The Story Behind Amsterdam Cocktails
Earlier this week I was at an Amsterdam Cocktails workshop, and I was interested by the little bits of information our instructor could give us on the general history of mixology. I was fascinated to discover there was a long story behind cocktail making, and was left with the notion that there was a lot more to it than I could learn from an Amsterdam Cocktails workshop.
Although all credit goes to the instructor at the Amsterdam cocktail workshop for providing an interesting and informative workshop, but as it turned out there was a lot to find out about the history of cocktails. While common wisdom maintains that the cocktail is a uniquely American invention, it actually has its roots in 18th century London.
To a great extent this was due to the sudden increase in the popularity of gin as opposed to fermented beverages. In the year 1688 England had seen years of excellent grain harvests that had left them with an impressive surplus. King William I, in the interest of “the health of the nation” declared a reduction in the taxation rate on distilling.
Most Common Amsterdam Cocktails Ingredients
William’s declaration was not meant to be taken tongue in cheek. At the time some of the most common and deadly diseases were water-borne – cholera, dysentery, E. coli. One of the best-known ways to avoid this disease was to consume huge amounts of alcohol on a daily basis.
Gin was initially used in this way, and was typically sold in medicine shops. Soon, however, the majority of gin was consumed in public houses and on the streets. By 1720 it is thought that one in every four houses contained a gun still.
By the 1750’s the staggering social ramifications of gin abuse were obvious to even the uninterested observer. Gin was considered to be a poison of the poor, and both a symptom and cause of the moral bankruptcy of the working class. As such, it could not be consumed in its basic form by “gentlemen” – gin had become firmly a drink of the lower classes.
In an attempt to improve sales in more refined establishments, bar tenders appear to have experimented with the production and branding of gin based drinks. Thus in 1798 William Pitt the Younger picked up a tab for a “cocktail (vulgarly called ginger).”
There is more evidence that the cocktails origins have been misplaced. Part of the American argument that cocktails hail from the land of the free is the work of Jerry Thomas, who produced a famous book of cocktail recipes in 1862. However, Thomas had spent the majority of his bartending career in London, where he probably learned many of the recipes entombed in his famous book.
Today cocktails are wildly popular, and have evolved far beyond gin. I was very impressed by the experience of the Amsterdam Cocktails workshop – my research into the history of cocktails was just as satisfying!