1. The VERY Beginning, 1492-1621: Wine
Okay, so we didn’t have many cocktails back in the day. Back beyond the Declaration of Independence, at our roots, we just had wine. Lots of wine. We have our forefathers to thank, since the Mayflower was a wine vessel capable of carrying 180 casks of wine.
2. 1700s: Beer & Hard Cider
Again, still not many cocktails to choose from at this point. But our historic love of beer and hard cider is undeniable. In 1790, United States government figures showed that annual per-capita alcohol consumption for residents over 15 years old totaled 34 gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine. Clearly, we had a front-runner.
3. 1800s: Whiskey
By 1800, about half the absolute alcohol consumed was distilled liquor, this highest spirit consumption in the history of the U.S. How you ask? The old notion that alcohol was necessary for health remained, so it was common to down a glass of whiskey before breakfast. And so, at the emergence of the 20th century, our American love of spirits and cocktails began.
4. 1900s: The Martinez
The Martinez was the inspiration for the Martini, and was created by “Professor” Jerry Thomas, know to many as the most famous bartender of all time in the late 1800’s. Though it does not have the same immediate name recognition as the Martini, the Martinez just as important to the cocktail experience, and shows the sweeter side of the gin cocktail featuring gin, dry vermouth, triple sec and orange bitters.
Honorable Mentions: The Martini, Old Fashioned.
5. 1910s: The New Orleans Fizz
The fizz is a popular style of drink that began back in the “Golden Age” of cocktails, and The New Orleans Fizz quickly became one of the most popular. A favorite of the “Big Easy,” the New Orleans Fizz was once so popular that during the 1915 Mardi Gras celebration 35 shaker boys worked at once to fill orders at the creator’s bar. This cocktail contains gin, lemon juice, lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream, orange flower water, and soda water.
Honorable Mentions: The Singapore Sling, White Lady.
6. 1920s: Gin Rickey
Even during the Prohibition Era, the 20s were still roarin’ — and gin was one of the common favorites among bootleggers. This drink is easy: Gin, lime, sugar, soda. It was supposedly F. Scott Fitzgerald’s favorite drink, and one of the few specifically mentioned in The Great Gatsby. The characters drank theirs “in long, greedy swallows.”
Honorable Mentions: Ward 8, Bee’s Knees, Tuxedo #2.
7. 1930s: French 75
Following the flapper era and the Repeal of Prohibition, how could you go wrong with Champagne? The original recipe, from The Savoy Cocktail Book published in 1930, includes for gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and some bubbles. A later recipe replaces the gin with Cognac. Why is it called a French 75, you ask? The combination was said to pack a punch that felt like being hit with the French 75mm gun.
Honorable Mentions: Manhattan, Tom Collins, Sidecar, Highball.
8. 1940s: Mai Tai
This famous drink comes in many shapes, sizes and interpretations. The mid-1940’s saw the beginning of the tiki bar craze in California and the birth of the Mai Tai. Polynesian-themed restaurants opened all over California, each one featuring their own collection of signature cocktails made from rums and tropical fruit juices, lime juice, curacao and assorted syrups.
Honorable Mentions: Hurricane, Moscow Mule, Dirty Shirley.
9. 1950s: The Classic Vodka Martini
Sexy, sleek and simple — Before even James Bond would order his “shaken, not stirred,” the classic Vodka Martini surfaced in full-force in the 1950s. Despite the drink’s long history and perennial popularity, the classic martini, gin and vermouth, with an olive garnish, remains firmly associated with the ’50s and ’60s.
Honorable Mentions: The Gin Fizz, the Gibson, Whiskey Sour.
10. 1960s: Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is a shapeshifter. It’s thought of as both “the manliest cocktail order, ever” and “something your grandmother would drink.” Rumored to have originated as early as the 1880s, this classic cocktail has been popular throughout the decades. It’s made by muddling sugar with bitters, adding alcohol (whiskey or brandy) and a twist of citrus. How popular was this order, you ask? It even has a glass named after it — the Old Fashioned glass.
Honorable Mentions: Whiskey Sour, Yip Pip, Gin & Tonic.
11. 1970s: Harvey Wallbangers
I bet Millennial babies are asking, what the hell is a Harvey Wallbanger? The drink became wildly popular in the 70s. According to the story, the inventor of the drink had a regular customer named Harvey. He was a passionate surfer and went into a bar one evening to drown his sorrows in cocktails. Upon his exit, Harvey had had enough of these drinks that he walked straight into the wall — hence his nickname, Harvey the Wallbanger. The name stuck to the cocktail as well, made of vodka, Galliano and OJ.
Honorable Mentions: 7 and 7’s, Long Island Iced Tea, Tequila Sunrise, Martini.
12. 1980s: Sex on the Beach
Such a provocative name for a harmless, fruity drink. Paving the way for the 80’s with its candy-flavored, sexually-named cocktails is the Sex on the Beach. The popular cocktail recipe for a Sex on the Beach is mixing vodka, peach schnapps, creme de cassis, and orange and cranberry juices.
Honorable Mentions: Kamikaze, Long Island Iced Tea, Fuzzy Navel, Alabama Slammers.
13. 1990s: Cosmopolitan
The Cosmopolitan, or Cosmo, is a fusion of the 50s and 60s martini, with the fruity drinks of the 70s and 80s. This fusion makes the Cosmo the perfect intersection of two decades, made with vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and freshly squeezed lime juice or sweetened lime juice.
Honorable Mentions: Zima, Appletini, Bay Breeze, Sea Breeze.
14. 2000s: The Bloody Mary
After years of being overshadowed by it’s fruity and/or classic counterparts, this unique tomato and vodka drink has made its way to stardom in the past decade. Tracing back to the 1920s, the Bloody Mary is made with vodka, tomato juice, and usually other spices or flavorings such as Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, horseradish, celery, olive, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and celery salt — rightfully earning the title, “the world’s most complex cocktail.”
Honorable Mentions: Mojito, Margarita, Cosmo.
15. And the Most Popular Drink of the 20th Century is…
This drink has always been around, and honestly, has never really gone anywhere. From its inception in the 1870’s, to its growing popularity in the 20’s, and its iconic name being cemented in history, this drink is timeless and has more than 10 variations today. The Manhattan is simply made using whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a Maraschino cherry — stem included.
Honorable Mentions: Martini, Gin and Tonic, Sazerac.