ocktail culture is hot. From artisanal liquors to handcrafted bitters and infusions, it seems like swanky spots are popping up in every city with the goal of crafting perfectly balanced drinks. But where did the cocktail come from?
Though accounts of cocktails date back as far as 1802, the mixed drink as we truly know it now didn’t establish universal foothold until the start of Prohibition. Once drinking had to go underground, the quality of the booze took a serious hit. In order to help it go down a little bit more smoothly, speakeasies began offering it mixed and stirred into various drinks and potions. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the United States was a country of cocktail drinkers.
Though Prohibition ushered in the first golden age of the cocktail, the first cocktail party was held in Missouri in 1917. It lasted for all of one hour until lunch was served. The house where that shindig was thrown is now owned by the Catholic church and is the residence for the area’s archbishop. Seems somehow fitting if you ask us.
When they were first invented, cocktails were always a combination of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. In fact, without the bitters, the mixed drink was downgraded to a punch, sling, sour or flip. Since then, the guidelines as to what can and can’t go into a cocktail have blurred a bit and just about any boozy mixed drink is worthy of the name cocktail.
One thing we know for sure is that where there are cocktails, a few choice nibbles can’t be far behind. Nothing goes with a martini as well as a small handful of salted Marcona almonds, a few slices of cured charcuterie like jambon de Bayonne and a toast point spread with pâté. Rich, salty and fatty flavors just happen to pair best with the astringency of a cocktail.
A cocktail party can actually be a terrific option for home entertaining. It can be more affordable than a lavish dinner party and far more fun. By creating a spread of small bites and one or two “house” cocktails, you make your guests feel welcome without breaking the bank.
A sliced baguette paired with a plate of prosciutto and a dish of olives can easily be one station. For the vegetarians in the crowd, use your food processor to whip up a pâté of mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic. Another good coupling is crunchy sea salt, fresh radishes and butter. If you want to really gild the lily, sub in truffle butter. Your friends will swoon.
For those who are adventurous in the kitchen, try your hand at gougeres. These classic French cheese puffs aren’t actually all that hard to make and go beautifully with every cocktail invented. Just make sure to invest in some good cheese to make these light-as-air bites get their full due.