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The surprising origins of 10 beloved cocktails

Many unwind after a long day with a good mixed drink. Some classic cocktails come with interesting names that seem to have been pulled out of thin air. They make a lot more sense if you know the story, however. Here are the surprising origins of ten beloved cocktails.

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary cocktails served with lime wedge and garnish on a rustic wooden table
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The history of the Bloody Mary, like that of many other drinks, is a bit murky. The drink was invented by a comedian named George Jessel. After a long night of performing and drinking, Jessel found himself in the bar at 8:00 a.m. with a bad hangover. He needed something suitable for the morning that could also help his splitting headache. He took a glass of tomato juice and added some vodka, opting for a little hair of the dog.

A local socialite named Mary Brown Warburton came into the bar and asked for one as well. As soon as she was served, she spilled the drink down the front of her white dress. It instantly became known as the Bloody Mary.

Margarita

Up close view of a lime margarita showing ice cubes and salt around rim
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An aspiring actress named Marjorie King frequented the Tijuana bar that Carlos Herrera tended. King had unusual taste. She claimed to be allergic to all hard alcohol other than tequila but couldn’t stand the taste of a straight shot. To make the flavor more tolerable, Herrera put the ingredients of a good tequila shot (lime, salt and tequila) together into one mixed drink. He named the concoction after the picky patron.

Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned cocktail with orange peel and cherries served in a clear glass
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The Old Fashioned is so named because it’s one of the oldest cocktails ever made. Before the 1800s, a mixture of hard alcohol, sugar, water, and bitters was considered to be a medicine that was taken in the morning to help with the day’s aches and pains. Toward the end of the century, mixed drinks became known as cocktails and earned their own names. The Old Fashioned was literally the old-fashioned way of making a cocktail, and the name stuck.

Gin and Tonic

Top down view of a gin and tonic cocktail in a round glass, showing fruit peels and ice
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Gin has been a popular drink in its native Holland since the 1600s. When the British were fighting on Dutch land during the Thirty Years War, they discovered the delicious drink that would give the Dutch fighters their courage. Gin quickly gained popularity in Britain.

When the British took colonial control over India, many British people decided to move there for the warmer climate. To ward off malaria, they used something called quinine, which was a bitter tasting bark extract. To make it more palatable, they made it into a tonic by mixing it with water and sugar. Add in their favorite alcoholic beverage, and you have a delicious classic cocktail that helps protect against malaria!

Tom Collins

Row of traditional Tom Collins cocktails with lemon on a wooden bar
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This classic cocktail is actually named after a practical joke. In 1874, a prank to pull on your friends was to ask them if they’d seen Tom Collins. When the victim inevitably said no, he was told that Mr. Collins had been talking bad about him all over town and that he better go catch Collins before he could do any more damage. The victim would storm off in search of the fictitious Tom Collins. Eventually, a bartender decided to cash in on the joke and made a cocktail with the same name so that when a person came into the bar asking about Tom Collins, he’d just slide him a drink. The joke — luckily — lost its popularity, but the drink retains the moniker today.

Screwdriver

Fancy Screwdriver cockail with garnish in a dark bar
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Screwdrivers are a simple drink with a simple backstory. When American oil workers were in the Persian Gulf, they weren’t allowed to drink alcohol. Of course, that’s never stopped anyone before. The workers would get vodka and put it in their orange juice so they could drink while on the job without anyone noticing. Since they didn’t have spoons at the worksite, they’d use screwdrivers to stir their drinks.

Sidecar

Traditional Sidecar cocktail served on a fancy silver tray
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There is some dispute as to the true origins of this cocktail, but the name comes from a bar in Paris. The drink was a favorite of an American army captain who frequented Harry’s Bar by riding in the sidecar of his friend’s motorcycle. By the time he got there, he’d be sufficiently cold and need something to warm him up. Since straight cognac wasn’t appropriate to drink before dinner, the bartender mixed in some Cointreau and lemon juice and named the concoction after the Captain’s preferred method of travel.

Martini

Traditional Martini with olives and toothpick on a wooden table
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The history of the martini is the subject of some dispute. While credit for the cocktail is often given to the forefather of mixology, Jerry Thomas, it’s more likely that it was created by branding. Martini & Rossi was an Italian company that made a sweet vermouth. Customers would order a “gin and Martini,” which eventually got shortened to just martini.

Manhattan

Traditional Manhattan cocktail with ice and cherries on a gray table
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This popular cocktail was, of course, invented in New York City. While the official history is unclear, the Manhattan Club claims to be the original birthplace of the recipe. One popular story claims that the drink was invented specifically for a party thrown by Winston Churchill’s mother, but it’s believed to be mostly a myth.

Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule cocktail with garnish, served in a ceramic mug
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A meeting of fate between three people took place in a club in 1941. That meeting spawned the creation of the ever-popular Moscow Mule. Sophie Berezinski was a Russian immigrant whose father ran a copper factory. Sales for their copper mugs dwindled in Russia, so Sophie decided to move to America to get rid of them.

But nobody in the United States wanted them either. She went to the Cock ‘n’ Bull pub in California to try and sell some mugs. There she met the owner, Jack Morgan, who had been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell his brand of ginger beer, and John Martin, who had recently bought the Smirnoff Vodka Distillery, also struggling to sell his product. The trio got together to invent a product that would help everyone, and the Moscow Mule was born.