Toasting the Cocktail: A Tradition Shaken, Not Stirred

Myths on the origin of the word ‘cocktails’ are plentiful. One relates to that of a Mexican princess named Coctel who served drinks to American soldiers in the 1800s, another refers to the use of the colourful tail feathers of cocks used as a garnishing in 1799. The more credible version is that cocktails were ‘created’ to dodge the prohibition policy during 1920-1933 in North America by disguising alcoholic drinks with fruit juices.

Lovers of Bacchus have been mixing drinks for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that forerunners of the cocktail, also known as slings, fizzes, toddies and juleps became popular enough to be recorded and mentioned in books.

By the 1950s the cocktail became a fashionable drink even among Europe’s upper class. This heady creation was also glamorised by Hollywood and novelists. To attract clientele, bartenders devised trendy combinations of cocktails, giving them flashy names.

Popular in the 1960s were the vodka-based Moscow Mule, Screwdriver and Gimlet or the rum-with-blue Caracao classic Blue Hawaiian. Then are the evergreens which continue their run of popularity even today, such as Bloody Mary, Manhattan and the many-hued Martini.

There is a choice of Martinis which are made with gin or vodka and a dash of vermouth. A bartender needs to know the imbiber’s liquor preference and if it should be shaken or stirred. Martinis can be served as dry, extra dry, bone dry, perfect, dirty or a Gibson.

Trendy tropical cocktails of today include Daiquiri, Mai Tai, Mojito, Margarita, Pina Colada; and among the tall drinks are the Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins and Long Island Iced Tea which, incidentally, does not have tea as an ingredient. As the fruit juices camouflage the alcoholic content cocktails are a popular choice among ladies today.

The latest trend catching on from New York to New Delhi is mixology, or experimenting with new tastes and preferences. The mixologist focuses on creating newer and more exotic tasting drinks, thereby pushing the limits of classical bartending. Mixology is accepted to be a refined, higher study of mixing cocktails and drinks, the concept being to enhance the flavour of the drink and make the drinker’s experience more intense.

The choice of liquor for preparing a cocktail is whisky, rum, vodka, gin, brandy, tequila and liqueurs. The mixers include the juices of lemons, limes, oranges, pineapples and tomatoes as also ginger ale and lime juice cordial. The flavouring could range from Angostura bitters, grenadine, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, honey, sugar and cream.

Any guide to the preparation of cocktails will tell you that mixed drinks can be garnished in many ways such as by frosting the rim of a glass with salt or floating a slice of lemon in the glass. The addition of fruits, sweet, sour or flavoured, imparts freshness and an exotic taste to a cocktail.

Bloody Mary


Vodka                         50 ml

Tomato juice              200 ml

Garnish: A wedge of lemon. Rim glass with salt.

Glass: Highball.


Pour ingredients into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

Other things which count: Fancy coloured straws, short ones for martini or lowball glasses, longer ones for highball glasses, the straw’s colour matching the colour of the drink; addition of a spring of mint or a drop of grenadine. Other additions include olives, cocktail onions, lemons, limes, cherries or a dash of bitters.

A bartender always prepares a cocktail in the appropriate glass. So a martini will be served in a martini glass and a Bloody Mary in a highball glass. A general guideline is that the stronger the drink the smaller the glass. There are two categories of glasses, those with stems and those without. Various types of cocktail glasses:

Highball glass: To serve Bloody Mary or a Tom Collins.

Lowball glass: For drinks with a high proportion of mixer to alcohol.

Wine glass:  Wine and any cocktail.

Cocktail glass: Many cocktails are served in cocktail glasses.

Champagne flute: Serve anything with champagne and bubbles.

Martini glass: For martinis, also used for margaritas.

Shot glass: Shooters are designed for liquor that is swallowed in a single gulp.

Rules about mixing: Clear cocktails are usually stirred; cloudy cocktails shaken; you can shake a cocktail that calls for a little head on top, such as a margarita; ask guests if they prefer their martinis shaken or stirred; mix frozen cocktails in a blender. Blending is also required when using solid fruits, ice cream, and if a fine consistency is required.

Some terms: Dash is a very small amount; muddle is to mix a drink or stir an ingredient into the drink; float is to pour on top of other liquids without disturbing them; shake is when ingredients are poured into a cocktail shaker with ice and shaken briskly; frosting is moistening the glass rim, usually with a lemon, to allow an ingredient, such as salt, to stick to the rim; on the rocks is when a drink is served undiluted in a glass filled with ice; twist means squeezing a citrus peel over a drink.

Not to be left behind, non-drinkers in the 1930s devised the term mocktails which meant a non-alcoholic drink consisting of a mixture of fruit juices or other soft drinks. Mocktails are popular today among those who prefer not to imbibe alcohol.


Tropical Delight


Coconut milk              60 ml

Pineapple juice          90 ml

Mango juice                90 ml

Banana                      1


Blend peeled banana with other ingredients. Add ice cubes, blend again. Pour into a long glass. Garnish with lemon slice and sprig of mint.

Another novelty practised currently by many bartenders and establishments internationally is Molecular Mixology, the purpose being to create new flavours, textures and visuals. The techniques include the use of foams, liquid nitrogen, gels, mists, heat, solidifying liquids, etc.

After cocktails and mocktails we look forward to the creation of, who knows, maybe mixitail, a next-generation marriage of alcohol with classical techniques and modern science. Considering the growing popularity of cocktails among the younger generation and the novelty of mixing different brews to devise exhilarating new tastes, that era may not take a long time to arrive.


Some Popular Cocktails

Tom Collins


Gin                              60 ml

Lemon juice                40 ml

Sugar syrup                25 ml

Angostura bitters       A dash


Garnish: Slice of lemon and a cherry.

Glass: Highball.


Fill glass with cubed ice, stir in ingredients and top up with soda. Garnish with lemon slice and cherry.




Lemon juice                Half a lemon

Mint leaves                 Six

Sugar syrup                10 ml

Golden rum                40 ml

Soda                           A dash

Garnish: A sprig of mint

Glass: Highball


Add lemon juice and spent shell, sugar syrup and mint leaves into the glass and muddle. Fill glass with crushed ice. Add rum, stir until glass frosts. Add soda and garnish with mint.


Blue Lagoon


Vodka                         50 ml

Blue curacao              25 ml

Lemonade                  100 ml

Garnish: Slice of lime, orange or lemon

Glass: Highball


Pour vodka and blue curacao into a glass half-filled with ice. Top with lemonade. Garnish with slice.

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