Alcoholic beverages — originally in the form of beer — have been around since approximately 7000 B.C. Cocktails have a more recent history.
The origin of the term is a bit murky. It was first used as early as 1750, not to describe a mixed drink but as an adjective for horses whose tails had been docked and thus stuck — “cocked” — upwards. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, just why the word became applied to alcoholic mixtures “is much discussed and debated.”
Though recent research has turned up two possible earlier uses of the term to describe a drink, the first unambiguous reference was published in an upstate New York newspaper in 1806, defining a “cocktail” as “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” (That sounds as if it might have qualified for inclusion in our list of 28 low-calorie alcoholic drinks.)
By the mid-19th century, cocktails had gained great popularity in America, and in 1862 New York City saloon-keeper and bartender Jerry Thomas published the nation’s first drinks book — the definitive “Bar-Tender’s Guide,” also known as “How to Mix Drinks or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion”. (Still considered a valuable reference work, it is available in reprint to this day.)
What really catapulted cocktails into the mainstream was the ready availability of ice, beginning in the latter 1800s. Without ice, drinks were lukewarm and hardly satisfying. Ice cooled things down, making cocktails tasty and refreshing. Unfortunately, just as cocktails were soaring in popularity, Prohibition outlawed the “manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the U.S. People still drank, but the liquor was often of poor quality, so bartenders got creative, masking the bad taste with juices and other ingredients.
After Prohibition ended in 1933, the creation of new concoctions continued, leading to the golden age of the cocktail in the mid-20th century. (Think of the three-martini lunches of the “Mad Men” era.) Interest in cocktails waned a bit in the 1960s and 1970s, but revived in the 1990s, and many bars and restaurants today promote their cocktail programs, with bartenders inventing ever more imaginative (and often curiously named) libations.
What are the most popular cocktails around the world today? To find out, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the results of a survey conducted by Drinks International, a publication covering the global spirits, wine, and beer markets. To discover which cocktails are ordered most, Drinks International asked a sample of 100 of the world’s best bars which mixed drinks they sold the most.
The results suggest that time-honored cocktails never go out of style. The top five on this list — the Old Fashioned, the Negroni, the Daiquiri, the Dry Martini, and the Margarita — have all been consumed for decades, and remain staples on every cocktail menu across the country. Newer drinks like the Penicillin and the Espresso Martini are gaining popularity, however. (See which cocktails are among the signature drinks in every state.)
While the majority of these classic cocktails were created in America, it is also worth noting that seven other countries have also contributed to this list, proving that cocktails are truly international.