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TIP OF THE DAY: Have A Retro Cocktail Party

Cranberry Mojitos, Dirty Martinis, Frozen Mango Margaritas…none of these cocktails existed when your parents (for Baby Boomers and Gen X) or grandparents (for everyone else) had their first cocktails. None would be featured on “Mad Men.”

How many people do you know who have even had a Daiquiri, Old Fashioned, or Tom Collins?

A retro cocktail party may be just the thing to introduce them to tippling in the good old days.

So banish the Cosmopolitans for an evening, and turn back the clock with a menu of five classic cocktails. These famous oldies date to the 1800s:

1. Daiquiri: Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cocktail combines rum, lime juice, and simple syrup, shaken and served neat.

2. Dry Martini: This combination of gin and dry vermouth is garnished with an olive or lemon twist garnish. The less vermouth, the drier the Martini. People who wanted to drink straight gin could ask for just a splash of it. It’s the only cocktail in this group that isn’t sweet. From early times, people used sugar to mitigate the hard edge of the alcohol.


[1] The Manhattan was created in the 1870s by a New York bartender whose name is lost to history (photo © Ruth’s Chris Steak House).

3. Manhattan: This classic whiskey cocktail, dating to the 1870s, is made with bourbon or rye and sweet vermouth, served in a rocks glass and originally garnished with a maraschino cherry, although today orange peel is often substituted (photo #1). A gin-based version is the Martinez, another oldie made with sweet vermouth, bitters and the cherry. That recipe was first published in 1887, attributed to a bar in Martinez, California.

4. Old Fashioned: Bourbon based and served in a rocks glass, sugar, bitters, and an orange slice are muddled in the glass; ice and bourbon are then added. The term originated with late 19th-century bar patrons, to distinguish cocktails made the “old-fashioned” way from newer, more complex cocktails.

5. Tom Collins: A tall drink of dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup, and soda water, garnished with a maraschino cherry and a lemon slice (photo #2). The recipe was first published in 1876. There was no particular Tom Collins for whom it was named; rather, “Tom Collins” was an everyman name referenced in conversation, along the lines of John Smith and John Doe.

Bonus option:

6. Mint Julep: Not just for Kentucky Derby parties, this tall glass of muddled mint and sugar syrup, crushed ice and bourbon deserves attention year-round. It originated in the South in the 1800s. A julep is generally defined “as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine.”*

*Source: Wikipedia. It should be noted that before it became a leisure drink, spirits were developed for, and used as, medicine.


[2] A Tom Collins (photo © Bombay Sapphire Gin).

  • Cheese sticks or cheese wafers
  • Celery stuffed with pimiento cream cheese
  • Cheese ball or cheese log, coated with toasted nuts and served with crackers
  • Deviled eggs
  • Endive leaves stuffed with crab salad
  • Hot crab dip, served with crackers or toast points
  • Mixed salted nuts
  • Rumaki: chicken liver and water chestnut wrapped in bacon
  • Stuffed mushrooms
  • Swedish meatballs
  • Pigs in blankets
  • Relish tray: carrot sticks, celery sticks, olives, radishes, sweet gherkins
  • Stuffed dates: with cream cheese or an almond (bacon wrap optional)

    Cocktails as we know them today have existed since the early 1800s. A reader wrote to “The Balance and Columbian Repository,” a newspaper in Hudson, New York, asking “What is a cocktail?” The reply, published in the May 13, 1806: “Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling….”

    The first published bartenders’ guide with cocktail recipes was “How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion,” by “Professor” Jerry Thomas, in 1862. In addition to recipes for “cocktails,” there cobblers, flips, punches, shrubs, slings, and toddies. Bitters was the key ingredient that differentiated cocktail recipes.

    Bitters are combinations of herbs, fruits, spices and/or roots, distilled in a base liquor. As with spirits, they began as medicinal tonics. Classic cocktails with bitters include the Manhattan, Negroni, Old Fashioned, Pisco Sour, Rob Roy, Rum Swizzle, Sazerac and Singapore Sling. The recent renaissance in artisan bitters has led to more of their use in new creations.

    The leading claim to the first cocktail party goes to Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri. In May 1917, she invited 50 guests to her home at noon on a Sunday. The cocktail reception lasted an hour, and lunch was served at 1 p.m.

    While the record is mum on the subject, the cocktail event may have followed the Sunday church service.† Now there’s an idea ready for revival: church followed by cocktails with friends.


    †Since 1924, the Walsh mansion has been the residence of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis.



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