sour might date back to 1860 America, but long before that British sailors have been mixing a similar drink to combat scurvy and add some Vitamin C to their diet.
- Ernst Hemingway might have introduced you to the Mojito, but its roots can be traced back to the 1600’s when it was a medicinal drink for Cubans who mixed moonshine with mint, lime and sugar. When explorer Sir Frances Drake got to Cuba, he replaced the moonshine with rum.
- Probably the cocktail with the most misleading name, the Long Island Iced Tea is a potent combination of tequila, vodka, triple sec, gin and rum mixed with a splash of cola. It is said to originate during prohibition in 1920’s Tennessee when a local distiller disguised the alcoholic drink as an iced tea. Reminds me of all those little teapots you saw on lunchtime restaurant tables during our Covid alcohol ban!
- The Screwdriver comes from the Persian Gulf where American oil workers in the 1940’s added vodka to their orange juice. Without a spoon to stir, they had to use a screwdriver! It was also a clever name to hide their habit of drinking on the job…
- The G&T came to life when British soldiers in India were prescribed tonic water as its quinine ingredient was deemed to help with malaria. A straight tonic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so they added gin and created one of the most famous drinks in the world.
- The story goes that British soldiers stationed in France during the First World War wanted to add some kick to the local champagne by adding London gin. The French 75 cocktail was then named after the iconic French 75-millimeter M1875 gun.
- Some say the Bloody Mary was named after English Queen Mary Tudor and her bloody reign in the 16th century.
- Some competition for the Pimm’s Cocktail, the Mint Julep has been the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby since 1938. Over this two-day race event, an estimated
120 000 mint juleps are mixed.
With one of the leading drink trends being low and no alcohol and with most of us being challenged by the economy, how did cocktails – usually quite boozy and expensive – make it back into fashion?
- Two types of spirits that have grown in value since 2021 are tequila and rum. Both are versatile mixers and are often the main ingredient in cocktails.
- Customisation in the world of drinks is probably easiest when it comes to how you drink your coffee and… cocktails!
- Unique experiences are trending in tourism circles and it seems the same goes for drinks. People enjoy ordering a signature drink – something unique and bespoke that relates to a specific place or event.
- Bitters like Amaro and Vermouth are growing in popularity.
- Hand in hand with bitters, classic cocktails such as the vodka Martini and Negroni have become very popular.
- Talking of the Negroni, much of its spectacular comeback is because of social media. Influencers crave interesting content, cocktail mixing makes for alluring footage and brands capitalise on the opportunity.
- In contradiction to the times of prohibition when cocktails served as a hiding place for alcohol and in keeping with the no and low trend, cocktails can also be an interesting drink without too much alcohol. Even mocktails can be fun.
There’s a certain nostalgia about classic cocktails that is hard to resist. And then there is the opportunity to personalise. Whether it is the art of the mixologist or your personal preference, but there is something really intriguing about modernising a classic.