The first known tool analogous to a cocktail shaker was the jar gourd, which was used to store and serve liquids as many as seven thousand years before the common era in parts of South America. As many as three thousand and five hundred years before the common era, the ancient Egyptians would make cocktails by combining spices with alcohol made from fermented grains in order to improve the taste. It was in the United States of America during the era of Prohibition, in the nineteen twenties, however, that the cocktail became popular. The speak easies where alcohol was illegally sold during Prohibition would sell many, usually highly sweetened cocktails, as these helped to disguise the often foul taste of the cheap bath tub hooch sold in what were arguably the first ever cocktail bars Melbourne. The sweetness of the cocktails also made the drinks easier to quickly finish in the event of a raid. This also boosted profits for the boot leggers selling illegal moon shine, because people finishing their drinks more quickly obviously led to them drinking more.
Today in the United States of America, ‘speak easy’ is used to describe certain retro styled cocktail bars, but in the nineteen twenties, during the Prohibition, speak easies became one of the major social outlets of the age and provide packages that suit your party style. While prior to the passage of the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment, which were the major legal instruments leading to Prohibition in the United States of America, it was considered mostly socially unacceptable for women to drink and they were not welcomed in pubs and bars, in the majority of the illicit speak easies women were welcomed as boot leggers sought to maximise their profits. Gambling also became much more common at the underground speak easies than it had been previously at licit bars. It is believed that there were as many as eighteen thousand speak easies in New York City during Prohibition.
Legend has it that when a senior functionary from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was on a state visit to New York City eighteen months in to Prohibition, having observed the numerous illegal cocktail bars, speak easies, and ‘private clubs’ that existed with various levels of blatancy, he turned to his American host, the mayor of New York City, and enquired as to when Prohibition was planned to begin. Prohibition is also popularly credited with the rise of many crime syndicates in the United States of America, epitomised by the mafia run by Al Capone – it is believed that during the height of Prohibition, the value of the illegal alcohol trade was as much as three billion US dollars per annum, which was of course untaxed. The cultural impact of Prohibition was enormous, of course engendering innovations such as many of today’s cocktails, but also many other features of American society.