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The Cocktail as an American Artifact

July 6th, 2022 | 1 min read

By Jake Meador

From David Wondrich’s Imbibe:

Anyone who has spent any time pondering the origins of the Cocktail—be it for the months or years it takes to write a book or the minutes or seconds it takes to internalize a Dry Martini—will agree that it’s a quintessentially American contraption. How could it be anything but? It’s quick, direct, and vigorous. It’s flashy and a little bit vulgar. It induces an unreflective overconfidence. It’s democratic, forcing the finest liquors to rub elbows with ingredients of far more humble stamp. It’s profligate with natural resources (think of all the electricity generated to make ice that gets used for ten seconds and discarded). In short, it rocks.

But if the Cocktail is American, it’s American in the same way as the hot dog (that is, the Frankfurter), the hamburger (the Hamburger steak), and the ice-cream cone (with its rolled gaufrette). As a nation, we have a knack for taking underperforming elements of other people’s cultures, streamlining them, supercharging them, and letting ’em rip—from nobody to superstar, with a trail of sparks and a hell of a noise along the way. That’s how the Cocktail did it, anyway.

(Note that here “the cocktail” does not mean any drink made from combining spirits with other ingredients, but to one specific formula: spirits + citrus + sugar + water. “Slings” were popular prior to “the cocktail” and were made from combining spirit, citrus, and sugar. “The cocktail” added bitters to the mix and was the next step after the popularization of the sling.)

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).