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The Stories Behind 11 Famous Cocktails

When you belly up to the bar, how well do you know the cocktail you’re ordering? The ingredients of these famous tipples may be familiar to bar patrons the world over, but some of their origins are as debatable as those of the Flaming Moe. Here’s a quick rundown of where some of your favorite drinks entered a glass for the first time.

1. The Martini

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Aficionados disagree, sometimes violently, on the correct ratio of gin to dry vermouth that makes a transcendent martini, and the debate over the true origin of the martini can be just as contentious. Some claim that it’s simply a dryer version of an older cocktail called the Martinez; Martinez, California, the birthplace of this cocktail, thus stakes its claim to the title of birthplace of the martini. Others postulate that the drink’s name simply comes from Martini & Rossi, an Italian company that’s been exporting its vermouths to the U.S. since the 19th century. Still others claim that the drink was created by and named for Martini di Arma di Taggia, the bartender at New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel, although there’s evidence that the cocktail may have been invented well before he started mixing drinks.

2. The Manhattan

The venerable Manhattan, a blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, is another cocktail that scores of people claimed to have invented. It may date back to the New York bar scene of the 1860s, but there are also some more intriguing tales about its origins. According to one of these legends, Jennie Churchill threw a party at the Manhattan Club in 1874 to celebrate Samuel J. Tilden’s victory in New York’s gubernatorial election. An enterprising bartender created a new cocktail for the event, which he dubbed the Manhattan in the club’s honor. Both of these characters would go on to bigger things. Churchill soon gave birth to a son, Winston, and Tilden made a presidential run in 1876. (Although Tilden won the popular vote, he lost out to his Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes. At least the cocktail saved Tilden from obscurity.)

3. The Bellini

This delightful wine cocktail, a blend of white peach puree and Prosecco, has a well-established origin. Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Venice’s beloved Harry’s Bar, started mixing up the fruity tipples sometime between 1934 and 1948. The pink drink reminded him of the color of a saint’s toga in a painting by Italian Renaissance artist Giovanni Bellini, so Cipriani named his concoction in honor of the painter.

4. The Kir

This popular French aperitif of crème de cassis and white wine has long been a favorite in France, but it didn’t get its name until after World War II. Felix Kir, the mayor of Dijon from 1945 to 1968, was a huge fan of the cocktail, and whenever he entertained visiting dignitaries, he’d invariably serve them the drink. Kir did such a good job pushing the mixture onto his visitors that it eventually became inextricably linked with his personality, and that’s why the cocktail bears his name today.

5. The Daiquiri

If you’re an American mine employee stuck working in Cuba, what do you do? In the case of intrepid engineer Jennings Cox, you start creatively mixing drinks. The mixture of rum, lime, and sugar supposedly sprang to life in 1905 when Cox and some of his fellow Americans were hanging out in a bar in Santiago, Cuba. By mixing together these handy ingredients, the Americans found a tasty tipple, and it eventually worked its way back to the states.

6. The Tom Collins

This refreshing summer drink owes its name to a 19th century hoax. In 1874, hundreds of New Yorkers heard some bad news while they were out on the town: a certain Tom Collins had been besmirching their good names. Although these people didn’t know Mr. Collins, they were outraged that he would slander them, and they often set out to find the rascal. Of course, the root of the hoax was that there wasn’t really a Tom Collins, but that didn’t keep aggrieved parties from searching him out. To deepen the joke, bartenders started making the citrus cocktail that now bears the name, so when searchers asked for Tom Collins, they could instead find a thirst-quenching long drink.

7. The Cosmopolitan

cosmozk5 The Stories Behind 11 Famous Cocktails Long before Sex and the City helped bolster the popularity of the cosmo, various bartenders were staking their claims as the cocktail’s “true” creator. According to various stories, the drink originated in Minneapolis, South Beach, San Francisco, Manhattan and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Since the drink is basically just a kamikaze with a simple addition of cranberry juice, it’s possible that bartenders in all these locations came up with the drink independently, so we may never know exactly who was responsible for putting a glass in Carrie Bradshaw’s hand.

8. The Sazerac

Although it’s not the most widely known drink, the Sazerac is both delicious and one of America’s oldest cocktails. The blend of rye whiskey, bitters, sugar, and absinthe or pastis dates all the way back to the 1830s when Creole pharmacist Antoine Peychaud came up with the recipe and began serving it. The Sazerac became so popular that Peychaud’s apothecary business quickly became better known as a place to get a revitalizing potion. The Sazerac is currently in the middle of something of a resurgence. Kentucky distillery Buffalo Trace has marketed two very good straight rye whiskeys under the Sazerac name, and last year the Louisiana House of Representatives proclaimed that the drink is the official cocktail of New Orleans.

9. The Negroni

Count Camillo Negroni gets credits for creating this aperitif around 1919. As the story goes, Negroni really loved to throw back an Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda), but he wanted a little extra zing in his glass. He asked a bartender to replace the club soda with gin to give the mixture some added kick, and the Negroni was born.

10. The Black Russian

Surprisingly, containing vodka is the only thing this cocktail has to do with Russia. Bartender Gustave Tops created the drink in 1949 or 1950 while working at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels. Tops supposedly first mixed the combination of Kahlua and vodka for American socialite Perle Mesta, who was serving as the ambassador to Luxembourg at the time.

11. Long Island Iced Tea

It might not actually contain tea, but at least the Long Island part of the name is accurate. This spring break favorite is fairly young as cocktails go; it’s only been around for about 32 years. Rosebud Butt, a bartender at the Oak Beach Inn in Hampton Bays, invented the drink in 1976, so if you ever need to find a patron saint of terrible hangovers and nights spent falling off of barstools, Rosebud may be your man.

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  1. I am very happy that I found your blog. Keep up the good work.

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