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Jun 28, 2022

The Fascinating, Conflicting Stories Behind Famous Cocktails

Here are some of the fascinating, bizarre, and often controversial stories behind some of the most famous parts of the mixologist’s repertoire.

Last update: Jun 30, 2022 -

3 min read


In this current, golden era of mixology, with one of the widest ever ranges of ingredients, techniques and avenues to provide a cocktail masterclass, it is important not to forget the wild, wonderful and altogether unique history of cocktails.

From the initial recipes found in The Bon Vivant’s Companion to the necessary rise of the sweet cocktail due to the effects of Prohibition in the United States, cocktails have not only had a fascinating history but played a fascinating part in history.

Inspired by this, here are some of the fascinating, bizarre, and often controversial stories behind some of the most famous parts of the mixologist’s repertoire.


Tom Collins

The story of the Tom Collins, the gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda water is a fascinating, truly weird tale that spans across the continent and has an origin that has been argued about since the late 19th century.

It is believed to have come from another drink, a John Collins, which was named after the head waiter at Limmer’s Old House in Mayfair, with a recipe that adds maraschino liqueur to the mix for an added cherry flavour.

This drink was being served as early as the 1850s (although may originate as early as the start of the century), and originally used Hollands gin as its main alcoholic component. However, the name changed to Tom Collins when Old Tom gin was used in one of the recipes.

However, around the time this happened, an alternative story emerged that the name came from the Tom Collins Hoax of 1974, a practical joke where people would claim a “Tom Collins” was talking about them and that he was just around the corner.

The prank was so notorious that songs were made about it, newspapers reported on it, and some believe that the Tom Collins was made by pubs and bars as a way to cash in on the trend, serving the drink whenever someone came in asking about the Tom Collins prank.



There is very little about the famed Martini drink that is not contentious, but one of the biggest controversies relates to its origin, with three popular stories that do the rounds regarding where it came from.

The first speculates that it is a dryer version of the Martinez, a cocktail named after the town where it was invented in California, whilst others claim the name comes from the very popular vermouths by Martini & Rossi (who still exist today and still make the same exceptionally popular vermouth).

Finally, and most contentiously, there are claims the drink was named after its alleged creator Martini di Arma di Taggia, then the mixologist of the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, although given that the drink itself has existed long before he picked up a glass, this is unlikely to be the case.



There are two stories behind this most storied and traditional of drinks.

The first is that it simply bears the name of the district where it was created in the 1860s, but there is a somewhat more outlandish and far-reaching tale.

In 1874, Samuel J Tilden won the New York gubernatorial election, and a bartender who was working the celebratory party organised by Jennie Churchill at the Manhattan Club made the drink in honour of the club and the occasion.

Mrs Churchill would, not long after this give birth to son Winston, and Mr Tilden would win the popular vote in an 1876 presidential run, only to lose the election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes.


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