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Top 10 classic cocktail tales

Some cocktails are as familiar as a well worn bar stool at your favourite bar; recipes which have stood the test of time to become part of the fabric of the drinks industry.

But what goes into creating such a cocktail? How does an experimental mix transform into an iconic serve? And who is behind such drinks? The unspoken heroes of such legendary drinks as the Negroni and Daiquiri?

Each cocktail has its own tale to tell.

Scroll through to find out how some of the world’s most ubiquitous cocktails came to be… 

Bloody Mary

Often thought of as the ultimate ‘hair of the dog’ hangover cure the Bloody Mary, sometimes known as the “Bucket of Blood” or “Red Snapper”, has undoubtedly tended to many a sore head over the years. However there is little evidence to suggest its combination of vodka, tomato juice, and spices such as Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, piri piri, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, celery and salt has any effect on relieving the pain of a heavy night. Several lay claim to its creation with the New York’s 21 Club insisting it was invented in the 1930s by a bartender named Henry Zbikiewicz, while another another theory suggests comedian George Jessel, who was known to frequent the Club, had something to do with its invention. However a bartender named Fernand Petiot is most commonly cited as its maker, claiming to have invented the drink 1921 while working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The drink didn’t gain in popularity until 1934 when Petiot introduced it at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. The origins of its name have been linked to Queen Mary I of England, who was nicknamed as such in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for attempting to re-establish the Catholic Church in England. Others claim the drink was named after a waitress named Mary who worked at a Chicago bar called the Bucket of Blood.

Piña Colada

Three Puerto Rican bartenders, two of whom worked at the Caribe Hilton Hotel’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, claim to have invented the Piña Colada, a sweet rum-based cocktail made with coconut and pineapple juice, in 1948. However the Barrachina Restaurant contests their claims insisting it to be the drink’s birthplace and that its bartender, Ramón Portas Mingot, invented the drink in 1963 going so far as to engrave a marble plaque stating such. The drink is usually served either blended or shaken with ice often garnished with a pineapple wedge, a maraschino cherry or both. Its name literally means strained pineapple. Puerto Rica celebrates National Piña Colada Day on 10 July, where it has been the bebida nacional (national drink) since 1978.


Traditionally made with Cognac, orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier), and lemon juice, the Sidecar is thought to have been invented around the end of World War I, most likely at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. It was made famous by Harry MacElhone’s, a bartender at the Ritz who in 1922 included a recipe for the cocktail in his book, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, listing the cocktail as having equal parts of Cognac, triple sec and lemon juice. In the book, MacElhone cites its inventor as Pat MacGarry, but in later publications claims himself as its inventor. Its name is thought to have been inspired by an American Army captain Ritz regular during World War I, who often travelled by sidecar. MacElhone later opened Harry’s New York Bar – the birthplace of the Bloody Mary.

Singapore Sling

The Singapore Sling is often lambasted, perhaps unfairly, as an abomination of a cocktail commonly mixed with abandon in holiday resorts with little consideration of its balance of flavours. The cocktail is believed to have been developed sometime before 1916 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender working at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel Singapore. It was originally intended to be a “woman’s drink” made with a delicate pink hue. It typically comprises of gin and cherry brandy with fresh orange, pineapple and lime juice. Raffle’s current recipe has been modified from the original, thought to be changed sometime in the 1970s by Ngiam Tong Boon’s nephew. Today, many of the Singapore Slings served at Raffles Hotel are pre-mixed made using an automatic dispenser and blended to create a foamy top due to the volume of orders it receives.


The Daiquiri is believed to have been invented around the beginning of the 20th century by an American engineer in Cuba called Jennings Cox – however with only three ingredients, rum, citrus juice and sugar, it is likely the drink existed on a more casual basis before this. Another theory lists Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, a Catalan immigrant and bartender, as its inventor having mixed the drink at Havana’s El Floridita bar. Ernest Hemmingway and John F Kennedy were known to be fans of this beverage, which undoubtedly helped lift it onto the world stage. Its name was most likely inspired by a beach club called Daiquiri near Santiago in Cuba, or an iron mine of the same name nearby. It wasn’t until 1909 that the drink gained popularity outside of Cuba when Rear Admiral Lucius W. Johnson, a US Navy medical officer, introduced it to the Army and Navy Club in Washington DC.

Mai Tai

Typically comprising of rum, Curaçao liqueur, and lime juice, the Mai Tai was invented at the Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, California, in 1944. Its inventor, Victor J. Bergeronon, gave the drink to a friend who on her first sip cried out “Maita’i roa ae!”, which translates as “very good” in Tahitian, hence the name. The drink became very popular in the 1950s and ’60s, particularly among “tiki” themed restaurants and bars, despite it having no authentic links to Hawaii or the South Pacific.


The Mojito originated in Cuba and is typically served in a highball glass comprising white rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water, and mint. Its original Cuban recipe used spearmint or yerba buena – a mint variety popular on the island. Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century to a drink known as “El Draque”, named after Francis Drake, believed to be created by the British privateer Richard Drake. The story goes that following the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1586, Drake’s crew was struck by an epidemic of dysentery and scurvy and went ashore to Cuba to gather ingredients for a medicine to help alleviate their symptoms. They came back with aguardiente de caña, a crude form of rum, lime, sugarcane juice and mint. It is from these humble beginnings that the latter-named Mojito is believed to have been born. Some believe the cocktail’s name derives from the Spanish word mojadito, which means “something a little wet”.


The Bellini, a mixture of Prosecco and peach purée, was first invented in Venice, Italy, sometime between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar. The original recipe was made with raspberry or cherry juice to give it its pink hue with several flavour variations later emerging. Its name is said to have been inspired by a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini depicting a a man in a toga, which Cipriani said reminded him of the drink’s pink colour.


Arguably the king of the cocktail world, the Martini is made with gin, vermouth and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist. Over the years it has gained popularity as James Bond’s beverage of choice, however its origins are the subject of much debate. The earliest known reference to a Martini can be found in Henry J Wehman’s Bartender’s Guide 1891 which features a Martini recipe comprising Old Tom gin, vermouth, a dash of curacao, bitter and syrups – not entirely as today’s Martini is thought of. A popular theory is that the Martini evolved from the Martinez – a cocktail made from gin, vermouth and cherry liqueur. In 1863, Italian vermouth maker Martini & Rosso began promoting a Martinez made with Martini vermouth, which could explain the origins of the cocktail’s name.


A classic Negroni, considered an apéritif, is made from one part gin, one part vermouth rosso and one part Campari, garnished with orange peel. Its invention is most commonly attributed to a rich Florentine Count Camillo Negroni who in 1919 asked his bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to add gin, rather than soda water, to his Americano cocktail. Scarselli was working at Caffè Casoni, now the Cavalli Caffè in Florence, at the time. Following its success, the Negroni Family founded Negroni Distillerie in Treviso producing a ready-made version of the drink, sold as Antico Negroni in 1919. Orson Welles said of the drink in 1947:  “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”

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