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The Surprising Origin Stories Behind Your Favourite Cocktails

The Surprising Origin Stories Behind Your Favourite Cocktails

Espresso Martini

It’s truly a pleasure to watch an accomplished bartender mix up one of your favourite cocktails. It’s also practically sport, with international bartending and cocktail-mixing events attracting fierce competition from around the world. An added layer of pleasure is to drink these cocktails in the places – and sometimes the very bars – in which they were first created. Cities from Paris to Singapore to New Orleans have contributed to the list of famous cocktails around the world. These are some of the best cocktails and their cities of origin, where you should definitely make time to drink them on your next visit.


Disclaimer: Some cocktails you may associate with certain locations were created elsewhere. Maybe you picture Queen Liz sipping a crisp gin and tonic every evening – but the drink was actually created by British troops in India to prevent malaria (spoiler: it didn’t work). The history of many cocktails is disputed, with some having several creation myths and multiple bar tenders claiming to have invented them. These cocktails are most closely associated with their destinations.


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#1 New York: The Manhattan

What else? Named for the borough of New York City which is home to one of the world’s biggest commercial, financial and cultural centres where it was made, this is the one to get when you’re in the Big Apple.

The Manhattan cocktail is made from a mix of whiskey (usually rye, but bourbon is also commonly used) with sweet vermouth and bitters. It has its origin in the Manhattan Club, a social club which lasted for more than a century in the city from its founding in 1865.


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#2 London: Espresso Martini

This powerful wake-me-up cocktail is said to have been first mixed at a bar called Freds Club in London. Bartender Dick Bradsell says he made the cocktail for a young lady who wanted a drink that would “Wake me up, and then fuck me up.” This was back in the late 1980s, but I have friends who have said almost exactly the same thing in recent weeks.


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#3 Venice: The Bellini

This mix of prosecco and peach puree was invented in Venice, in a place called Harry’s Bar. The owner and publican Guiseppe Cipriani first mixed it up for patrons some time in the 1930s or ’40s, and it soon became popular there and in the bar’s New York City counterpart. It’s named for Italian painter Giovanni Bellini, because the peachy colour of the drink reminded Cipriani of a work by that artist.


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#4 Cuba: Mojito

This mainstay cocktail usually consists of rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, and mint. The mix of sugar, lime and mint is first mashed or muddled before the rum and soda are added. A perfect drink for hot Havana nights, we’d say.


Honourable mention: The Daiquiri, named for a beach and mine near Santiago de Cuba (the country’s second largest city), reportedly became a favourite drink of Ernest Hemingway and US President John F Kennedy.


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#5 New Orleans: The Sazerac

This is a local NOLA version of a whisky cocktail, and named for the brand of cognac which is most commonly used to make it, Sazerac de Forge & Fils. It’s a mix of this cognac, with a small amount of absinthe, a sugar cube and two dashes of local Peychaud’s Bitters.

New Orleans is a cocktail city, famous for its inventions even beyond the Sazerac. Other cocktails purportedly first created in the city include the hurricane (rum, lemon juice, and passionfruit syrup), the brandy milk punch (milk, brandy, sugar, and vanilla extract) and the mint julep (bourbon, mint leaves, sugar and water).


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#6 Florence: Negroni

Rumour suggests this main list cocktail was first mixed here, at a bar called Caffè Casoni or Caffè Giacosa, now called Caffè Roberto Cavalli. The legend goes that Count Pascal-Olivier de Negroni, a French general in the late 19th Century, invented the cocktail by making edits to the Americano cocktail, requesting gin to be added rather than the traditional soda water. It’s a mix of equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari.

#7 Singapore: Singapore sling

Another cocktail named for the city it was created in – the Singapore Sling was developed at the Raffles Hotel in the city by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. It’s a mix of gin, cherry liqueur or brandy, lemon juice and soda water, garnished with a maraschino cherry or a slice of lemon peel.


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#8 Paris: Bloody Mary

A French bartender named Fernand Petiot claims to have first made the bloody Mary at the New York Bar in Paris (you can still go there today, it’s now called Harry’s New York Bar) which was a regular haunt of cocktail drinkers like Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart and Edward, Duke of Windsor.

The cocktail is a mix of vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tobasco sauce, celery salt and black pepper, optionally garnished with a celery stalk and lemon wedge. Many variations on this recipe exist, however, with different base spirits used, and garnishes as varied as pickled asparagus.

Honourable mentions: Paris was a hotbed for cocktail creation, with both the French 75 and Sidecar cocktails thought to have originated here. London shares a claim for the Sidecar (a mix of cognac with equal parts triple sec and lemon juice) but the Ritz Hotel in Paris says it was first mixed there. The French 75 was created at the same New York Bar in Paris as the bloody Mary, and contains gin, sugar, lemon juice and champagne.


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#9 Rio de Janeiro: Caipirinha

This is Brazil‘s national cocktail, so you could really drink it anywhere in the country. It’s made from cachaça (a spirit made from sugar cane juice) half a lime cut into quarters and sugar, poured over ice. Its origin story includes a theory about being concocted to fight the Spanish flu, and it’s still used as a treatment for the common cold.


Perhaps instead of bulk-buying toilet paper to prepare for the Covid-19 coronavirus, we should all just drink cocktails instead.

(Lead image: Clem Around the Corner / Unsplash)

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