The History of Famous Cocktails and How They Got Their Names

Get to know the history behind our favorite cocktails and the clever spin you can put on them by adding Wheyward Spirit below. Share your unique creations with our whey-based liqueur in the comments and start experimenting with new cocktails today!
May 16, 2022

We love putting our own unique spin on cocktails with Wheyward Spirit because we don’t need more of the status quo. But the stories of our favorite creations and how they received their names is no small thing to glance over! Isn’t it interesting to know how mixologists of the past can share a thing or two? 

Get to know the history behind our favorite cocktails and the clever spin you can put on them by adding Wheyward Spirit below. Share your unique creations with our whey-based liqueur in the comments and start experimenting with new cocktails today!

Please note that the histories below are muddled from folklore and may be more anecdotal than factual. 

The Making of A Martini

Shaken not stirred, this iconic cocktail comes with a fuzzy backstory as the roots of the martini are interwoven with the Martinez, another classic favorite. 

The Martini’s origins start in California in the late 1880s when a bartender named Jerry Thomas, living in the town of Martinez (confusing, right?), whipped up a sloe gin and sweet vermouth cocktail for a miner who struck gold and wanted to celebrate. Other etymology points to Martini di Arma di Taggia, an Italian bartender at New York’s Knickerbocker hotel. Di Arma di Taggia claims to have invented the martini with a 50/50 ratio of dry gin to dry vermouth before World War I. And then there’s Martini and Rossi, providers of the iconic Italian vermouth, in the mid-1880s. 

Regardless of its origins, this smooth-to-sip drink quickly became popular and was first published in the Bartender’s Manual in the 1880s. It remains one of the more iconic drinks in the lexicon of mixology from James Bond to Mad Men. While the days of the “three martini lunch” have passed and a growing number of “-tini” drinks have emerged, there will only be one martini. 

Muddle history a little more with our Wheyward Spirit Martini!

Origin of The Martinez

Martini, Martinez, we’re not sure which came first. Like we said above, the beginnings of the Martinez may have come from a miner ordering a drink on his way to a town with the same name. But the same story is attributed to the beginnings of the Martini, and that’s where things get fuzzy. 

Both use vermouth and the drinks are similar in base. The Martinez first appeared in The Modern Bartender’s Guide by O.H. Byron in 1884 as a possible second Manhattan recipe, “only you substitute gin for whisky,” Byron wrote. There is speculation it could have been a misprint in The New and Improved Illustrated Bartender's Manual by Harry Johnson (1888). Johnson said it was possible a drink that may have been incorrectly spelled as the "martine," without the letter "z," could have been a bartender’s unique take on the Martini. 

Despite different base spirits or ingredients, each bartender has their own unique twist on a Martinez, including our own recipe. Make your own Martinez with Wheyward Spirit here. 

Old Fashioned History

Even the Old Fashioned was new at some point. Known as possibly one of the first cocktails, the Old Fashioned is a simple drink that was easy to make before new bartender techniques changed how we think of mixology. 

The first documented definition of the word "cocktail" was in the May 6, 1806 issue of The Balance and Columbian Repository, in a reader's letter who asked the publication to define the word. On May 13, 1806, the paper's editor responded that it was a concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar — essentially, the recipe for an Old Fashioned. The name was inspired by drinkers who refused to change with the times and ordered their drinks the old fashioned way: a brown spirit, sugar, water, and bitters.

It’s speculated that the Old Fashioned cocktail was invented at The Pendennis Club, a gentlemen's club founded in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1881. The story goes that a bartender at the club made the drink in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City, where it gained significant popularity. But as cocktail critic David Wonderich says in his 2007 book, this is unlikely since the first mention in print of "old fashioned cocktails" was in the Chicago Daily Tribune in February 1880, before the opening of the Pendennis Club.

Looking beyond cross-checking stories and history, we’re trying something new. Get a taste of our Wheyward Spirit New Era cocktail here.

The French Gimlet

Who said drinking was bad for your health? It’s speculated that the Gimlet was made popular by British officers in the 19th Century to prevent scurvy  — a painful and sometimes deadly disease brought about by vitamin C deficiency. It wouldn’t be the first time lime juice was used for sanitization and flavor in an alcoholic beverage. Think of kissing a lime before a tequila shot or wiping a bottle of cold Corona with a lime to disinfect. 

While the history seems more straightforward than the other cocktails we’ve talked about, the name “The French Gimlet” itself is contested. Maybe it’s named after the drilling tool used to create small holes, due to the drink’s piercing effect, or after Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette (1857–1943), who was said to add lime cordial to the daily gin of the men of the Royal Navy took to combat the ravages of scurvy on long voyages. The word "gimlet" was first used in this sense in 1928. 

Give it a shot for the sake of your health, huh? Try our simple-to-shake Wheyward French Gimlet recipe here. 

A Classic Negroni

Last but not least, the Negroni, and we saved the best story for last!

Stories root this drink to Florence, Italy, in 1919. It’s said that Count Camillo Negroni asked his friend, bartender Forsco Scarselli, to strengthen his favorite cocktail – the Americano – by replacing the soda water with gin. 

The Count picked up a taste for strong liquor while working as a rodeo clown in the American Wild West. Negroni had also lived in London, which is known for its big name gin scene. Scarselli added an orange garnish rather than the standard Americano lemon. Negroni gave his name to the cocktail, and his family was quick to take advantage of the success. 

The Negroni family founded the Negroni Distillery in 1919 in Treviso, Italy, where they produced a ready-made version of the drink. The distillery is still open today, and the Negroni is perhaps more popular than it was at its first appearance. The late Anthony Bourdain, a noted Negroni lover, said “[it] will hit you like a freight train after four or five.” 

See for yourself and enjoy a Wheyward Spirit Negroni now!

Create Your Own Cocktail Story

We love a good story, and yours starts with Wheyward Spirit. Put your bespoke twiston your favorite drink, and maybe someday you will make mixology history. Learn which of these famous cocktails is right for you and find other similar drinks to try.

Find your new favorite drink by taking our Cocktail Quiz today!


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