Arts & Life, Events

The cocktail: 400 years in the making

The cocktail has quite the tale to tell. And what better way to hear it than over drink?

Bartenders and amateur cocktail historians Damien Montanile and Chris Dion led a boozy prohibition mixology class as part of the Art Deco Festival, which was held at the Queen Mary from Sept. 4 to 7.

The duo delved into the storied history of the cocktail, an American invention.

However, the origins of cocktails lie in punches. Inspired by how eastern cultures drank alcohol, 17th century traders and sailors began concocting these alcoholic mixtures.

The word punch is borrowed from Sanskrit and means “five.” Five because there are five ingredients that went into a punch: the spirit, the sugar, the water, the bitters, and a base such as wine or milk.

Punches found their way into the taverns of the Colonies. By this point, the first and most primitive variations in recipes began to emerge, such as Planter’s Punch and Philadelphia Fish House Punch.

[sidebar title=”Champs-Élysées” align=”right” background=”on” border=”left” shadow=”on”]

2 oz. cognac
¾ oz. strained, fresh lemon juice

½ oz. yellow chartreuse
½ oz. simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water)
1 dash of Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients and shake well with ice, double strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

*Chartreuse is a French liqueur made from 140 plus herbs.


The first mention of the word cocktail was in the early 1800’s in a New Hampshire newspaper called “The Farmer’s Cabinet,” according to Dion.

The book that first codified cocktail recipes was “The Bon Vivant’s Companion” published in 1862 by the godfather of the modern cocktail, Jerry Thomas.

It was during this time that cocktails as we drink them today begin to come into existence. Bartenders were considered artisans and were hobnobbing with politicians.

“In some cases, especially in Orange County, the mayor was the bartender,” said Montanile.

In the early 20th century, excessive drunkenness and a religious revival led to Prohibition in the United States, and as a result, many bartenders fled to other countries in order to continue practicing their craft.

This led to foreign flavors being assimilated into their cocktail recipes.

Montanile mixed up one such cocktail called the Champs-Élysées, a 1930’s recipe created by influential bartender Harry Craddock who fled to Europe during Prohibition and which was published in his book “The Savory Cocktail Book.”

The yellowish drink is a Parisian-inspired take on the Sidecar and has a sweet lemon and herbal taste.

After Prohibition, the cocktail pretty much disappeared from the bar counter. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Prohibition-style cocktail culture was revived, beginning in the Rainbow Room in New York.

These days, you can grab a Gin Rickey or a Whiskey Sour at speakeasy-inspired bars such as the Red Room or The Federal Bar in Long Beach.

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