The History of Craft Cocktails | Snake Oil Cocktail

How They Began and Have Evolved Over the Years

The Martini, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Piña colada. We all know these classic cocktails, but do we really know where they came from? What was the first cocktail?

The Beginning

The legend starts in 1586 in Havana, Cuba. Sir Francis Drake was the commander on a fleet of English ships when they became stranded along the beaches of Cuba. Drake’s crew fell ill, so he took local medicine consisting of lime, mint, cane sugar, and bark from the chuchuhuasi tree soaked in rum. Sound familiar? He called this concoction the El Draque but today we know it as a Mojito.

In the 1600s, cocktails took a little more form when sea men of the East India Trading Company would prepare punch using spices they transported. “One of the sour, two of the sweet, three of the strong, four of the weak,” was their saying, meaning one part citrus, two parts sugar, three parts alcohol, and four parts water.

Flash-forward to 1850 America, and we begin the start of cocktails we know today. Aaron Bird, a spirit importer and shop owner, would purchase Antoine Peychaud’s elixirs and add them to drinks. Sazerac-de-Forge et Fills was a cognac he would import and mix with the elixirs and thus created the Sazerac, a drink many refer to as being the first true cocktail.


America enjoyed a nice 70 years of exploring this new innovation of cocktails before the prohibition began in 1920 due to alcoholism, family violence, and saloon-based political corruption. Many bartenders fled to Europe, but some stayed and opened up speakeasies, which we can experience today in places like Noble Experiment or Prohibition Lounge. The law was lifted in 1933 but it wasn’t until the 1940s, when the WWII veterans came home and brought their love for Polynesian drinks and Tiki Culture, that the era of cocktails truly began.


Today, we have moved into enjoying cocktails as an experience. “Cocktails have become a craft and there is a strong culinary presence in the drinks today,” says Frankie, Director of Mixology at Snake Oil Cocktail Co.

Frankie has been bartending since 1995 but it wasn’t until 2006 that he became a mixologist. The popular scene at the time was enjoying pre-prohibition cocktails, but Frankie was a visionary and instead was incorporating fresh produce into his drinks. You may see many drinks now a days with fresh fruit and interesting ingredients, but Frankie was the leader in bringing that to San Diego.

A mixologist is someone who creates a drink, opposed to a bartender who just mixes and serves the drink. Unlike other mixologists, Frankie starts with the fresh ingredients before even considering the alcohol to use. He believes a mixologist needs to know the ingredients they are using and understand the depth of flavor to the drink. For example, instead of using galliano liqueur in a drink, which has leading flavors of star anise and vanilla, Frankie will use the actual star anise and vanilla. This ensures the best quality and best flavors to be brought out in the drink.

Frankie is one of the few unparalleled mixologists who truly appreciates the craft and strives to create the best experience he can through his cocktails. It is people like him who lead the way in the cocktail industry and transform the way people drink through the decades.

Try this Snake Oil take on a classic French 75!

Provencal 75


1.25 oz. VS Cognac

1 oz. dried Herbes de Provence infused simple syrup

.75 oz. fresh pressed lemon juice

2.5 oz. brut Champagne


Add cognac, citrus and lemon juice to a tall glass filled with ice.

Top with Champagne and stir.

Garnish with a firestick and hand cracked kaffir lime leaf.


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