The exact start date of America’s love of cocktails is somewhat unclear, but it is known that as early as the end of the 18th-century people were referring to certain drinks as cocktails.
By 1862, the Bon-Vivant’s Companion was published and became an unofficial bible for bartenders and drink enthusiasts with many cocktails printed within its pages still beloved classics to this day.
Traditionally, cocktails were a mix of spirits, sugar, water and bitters, and the reason an Old Fashioned is named as such is that it is made of just these four ingredients, with the spirit in question being a fine whiskey.
However, an attempt to ban alcohol in the early 20th century managed to accidentally give America’s drinkers a sweet tooth that endures to this day.
In 1920, Prohibition began in the United States, which was a nationwide ban on alcohol that endured for 13 years.
In practice, this just meant that people started drinking in underground clubs and speakeasies, and the drinks of choice depended on what was available in the local area.
Once the stockpiles of alcohol hoarded from before the ban came into effect dried up, bootleggers made moonshine that was high in alcohol content but also exceptionally foul to taste, meaning that many classic cocktails that enhanced the liquor’s taste were somewhat unpleasant to drink.
The solution was to create sweet gin-based cocktails; since gin did not require ageing, it could more easily be found than bourbon.
This led to popular cocktails such as the Gin Rickey (made famous via The Great Gatsby), the Mint Julep, the Bees Knees and the Mary Pickford, each having a distinctive, largely sweet or overpowering taste to mask the often low-quality alcohol.
The other reason for the sudden shift is that whilst classic cocktails were ones that you would commonly nurse for quite a long time, the constant threat of raids meant that people wanted drinks they could quickly consume once they started hearing knocking at the door.
Even once Prohibition ended in 1933, this trend of sweet cocktails lives on.
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