The drink menu at your favourite local bar is likely full of these signature cocktails, but have you ever wondered where they came from? How did sangria originate in Spain and who was the first to put together a cup of Pimm’s? Culture Trip has these and other stories.
Kir Royale: France
This sweet cocktail is actually an upgrade of the popular French Kir drink. Invented in Burgundy and later popularised by the Mayor of Dijon, Canon Félix Kir, the traditional Kir aperitif is a combination of dry white wine and a dark, sweet blackcurrant liqueur. The Kir Royale has a more celebratory feel: it uses champagne instead of white wine and was rumoured to be Canon Kir’s favourite aperitif to serve at official receptions.
The earliest incarnation of this drink can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman civilisations, but how did it become a Spanish legend? Around 200 BC when the Romans travelled through Spain, they left many vineyards in their wake. From this, the Spanish wine industry was born and red wines flourished on the mediterranean soil. Since water was unsafe to drink at this time, a recipe for wine punch was created that created a more palatable drinking alternative. Sangria is actually a variation on the Spanish word for blood and is typically made with red wine, brandy, spices and fruits. There are variations made with white wine (Sangria Blanca) and sparkling wine (Sangria de Cava), but its original and most popular recipe is still made with red wine.
Pisco Sour: Peru
Though there’s an ongoing disagreement regarding which country has the rights to this cocktail, most will agree it’s a signature Peruvian drink and not originally from Chile. The main ingredient—a potent Pisco brandy—is a Peruvian creation made when leftover grapes from the Spanish conquistadores were distilled. In the 1920s, the modern Pisco Sour cocktail, with egg whites and Angostura bitters, was created by Victor Vaughen Morris in a bar in Lima. The European Commission officially declared Peru as the owners of the Pisco Sour in 2013 and every year on the first Saturday in February the national drink is celebrated with its own Pisco Sour Day. Citrusy and tart, this cocktail is a classic shaken concoction.
Sazerac: New Orleans
With the Sazerac, declared the official cocktail of New Orleans in 2008, it doesn’t get more signature than this. In the 1830s, Antoine Amédée Peychaud, who ran an apothecary, served his customers toddies made from his secret family recipe of bitters and Sazerac cognac. His remedial drinks became so popular that a bar known as the Sazerac Coffee House purchased the rights to Peychaud bitters and swapped the cognac out for Sazerac rye whiskey. The official cocktail recipe has changed over the years but the dry, punchy flavour remains the same.
Pimm’s Cup: London
The gin-based Pimm’s No. 1 Cup began as a medicinal tonic and quickly developed into a phenomenon. In the 1840s, shellfish monger and landlord James Pimm began marketing his own health tonic. Over the next 20 years, the tonic gained popularity as an enjoyable drink. By 1859, the Pimm’s No 1. Cup was being sold commercially and soon reached international waters in the British colonies of Australia, India, Canada and the Caribbean. Still immensely popular in Britain, over 200,000 individual Pimm’s cups are sold at Wimbledon each year. That’s a lot of gin for just two weeks.
Aperol Spritz: Venice
It may feel as though the Aperol Spritz appeared out of nowhere but Venetians have been sipping this sweet and fizzy drink long before the rest of the world heard of it. After the Napoleonic wars when Austria-Hungary was in charge of the Veneto region of Northern Italy, the empire brought the German ‘spritz’ to the Italian region by adding splashes of water to Italian wines. In 1919, Aperol was invented and marketed to lean, fit women. It soon became the liquor of choice in a spritz cocktail. By the 1950s Aperol had created a signature Spritz recipe.
Black Russian: Brussels
Strong, dark and dreamy—the Black Russian cocktail was actually invented over 1,000 kilometers (or 621 miles) from the capital city of its namesake. The story goes that back in Belgium in 1949, bartender Gustave Tops mixed up a signature drink for American Ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta. The combination of vodka and coffee liqueur was named ‘Black Russian’ due to its colour and the use of vodka, which was well-known as a popular Russian drink.
Cosmopolitan: New York City
Despite being somewhat of a late-comer to the cocktail party in comparison to other drinks on this list, there are few cocktail menus that don’t feature a Cosmopolitan these days. Launching onto the scene in the late 80s and solidifying its cult status throughout the 90s, the Cosmopolitan was originally rumoured to be a staple of gay culture in Miami Beach and Provincetown in Massachusetts. People wanted a drink that had the class of a martini but was easier to drink, and much of the Cosmo’s success and association with New York is due to its appearance in the cultural phenomenon Sex and the City.
The humble Mojito did not begin as the classy cocktail we know it to be today. It was a creative necessity due to the potent but cheaply available rum found all over Cuba. To make their drinks more palatable, locals would add non-descript amounts of lime juice, sugarcane and mint. It gained overseas recognition during the Prohibition era when Havana became a favourite among thirsty Americans. This was likely the time the drink gained a nod of approval from Ernest Hemingway and has since enjoyed cult status around the world. Sometimes, even the most simple beginnings can lead to a signature drink.
Singapore Sling: Singapore
This fruity and colourful cocktail was created with ladies in mind. In 1915 at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, a bartender noticed a niche market that had long been unfulfilled. While it was common for gentlemen to drink straight gin and whisky in the hotel bar, it was not culturally acceptable for ladies to be seen consuming alcohol. Many women opted for tea or juice to drink instead. That is until Ngiam Tong Boon found a way to mask the liquor and give the appearance of juice with his Singapore Sling cocktail. It was an undeniable hit and is now the most widely recognised drink in the country.
Nobody seems to agree on who invented the Margarita, but it’s a well-known fact that its origins belongs to Mexico. According to one story, it was a bar owner from Tijuana who created the first Margarita to appease a dancer who only drank Tequila but preferred not to take a shot. Another story tells the tale of Texas socialite Margaret Sames, aka Margarita, and the lavish parties she threw where the drink first came to be. The list goes on and we may never know who truly put together the tart, tasty drink. Regardless, it’s now the signature drink of Mexico that’s celebrated on National Margarita Day every February 22.