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Cocktail culture

Let’s start with a definition that will organize our knowledge.

A cocktail or a drink is a mixed drink / BEVERAGE, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. It is made by combining various types of alcoholic drinks/e (in the case of cocktails containing alcohol), juices, drinks and water. In order to obtain desired taste values, we add – among others – fruits, vegetables and various spices.

Creativity is what counts in the art of preparing cocktails.

The first definition of a cocktail was formulated by Harry Croswell in the United States in 1806.

Source: Wikipedia.

We may be tempted to look for the roots of the cocktail culture in ancient times. It was then when people “discovered” various alcohols, mainly beer and wine. In antiquity, the Romans and Greeks added spices or flavors to wine to increase or decrease the strength of the drinks. The Greeks further diluted the wine with water, considering those who drink pure wine (to be) barbarians. Such cocktails were served before meals and during feasts.

In Europe at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, along with the development of the production processes of various distillates, e.g. spiritus vinum, vodka or spirit, attempts were made to enrich their taste by adding ingredients of plant origin. Initially – believing in medicinal purposes, and with time, when spirit became a commonly consumed alcohol, various other ingredients, mainly of plant origin, were added. What was added? Herbs and fruits, fruit juices, honey, roots and spices, and even milk.What for ? We suppose that they wanted to improve the taste of selected drinks and create new flavors.

What is the history of cocktails like we know today? Where did the name “cocktail” come from?

There are two stories that try to explain the genesis of this term.

The first one is associated with the United States at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, cockfighting was very popular there. The winners put a round of drinks for everyone, and the glasses were decorated with cock feathers. The products of local distillation were mixed with various ingredients, mainly to alleviate the next day syndrome. They were cold, refreshing, and low in alcohol.

So we assume that the name of the word cocktail is a combination of two English words cock and tail.

The second story is related to the 18th-century France and tells about an event that was supposed to take place in one of the taverns, to which many French army officers came one day and ordered something stronger with a meal. The innkeeper, not having enough drinks, quickly prepared a mixture of different alcohols, which he artistically stirred with a cock’s feather, then artistically served the officers. One of them, delighted with the resulting drink, was to shout “Vive le coq`s tail!” that is, Long live the rooster’s tail!

In this case, the origin of the word cocktail fits directly into the French coq`s tail.

What’s the truth? Well, let each of you decide for yourself and choose your own story.

Cocktails were really popular in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States and Europe.

Two circumstances contributed mainly to this. The first is the phylloxera plague, which at the end of the 19th century almost completely destroyed the vinesThat resulted in a shift in alcohol consumption to/towards strong drinks.The second reason for cocktail consumption boost was the introduction of prohibition.

In the years 1920-1933, the production, sale and consumption of alcohol was prohibited in the United States. Despite the ban, the consumption did not decrease but as we know, went underground – to hidden speakeasy bars. In addition, various catwalks were used, e.g. alcohol mixes were served under the supervision of agents, which looked like coffee or tea. This is the birth time of such famous cocktails as Long Island Iced Tea.

Creativity is inherent in the art of creating cocktails.

As soon as Prohibition ended, a new chapter in the history of drinks began. Their consumption became the hallmark of a selected social class, both in America and Europe.

In Poland in the interwar period, cocktails were fashionable mainly among societies/people from high society, served by virtuosos of the bartending art in luxurious restaurants. One of the most famous premises was “Adria” restaurant in Warsaw.

After the seconr world war, in the times of the People’s Republic of Poland, there was not much room / place for cocktail culture. People’s power / government wanted to provide simple entertainment to the “working masses of towns and villages”. Another thing is that access to products such as fruit, herbs and other ingredients was very limited.

Therefore, alcohol was consumed in its purest and simplest form – a shot of vodka, and a snack. Hardly anyone has heard of herring or jellyfish, i.e. legs in jelly. These are the most popular snacks of that time, mentioned by both poets and prose writers..

High-standard lub RESTAURANTS were limited with access only for regime prominents and wealthy individuals. There, some kind of cocktail culture was cultivated. It’s confirmation can be find in the scene with a bartender preparing a vodka cocktail behind the bar from the Polish comedy entitled “Gangsters and philanthropy”. Which vodka was used? We do not know this, but bottles of Wyborowa and Luksusowa vodkas are clearly visible in the shot.

And what was the most popular drink in less exclusive venues? For example in student clubs? Well, one of them was a drink called Gagarin. It was a mixture of Istrian vermouth with vodka. We do not know what prompted the creator to give such a name.

In the second half of the 1950s, low-percentage cocktails with graceful names including Bolero, Calypso, Hong Kong, Krakus, Lubuski, Mazowsze or Rumba appeared on the domestic market,. Unfortunately, the goods were lying on the shelves. It is not known whether it is because of the low alcohol content or because of the taste.

While in the early period of the People’s Republic of Poland (1950s and 1960s), cocktail culture was very limited and known to a few, in the 1970s and 1980s it was already more widespread. Although it is still treated as an expression of luxury, it is slowly beginning to be present in the lives of Poles.

Cocktails were still available mainly in better venues in large cities, but sometimes also in newly emerging luxury hotels such as Warsaw’s Wiktoria or Forum.

Cocktails were also served to travelers on our ocean liner “Batory”.

Miss of m / s “Batory” celebrates behind the bar with a waiter preparing drinks, 1959, photo: Florian Staszewski. Source: Emigration Museum in Gdynia

The lucky ones who managed to brush up against the great world while traveling abroad promoted this form of alcohol consumption among their friends after they returned to Poland.

We know, however, that the cocktail culture in Polish society, which had been used to the simple consumption of vodka for years, was crawling at that time. There were many attempts to spread this fashion in many ways, including less conventional ones, e.g. among housewives. Recipes for various cocktails can be found in cookbooks or guides.

A visible change took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Let’s start with a change in the promotion and sale of Polish Vodka abroad. Wyborowa vodka was promoted in particular, and promotional and advertising materials often featured recipes for unique drinks, such as Screwdriver or Bloody Mary.

An interesting exhibit can be seen in our Museum. This is a gift set which includes a 0.75 liter bottle of Wyborowa vodka and four glasses. The whole is packed in a cardboard box on which cocktail recipes are printed.


The boom, or rather the return to the fashion for alcohol consumption in the form of cocktails, occurred in the late 1980s – the time of political, social, economic and cultural changes.

The transformations in the country made it easier to import goods, and thus wider access to them, which in turn made it easier to present the tastes and trends developing outside Poland.

The taste is important in the cocktail! Right next to it is the look and the smell. It is its complexity and balance that plays a key role. The perfect proportion of sweetness, acidity, dryness, herbalism and strength gives success. Properly selected glass and decoration ensure the final effect.

Is there anything else? Yes. The quality of the ingredients, especially alcohol. Polish Vodka is a guarantee of quality and repeatability. It is confidence in creating a work and the basis for creating wonderful compositions. For years, the most popular brand of Polish Vodka, used in the preparation of cocktails, is Wyborowa vodka. Its history dates back to 1927 and the place where the Polish Vodka Museum is now located.

Here you will find a history, but also a necessity, thanks to which you will become a professional bartender in your home. And you will expand your knowledge at our workshops.

We invite you to our Museum!


Cieślak, Jan, Domowy wyrób win, wydanie IV, 1967,

Cieślak, Jan, Lasik, Henryk, Technologia Wódek, 1979,

Gołębiewski, Łukasz, Wódka, 2014,

Karwowski, Przemysław, Od Likierów do Luksusowej. Historia i leksykon produktów Lubuskiej Wytwórni Wódek Gatunkowych w Zielonej Górze, 2016

Zawistowska, Zofia, Krzyżanowska, Małgorzata, Książka Kucharska, wydanie IV, 1986