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In the Spirit: Cocktailen. by Stephen Smith

Sure, who doesn’t like a good bourbon on the rocks or poured neat?  However, when we’re not drinking top-shelf liquor sometimes we need help.  That’s where cocktails come in!  First, let’s define what a cocktail is.  A cocktail is simply an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients.  Now let me tell you how a few of the most popular cocktails came to be.

The Cuba Libre is a very simple drink to make...

The Cuba Libre and the Rum and Coke is where it all started for me!  Technically two different drinks on with lime and the other without.  For as long as I can remember my dad has always ordered a Bacardi and Coke.  If you ask my dad there is no other rum than Bacardi for this drink!  This drink can trace its origins to around 1900 when Cuba was fighting for its independence from Spain.  As legend has it a captain in the U.S. Army was celebrating at a bar in Havana during the Spanish-American War poured Coca-Cola and a squeeze of lime into his Bacardi and toasted his Cuban comrades by calling out in the bar, “Por Cuba Libre!” (“To a free Cuba!”). And just like that, a legend was born.  The Cuba Libre is a very simple drink to make.  Take a highball glass fill it with ice, squeeze a lime or two into the glass, pour an ounce and a half of Bacardi, three ounces of coke, and garnish with a lime.  It’s a classic that can’t be beat.

The Old Fashioned is probably one of the most well know and ordered cocktails in America if not the world!

The Old Fashioned is probably one of the most well know and ordered cocktails in America if not the world!  Like most cocktails its history is hard to pinpoint, I’ll go over a couple of key dates for this cocktail.  The first reference of something like the modern-day Old Fashioned can be found in 1862.  A book called Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks is published, giving instructions and recipes from the early days of bartending. This book contains a recipe for an Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail: “Crush a small lump of sugar in a whiskey glass containing a little water, add a lump of ice, two dashes of Angostura bitters, a small piece of lemon peel, one jigger Holland gin. Mix with a small bar spoon. Serve.” 

While it may sound ridiculous that this recipe doesn’t call for bourbon, this is not an uncommon thing in the history of a cocktail.  For example another famous cocktail The Mint Julep was once called the Hail Storm when it was first invented at the Greenbrier Resort.  This iteration called for cognac instead of bourbon. 

The second date that’s important for The Old Fashioned is 1880 and it starts in Louisville, Kentucky. James E. Pepper, bartender and esteemed bourbon aristocrat, was said to have invented the drink in Louisville before he brought the recipe to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.

This is supposedly where the old-fashioned was born.  This is the first account of bourbon being used and is widely considered the birth of the modern Old Fashioned.  Finally, in 1895 the following recipe is given.  “Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.”

pictured above: Rodney Norman in top-shelf form.

We all know how James Bond liked to order his. “A Martini, shaken not stirred.”

The final Cocktail we’ll go over is the Martini. The main theory on how the Martini was invented is it evolved from a cocktail called a Martinez. In the town of Martinez, California, many of the historians and inhabitants of the area claim the Martini was created during the mid-1800’s Gold Rush.  We all know how James Bond liked to order his. “A Martini, shaken not stirred.” The difference between a shaken and stirred Martini is the stirring method ensures the drink isn’t too watered down.  Chill the Martini glass before serving by placing it in the freezer. Prepare a Martini in the following way.  Place the gin or vodka and dry vermouth into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain the mixture into your chilled Martini glass and garnish with a lemon peel or olive.

Thank you for allowing me to take you through a brief history of some of the best know cocktails.  However you enjoy, may we all take pride in what we’re sipping and appreciate what came before.  CHEERS!

– Stephen Smith (Beverage supervisor at The Greenbrier), HashtagWV #139. February 2022.

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