The exact origin of the word cocktail is unknown, although numerous theories abound. Yet wherever the word may come from, these long drinks have been around for centuries. The first written reference to a cocktail dates back to the 16th century, and several classic mixes have been around for many years. Examples include the Old Fashioned, a bourbon cocktail that first appeared in the late 18th century.
The word cocktail is known to have been in use in the USA back in 1809. Thirty-five years later, Charles Dickens described one of his characters, Major Hawkins, as a person capable of downing “more cocktails than any other known gentleman”.
Following the introduction of the Prohibition in the USA, outlawing the production, sale, transportation and import and export of all types of alcohol, the industry went underground. These illegal alcoholic beverages often tasted disgusting, and people preferred to conceal their taste with fruit juices and fizzy drinks.
And when it comes to finding the finest fruit juices, where better than the Caribbean with its wide range of delicious tropical fruits? Where or who invented the Caribbean’s famous cocktails is still a topic of heated debate. For instance, the appearance of the famous Painkiller is attributed to the islands of St. Croix (the US Virgin Islands) and the British Virgin Islands.
Exotic and tropical, elegant and sophisticated, or fun and extravagant, Caribbean cocktails are as varied as the very islands they originate from. One of the things these refreshing drinks have in common is the use of delicious natural tropical fruits, herbs and spices, some of which are native to this region. Fresh ingredients such as bananas, pineapples, coconuts and citrus fruits blend with spices harvested in the region including ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper from Jamaica to create mouth-watering sensations that bear the hallmark of the Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic, intriguing-looking twigs are left to soak for several weeks before becoming the main ingredient of the Mama Juana, a delicious drink that locals claim will cure all ailments, from impotence to the common cold.
Yet without a doubt, Caribbean rum rules supreme. It’s no secret that this spirit extracted from sugar cane is the key ingredient in most of the cocktails from this corner of the world. Golden añejo, white, seasoned with spices or added to an infusion, this spirit family is famed for its effectiveness in treating the symptoms of flu, heartache, homesickness and cold, and above all, for instilling life into the most insipid of cocktails.
If you’re visiting the Caribbean, you’ll find it impossible to resist the delights of cocktails such as the Mojito, Banana Daiquiri, Piña Colada, Coco Loco, Peanut Punch, Caribbean Cosmopolitan or Dragon Punch to name just a few of the most famous.
And one more thing to bear in mind: the essential requirement of any cocktail worth its salt is not just a great flavour, but also its capacity to enhance the mood, good company and boost some great conversation. Cheers!