The history of cocktails

We all love a good cocktail, from jolly drinks with friends to sophisticated bars, nothing quite beats sipping on a cocktail to unwind after a long week. To us they may seem to be an invention from recent years where we sip them after a stressful day in the city, but cocktails are in fact steeped in history that dates back centuries.

The First Cocktail

The exact time and location of the birthplace of the cocktail may elude us, but the first real definition of a cocktail that appears in text is dated back to 1806.


An American newspaper named The Balance and Columbian Repository based in Hudson, New York, published an article on Tuesday 6th May 1806 titled Rum!Rum!Rum!. In the article, the term cocktail was first defined to “a stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water and bitters, boldly called a bittered sling”. A rather on point description relevant still to this day

References can be found from even further back. In the Farmer’s Cabinet, New Hampshire 1803, reference was made to a ‘lounger’ who after waking with a hangover, drinks a cocktail to settle the head; the ultimate hangover cure.

In fact, contemporary literature throughout the 17th and 18th centuries refers to a host of drinks under the names of Slings, Fizzes, Toddies and Juleps.

It wasn’t until a little later in 1869 that William Terrington’s Cooling cups and Dainty Drinks was released, publishing his recipe to a gin cocktail made from gin, ginger syrup, aromatic bitters and a splash of water.

Thanks to this publication the term ‘American Bar’ became part of English vocabulary with restaurants and hotels across the capital trying to replicate these increasingly popular hangouts.

Back over here in England our only best counterpart to an 'American Bar' could be found at the Savoy Hotel in Covent Garden, where history was made. The Head bartender of the American bar in the hotel, Ada Coleman made the first of what was to become the famous Hanky-Panky cocktail for the actor Charles Hawtrey.


Essentially a sweet martini, the recipe for this historic drink remains the same. To try it for yourself all you need is 50ml Italian Vermouth, 50ml dry gin and 2 dashes of Fernet Branca, stirred and strained into a cocktail glass.

Whether you believe the cocktail was born in London or New York, one thing is certain, no matter where you are around the world from margaritas or mojitos to the Singapore sling, cocktails will always be on the menu.

If you wish to try your hand at making cocktails, at Dexam we have a fantastic range of accessories to get you started.