3 - 4 July, 2023
Olympia London

The cultural influences behind cocktails

When it comes to creating cocktails, a bartender’s local culture and home can play an influential part in the process. We take a look at how food, drink and more can influence cocktail creation

For bartenders, cocktail inspiration can come from any number of sources – from local traditions to cocktail history and pairing with food. Around the world, cocktails both classic and new all draw from a source of creativity and culture, with some of the industry’s best-known and oldest mixed drinks still inspiring bartenders to this day. We take a look at some of the cultures impacting modern cocktail making.

French Spirit

Cognac, Armagnac, chartreuse, calvados: France has an illustrious spirits-making culture with some of the biggest spirits brands coming out of chateaux all across the country.

And while here in the UK these particular categories provide an exciting switch up for bartenders, in their homeland, bartenders have in the past eschewed the use of their old, traditional spirits.

A notable exemption however is award-winning Le Syndicat, a bar group and agency based in Paris. With a skew of championing French spirits.

Beverage director Thibault Massina and his talented team use the likes of Pineau des Charentes (a fortified wine made from grape must and Cognac eau de vie), Rhum JM (a rhum Agricole from the French Caribbean island of Martinique) and Esprit de Bière from Nusbaumer, (a beer spirit eau de vie) in their avant-garde – and delicious – cocktail serves.

Aperitivo hour

Derived from the Italian verb for ‘to open’ (‘aprire’) aperitivo-style drinks have long been served in Italy as a pre-dinner palate opener. Usually served alongside what is known as ‘cicchetti’ (small plates) they can take the form of Negronis, Americanos and Spritzes.

They are said to credit their history back to the 18th century when King Vittorio Emanuele II adopted vermouth as his pre-prandial sip of choice. A century later and Florence found itself the birthplace of the Negroni, when Count Camillo Negroni was served a twist on the Americano using vermouth in place of soda.

If the rise of the Negroni in recent years is anything to go by, it’s not just in Italy where aperitivo hour is considered a tradition. Italian bartenders have travelled with their traditions into further flung bars, from North America to the UK, and embraced their Italian heritage.

Bars like Mexico’s Hanky Panky (no strangers to a Spritz) to London’s Swift (whose Aperitivo menu has featured the likes of the Mandarin Bellini) and UK Italian restaurants such as Cecconi’s and Lina Stores matching Italian-style drinks to their Italian fare. Not to mention Mele e Pere, a Soho trattoria with London’s largest collection of vermouths. 

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Home of invention

When it comes to cocktails and the USA, there is one city that arguably stands out for the rest when it comes to cocktail culture – New Orleans. A vibrant live music scene; a melting pot of French, Africa and American cuisine; and round-the-clock party vibes make it the ultimate inspiration for drinks creators.

Indeed, some of the most famous cocktails loved by bartenders around the world to this day were invented in New Orleans.

The official cocktail of Louisiana, the Sazerac (rye whiskey, Cognac, bitters, sugar cube and absinthe) is said to have been invented as early as 1883 when apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud mixed cognac with his Peychaud's Bitters.

The Ramos Gin Fizz (originally called The New Orleans Fizz) was created in 1888 by Henry C Ramos at the Imperial Cabinet Bar.

Not long after the Grasshopper came along in 1918, courtesy of Tujague’s bar’s Philip Guichet. Fast-forward nearly a century and NOLA’s bars still pay homage to their illustrious cocktail history.

Hail the highball

The Highball cocktail may not have originated in Japan, with the term first appearing in The Mixologist written by Cincinnati’s Chris Lawlor, but the East Asian country has steadfastly adopted the drink in recent years.

It first became popular in the 1950s and come the 60s and 70s it became the businessman’s tipple of choice as ‘Torys bars’ (so named for their link to Japan’s Suntory whisky) opened up apace.

Fifty years later and the whisky and soda cocktail still sells in its droves thanks to its light abv and ideal pairing with food -  not to mention that they also come in cans dispensed from machines if you want one on the move.

The highball trend has firmly made its way over to the UK too with Milroy’s of Soho whisky bar having regularly changing highballs on tap, and newly opened Soda & Friends dedicating the majority of its menu to the format – albeit not exclusively using whisky.

Millie Milliken will be hosting a masterclass on Cultural Cocktails at the upcoming Imbibe Live event on 4-5 July, find out more about the session here, view the full masterclass programme here and register here to get your ticket to Imbibe Live, the biggest drinks trade event in the UK. 

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