Old Is Gold: Cocktails That Continue To Make History

How old do you think the Martini is? No, it was not invented for James Bond but in fact dates back to the late 18th Century. In fact, some of your favourite cocktails could be older, so let’s look at a few.

Published On May 13, 2024 | Updated On May 13, 2024

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There is no other way to begin this story than with a 'did you know?'. So, did you know that the punch, a popular cocktail in various parts of the world, has its origins in India? 

Incidentally, when India was under various stages of colonisation during the 17th Century, the Europeans discovered that we were distilling spirits — think Arrack, Mahua, Apong — for much longer than Europe itself. Then they added rum to it, and vitamin C from lemons to avoid scurvy (a lot of them were sailors, see) and so on. And while there is no exact date to it, there is a written recipe for Punch that dates back to 1638. A German by the name Johan Albert de Mandelslo who used to run a factory in Surat, Gujarat, wrote about a concoction his workers had come up with which happened to be a ‘a kind of drink made of brandy, rosewater, lemon juice and sugar'. Another interesting trivia about the Punch is that it’s said the name comes from the Hindi word ‘paanch’, in a way signifying five different ingredients — spirit, water, sugar, spice, citrus — that went into the drink. 

Now, those sailors began to make their own too, mostly with rum and took the Punch to ports when they returned from the journeys, thus making the humble Punch one heck of a popular cocktail across England and eventually to the rest of Europe and America, of course. 

Therefore, while the Sazerac is often labelled at the oldest cocktail in history, dating back to even before the word ‘cocktail’ was coined – Punch was THE drink even before that. Incidentally, Comorin, an award-winning bar in Gurugram has a variation of the Sazerac on the menu. Called the Merchant Exchange Sazerac, it’s made with vanilla-infused cognac, house fennel liqueur and aromatic wine bitters. Yes, we know you’ll want one. 

Now, let’s take a look at some of the other vintage cocktails because without those a lot of the nifty mixes today wouldn’t even exist. Isn't history fascinating?!

Everyone loves a good story 

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© Uno Izakaya, JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru

Most accounts state that the Sazerac, a mix of absinthe, whisky, bitters and sugar, created in New Orleans way back in the 1800s was the first ‘official’ cocktail. However, it’s said that the El Draque (named after an Englishman Sir Francis Drake) and the recipe, which originally was concocted as a medicine, contained distilled and raw sugar cane juice, bar from a tree called the ‘chuchuhuasi’, lime and mint. The Mojito, which officially was created in Havana, Cuba, turned out to be a modified version of the El Draque. 

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The Octopus at Eight, Bengaluru

In India, a lot of these vintage (older than the classics) cocktails have made their way into bar menus, the Old Fashioned in particular. Now this cocktail, which owes its creation to the Pendennis Club in the USA around 1881, may have actually been founded in the earlier part of the 19th Century, even though articles suggest that the older version of the Old Fashioned was rather different from what it’s known to be today. But that’s precisely what’s happened to cocktails over the ages and across the world. In India itself, bars have been playing with vintage and classic cocktails for generations. 

Eight, an Asian bar and restaurant in Bengaluru, has a drink called the The Octopus, which is a blend of Lapsang tea whiskey, smoked honey, pineapple shrub, coco bitter, and an activated charcoal ice ball, served in a chilled Rock glass. “This modern take on the classic Old Fashioned, consists of new elements to entice a younger audience to this timeless cocktail. For visual presentation, I wanted to garnish the cocktail with edible rice paper in the shape of an octopus,” said the parent company Bellona Hospitality’s head mixologist, Manoj Alphonse. 

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The Ouro Fashion at Ouro Bengaluru

Then there’s the Whiskey Sour, which dates back to the late 19th Century and has been referenced in several books, the first being in 1862 in The Bartenders Guide by Jerry Thomas. However, it’s said that the drink in itself is a lot older. The OG version came bourbon or whiskey, lemon juice and a dash of sugar to make it sweet. The egg white was added later by bartenders to create a frothy garnish. The New York Sour, a derivative of the original also comes with a splash of red wine. 

Sahil Pakhrin, a senior bartender at the Bengaluru-based bar Ouro, inspired by the Whiskey Sour, created the Ouro Fashion. “We’ve used Jameson Irish whiskey with lemon juice, honey, and egg white to make this drink. Our innovative approach involves a meticulous two-stage process. Initially, we vigorously shake the concoction with a single block of ice, ensuring optimal chilling while minimising dilution and achieving a luxuriously foamy texture, reminiscent of the classic. In the second stage, known as the dry shake, we introduce Merlot wine and sweet vermouth. This addition enhances the cocktail's flavour profile, imbuing it with fruity richness and a velvety texture, complemented by a delightful ruby red hue. Together, these elements redefine the classic Whiskey Sour, offering our patrons a truly exceptional and flavourful experience,” he said. 

Another cocktail which has in the past four to five years wormed its way in to plenty of upscale bars around the country is the Negroni. Now this downright delicious cocktail, which is officially considered to have been created by Count Camillio Negroni in 1919 when he visited Caffe Casoni and requested the bartender Fosco Scarselli to make a stronger version of his favourite cocktail, which was the Americano. He also asked for gin instead of soda and suggested orange as its garnish. 

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Soon after the family founded the Negroni distillery and began to create pre-batched cocktails. And you thought ready-to-drinks was something new? But here’s the catch. It’s also rumoured that his namesake, Pascal Negroni, had already created the cocktail around the 1870s. But in all fairness, how does one even prove it? 

At Uno Izakaya (JW Marriott Hotel Bengaluru) there’s a delightful drink called the Shisho Negroni, which is of course a Japanese take on the original. This cocktail comes with Shiso-infused gin, Martini Rosso, and Campari. The Khus Vermouth Negroni at Comorin, Gurugram, is a near-magical cocktail that is made with sous vide gin, light and dark khus vermouth and orange bitters. 

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Canteen Negroni at The Bombay Canteen

Talking about playing with the Negroni, Mumbai-based Bombay Canteen offers the Canteen Negroni, made with gin, citrus Campari and spiced port. “A classic Negroni may take some getting used to and our Canteen Negroni is a great entryway into the world of this delicious cocktail. It has everything you love about a Negroni but taken up a notch to make it brighter, fruitier and fresher - made with gin, a house made citrus Campari and port wine (instead of vermouth) infused with allspice and berries,” says Yash Bhanage, Founder & COO, Hunger Inc. Hospitality. 

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The Chukka at Polo Club, Bengaluru

Rahul Shandilaya Tiwari, assistant F&B manager and spirits expert at The Oberoi Bengaluru’s Polo Club, says he absolutely loves vintage cocktails. He's crafted a drink called the Chov-gan, which comes with equal portions of whiskey, Campari and sweet vermouth with espresso foam on top and brand snap for garnish, and is a take on the Negroni or even the Boulavadier, which is basically the Manhattan (another vintage) with Campari in it. Tiwari says that most of what he creates will eventually find its roots in some of the oldest cocktails. His Chukka, made with equal portions of white and dark rum, vanilla essence and then fat-washed with coconut oil, and garnished with orange peel and cherry is a curious take on the Old Fashioned. “The Old Fashioned could possibly be one of the most referred to cocktails when it comes to bartending programmes,” he says, and he wouldn’t be very far from the truth. 


Photo: Featured Bars