There are a lot of cocktails we enjoy on a regular basis, but do we often stop to consider their origin story? Many cocktails are clear cut recipes created by bartenders who publish their creations in a cocktail book. But some are murkier, with uncertain beginnings. The following cocktails have been debated for many years and were no doubt the source of some animosity for bartenders over the decades.
The Tom Collins
The Tom Collins was first memorialized in writing in the year 1876 by Jerry Thomas “The father of American mixology” who called it a “gin and sparkling lemonade.” Most commonly it’s mixed with three parts gin, two parts fresh lemon juice, one-part simple syrup and four parts carbonated water. The mix is then served on the rocks.
However, one of the earliest known recipes was actually called the John Collins and was featured in the Steward and Barkeeper’s Manual of 1869. The recipe called for:
- Teaspoonful of powdered sugar
- The juice of half a lemon
- A wine glass of Old Tom Gin
- A bottle of plain soda
- Shake or stir with ice. Add a slice of lemon peel to finish.
Since the John Collins recipe called for Old Tom Gin specifically, it’s easy to see how the cocktail soon became known as a “Tom Collins”. However, the cocktail’s origin has been further obscured by what become known as the Tom Collins Hoax.
The year was 1874 and the place was New York. The hoax was simple: Person A (hoaxer) would approach Person B (friend) and start a conversation by asking “Have you seen Tom Collins?” When the friend responded that they did not know Tom Collins, the hoaxer would then say, “Tom Collins has been talking about you, and he’s just around in the corner [at a local bar].” This small fiction caused the friend to believe that their reputation was under attack from a scoundrel named Tom Collins. The goal of this hoax was to cause their friend to react to the rumors and act foolishly.
In today’s modern age a simple google search could easily dispel this hoax, but back in 1874 this hoax spread like wildfire. The hoax was further memorialized in popular culture as a number of newspaper outlets ran false stories about sightings of Tom Collins continuing to perpetuate the fictional character.
So, the cocktail’s name is likely an inside joke to a legendary man who never existed. Or, it was a coincidence of mistaking the John Collins for the Tom Collins due to brand of Gin. Or, like most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
A Bloody Mary is a cocktail with the primary ingredients being tomato juice and vodka. It typically contains lemon juice, salt, pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Still, the true origin of the Bloody Mary is a bloody mess, with a whole bunch of people lobbying to be the first person who mixed tomato juice and vodka.
The earliest Bloody Mary invention claim was Fernand Petiot in 1921. He was working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The story starts to muddle, however, when in 1939 Lucius Beebe’s gossip column This New York included a Bloody Mary recipe. Beebe’s column wrote:
“George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphs is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka.”Lucius Beebe – This New York Gossip Column – 1939
George Jessel, a comedian, was known for frequenting the 21 Club in New York. After this, the 21 Club wanted some acknowledgement for their role in the cocktail’s creation. While they credit Jessel for inventing the Bloody Mary, they also credit bartender Henry Zbikiewicz for inventing the cocktail. Yes, the 21 Club has not one, but two invention claims for the Bloody Mary cocktail, both by a patron and by a bartender.
However, in 1964 Fernand Petiot once again pleaded his case. He claimed to have invented the modern Bloody Mary in 1934 based off of Jessel’s original order of vodka and tomato juice. Petiot wrote:
“I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took over. I covered the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain and pour.”Fernand Petiot – New Yorker Interview – 1964
There are other iterations of the cocktail as well. In 1942, Life Magazine introduced the cocktail as their own invention and tried to rebrand it “The Red Hammer.” Their recipe contained tomato juice, vodka and lemon juice. “The Caesar” requires clamato instead of tomato, as well as mandatory Worcestershire and hot sauce, though it is basically unknown outside of Canada. Additionally, there is “The Red Snapper” a version of the beverage that uses Gin as the base spirit instead of Vodka.
Clearly, this beverage is much beloved no matter who invented it or what name it has been given.
Havana is the birthplace of the Mojito. But, that’s about where people stop agreeing on the cocktail’s origin story. The Mojito’s varied history reads more like legend than historical fact. It all begins in 16th century England with a powerful navy seeking out opportunity and adventure. England was discovering new lands, hordes of gold and rich, exotic civilizations. Men could leave England as third-string sailors and return home captain of their own ship with wealth beyond measure.
The main origin story of the legendary Mojito points to a 16th century drink called El Draque. In 1586, famed naval commander and privateer Sir Francis Drake set course for Havana following a successful campaign against the Spanish in the Battle of Cartgena. Unfortunately, there was overwhelming levels of sickness on board Drake’s ship in the form of dysentery and scurvy. Left with little option, the crew had to find a cure for the sick sailors. After all, no matter how good the captain, sailing an English naval ship requires many hands.
The sailors sought out local indigenous South Americans, who were said to have remedies and medicines for illnesses. They came back with aguardiente de caña which translates roughly as fire water of the sugar cane – a form of rum like a moonshine. The spirit had been mixed with local tropical ingredients: lime, sugarcane juice and mint. Lime alone would have been helpful in curing scurvy, but seeing as they were 16th century privateers, drinking alcohol was part of the role. This sugarcane spirit was widely used as soon as it became available to the British in the 1600s. Mint, lime and sugar were almost always mixed in to hide it’s (likely) disgusting taste, though it was not yet called a mojito.
It is purported that this early cocktail was named El Draque after Francis Drake. In fact, the first written mention of this was in 1833 in Ramon de Paula’s book El Colera en La Habana. In this story we find our connection to Drake, some 200 years after his travels to the region, as the drink is mentioned as the el Draquecito. Paula wrote “Every day at eleven o’clock I consume a little Drake made from aguardiente and I am doing very well.”
Claiming the modern Mojito’s birthrights is La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana. This restaurant-bar is a still in-operation venue that was frequented by famous figures, most notably, Ernest Hemmingway. In fact, a handwritten note by Hemmingway still hangs on the walls today which reads “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita.”
However, this origin is also disputed as some claim that Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, better known for establishing Bacardi rum, used the cocktail as part of an early campaign to popularize the spirit, replacing the traditional aguardiente with rum. Some others still, argue that the Mojito is merely an offspring of the Mint Julep following American visits to Cuba, introducing the local Havanans to the American Cocktail.
The etymology of the cocktail’s name is also in dispute. A competing version of history argues that the drink was invented by African slaves who were brought to work the sugarcane fields of Cuba, and who used the drink as a way to prevent illnesses. Those who argue this side, state that Mojito comes from the word mojo which means to cast a spell. Other’s still argue that Mojito is in reference to the Spanish verb mojar, meaning wetness.
The first published recipe for the Mojito debuted in a 1927 Spanish cocktail book called El Arte De Hacer un Cocktail y Algo Mas Libro de Cocktail. In this cocktail guide it is called a Mojo Criollo. It then appears next in the 1929 Cuban cocktail book called Libro de Cocktail calling it a Mojo de Ron. Finally, we have the first known reference to the Mojito as we know it today in the Sloppy Joes Bar Season 1931-32 Menu, under a section labeled “Bacardi Drinks”. The recipe calls for a teaspoon of sugar, the juice of half a lemon, rum, seltzer water, mint and served in a highball glass with cracked ice.
Thus, the Mojito is likely the famous offspring of one of the world’s first cocktails – El Draque. Though it was less a cocktail as we know it today and rather a form of medicine. Still, the foundations were laid for one of the most famous cocktails in the world.
We’ve saved one of the best, or, most convoluted for last. Yet again, there are many folks who believe they invented the margarita and no true answer to the question, as in the bartending world people are always clamoring have their name associated with creative genius. But are any of them really the one?
One of the simplest and most likely explanations for the drink is that it is simply an adapted version of the popular American cocktail, the Daisy (Margarita is Spanish, after all, for ‘daisy’). This cocktail has different recipes, but was typically made from Brandy, orange liqueur, lemon or lime juice and served over ice. At the height of its popularity, bartenders began experimenting with other base spirits, such as Gin and Whiskey. Following prohibition, it appears likely that tequila would become the next best spirit to incorporate into the drink. In fact, a drink called the Tequila Daisy was mentioned in the Syracuse Herald in 1936. However, it was printed without a recipe or inventor.
One of the earliest creation myths comes from Carlos Herrara in 1938 at his restaurant Rancho La Gloria. Herrara claims he created it for Marjorie King, a former dancer and picky customer who was allergic to most alcohol except for tequila. Herrara claims he whipped up the cocktail to accommodate King’s request to not drink the spirit straight. Thus, according to Herrara, the Margarita was born by combining the primary elements of a tequila shot (tequila, salt, lime) into a refreshing drink.
Another claim comes from Dallas socialite Margarita Sames, who supposedly concocted the drink at her Acapulco vacation home in 1948 for her friends. One of those friends was Tommy Hilton (of Hilton hotel among other famous descendants), who brought the drink back to be served at his hotel chain. Unfortunately, this theory is easily put on ice with the fact that Jose Cuervo was already running ads for the margarita in 1945 with the slogan “Margarita: It’s more than a girl’s name” three years prior. According to Cuervo, the cocktail was invented in 1938 by a bartender in honor of Mexican showgirl Rita de la Rosa.
While Margarita Sames may not be the inspiration for the cocktail’s namesake, she is far from the only Margarita purported to have inspired the drink. One commonly accepted story is that the frozen-tequila cocktail was created October 1941 at Hussong’s Cantina in Mexico by bartender Don Carlos Orozco. He was visited by the daughter of a German ambassador one afternoon, a girl named Margarita Henkel. He’d been experimenting with drinks and offered her one. It was a cocktail with equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, and lime, shaken and served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. Since she was the first to try it, he named it after her.
Yet another story argues the drink was invented by Danny Negrete, who worked at the Agua Cliente Race Track, as a wedding gift for his sister-in-law. Or, was it named after Margarita Cansino, better known as Rita Hayworth, by an admiring bartender during a performance in Tijuana in the 1940s? Or, for singer Peggy Lee, nicknamed Margarita, in Texas by bartender Santos Cruz in 1948? Or, was it by Francisco Morales at Tommy’s Place Bar in Juárez in 1942? The first confirmed publication of the Margarita cocktail was in 1953 in an issue of Esquire, naming it the “drink of the month”. The recipe called for an ounce of tequila, a dash of triple sec, and the juice of half a lime or lemon, served over ice with a salt rim.
While the origins are contested, the one thing people can agree on is that the margarita is a near-perfect drink! With many, many, people heading to “Margaritaville” over the decades.