5 Famous Cocktails With Wartime Origins
If "war is hell," then it's no surprise it helped inspire a multitude of mixed drinks to ease the diabolical consequences of combat. Many of the popular cocktails we still enjoy in the 21st century were born, in part, due to wartime. Here are a few of those potent potables, in chronological order:
1. GIN AND TONIC
Gin became massively popular in England in the early 1700s, after the British Crown allowed distillers to produce millions of gallons of the stuff, making it an affordable alleviative for the poverty-stricken folks living in London’s slums. The “Gin Craze” wasn’t just for the poor, however, as it swept across all socio-economic—and geographical—boundaries. By the early 19th century, gin had made its way to India, via the colonization of the country by the British East India Company and its army.
The soldiers and citizenry who settled in India faced an unfamiliar foe in the deadly mosquito-borne disease malaria. While gin couldn’t protect the Brits from malaria, quinine powder (a derivative of the bark of the cinchona tree) could—and the Crown began to ship cinchona bark to its subjects in India in the mid 19th century.
A year after Indian soldiers in the Bengal Army (called Sepoys) rose up against the British in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a businessman named Erasmus Bond produced a commercially available elixir called “aerated tonic liquid” which contained quinine. English soldiers and citizens in India began to mix their gin with this new tonic water, and the Gin and Tonic was born.
The Treaty of Paris of 1898 officially ended the Spanish-American War, and required Spain to grant Cuba its independence as one of the conditions of the peace agreement. The United States government’s motives in ensuring Cuba its independence weren’t exactly altruistic, however, and soon the Spanish-American Iron Company was sending American engineers to Cuba to hunt for iron-ore deposits in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
One of those engineers, Jennings Stockton Cox, led a mining expedition to a small Cuban town called Daiquiri. Cox suggested to U.S. government officials that working in Cuba might be more palatable with monthly rations of rum—Bacardi Carta Blanca, to be exact. Legend has it Cox entertained his American guests by mixing local ingredients like lime and sugar with with his rum rations—a drink he named after the town in which he was living. One too many Daiquiris probably made it difficult to “Remember the Maine,” but fans of the new beverage didn’t seem to care.
The Sidecar is one of those old-school cocktails that might have faded into oblivion if the 1960s-era television phenomenon “Mad Men” hadn’t catapulted it right back to our collective consciousness. But the Sidecar’s origin goes back even further than Don Draper’s miserable Depression-era childhood. There are a few hypotheses around the origin, but the most popular is that the mixed drink originated in France during World War I, when a U.S. Army captain (whose name is lost to history) was chaperoned to and from his favorite Parisian bar in the sidecar of a motorcycle.
One version of the story has the bartender of the Army captain’s favorite watering hole whipping up an elixir of brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon juice to help the soldier recover from a particularly stubborn cold. Author and cocktail connoisseur David A. Embury seems to confirm this story in his 1948 barkeep bible called The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks: "It was invented by a friend of mine at a bar in Paris during World War I and was named after the motorcycle sidecar in which the good captain customarily was driven to and from the little bistro where the drink was born and christened.”
4. FRENCH 75
When proposing a toast with a clink of champagne flutes, have you ever found yourself wishing the bubbly in the glass packed more of a wallop? If so, you have something in common with World War I fighter pilot Raoul Lufbery. Lufbery was of French and American descent, and champagne was pilots' intoxicant of choice. But, apparently, it wasn’t intoxicating enough for Lufbery, so he spiked it with a bit of Cognac. The cocktail he created did the trick—so much, in fact, that Lufbery reportedly said drinking it left him feeling like he was hit by a piece of war equipment known as the French 75mm. You can still order a French 75 from a knowledgeable mixologist, although sometimes the beverage is made with gin instead of Cognac.
5. BLOODY MARY
Brunch would be just a placeholder between breakfast and lunch without the help of the ubiquitous Bloody Mary. Despite the name, the vodka and tomato juice concoction did not earn its moniker from Mary I of England, or even the creepy slumber party game. Rather, the savory cocktail owes its roots to the Russian Revolution. After the Bolsheviks overthrew Czar Nicholas II in 1917, many members of the Russian elite were forced to flee their homeland. One of those émigrés was named Vladimir Smirnov, who’d lost his family fortune in the revolution.
Smirnov made a new life for himself by opening a vodka distillery in Constantinople and introducing the resulting liquor to Westerners for the first time. Smirnov started producing vodka in Turkey, then Poland, and finally France—where he changed his name (and the vodka’s) to Smirnoff.
It was there in France where famed bartender Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot is credited with being the first to do more than just mix the new breed of alcohol with tomato juice at Harry’s New York Bar in 1920s Paris. Back then, the cocktail was called everything from Red Hammer to Red Snapper. As for how the name was changed to Bloody Mary, Petiot told the Cleveland Press in 1972 that patrons at a saloon called Buckets of Blood christened the drink after a waitress at the bar they’d nicknamed Bloody Mary.
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