How 5 of the most popular whiskey cocktails came to be

How 5 of the most popular whiskey cocktails came to be

How 5 of the most popular whiskey cocktails came to be

Say what you will about whiskey cocktails, they are still an undeniably popular way to drink your favorite spirit. Even though these classic recipes everyone should try once landed on the overrated list, they are tried-and-true concoctions that contribute to a well-rounded whiskey experience. Have you ever wondered, though, how the Whiskey Sour and Manhattan even came to be? These are the five fascinating origin stories of the most popular whiskey cocktails. 


According to GQ, the Sazerac actually dates back to the 1830s and was the brainchild of apothecary Antoine Amédée Peychaud (Peychaud’s Bitters ring a bell, anyone?) “The name of the potent cocktail comes from the Sazerac-de-Forge et fils, a French brandy reminiscent of the waning days of French Creole culture, and also a said favorite of dear Antoine.” The cocktail was modernized by replacing the cognac with American Rye and accompanied by Absinthe (eventually substituted by Peychaud’s Bitters). If you want to taste the true original, stop by the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel where you can pay homage to the drink’s rich legacy. 

Whiskey Sour

If you are said to “drink or cuss like a sailor” it’s typically frowned upon. But it turns out that the sailors were particularly adept at using whiskey as a way to survive. Legend says British Navy sailors were guzzling whiskey sours long before the 1860s. “Clean water wasn’t always accessible on long sea journeys and so spirits (especially those at room temperature like whisky and bourbon) were vastly preferred to quench a sailor’s thirst. Added to this, Scurvy was a constant danger, so they would always have a limitless supply of lemons and limes on deck.” Call us crazy but we applaud the resourcefulness of the sailors and cheers to their ingenious cocktail concoction. 

Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is such a popular whiskey cocktail that the true origin story is muddled. And no, Don Draper did not make it famous. It was listed in an 1862 book called Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks as an “Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail.” Then historians claimed a Louisville, Kentucky-based private gentleman’s club, Pendennis Club, first created it. After that, the story says bourbon distiller James E. Pepper brought the recipe to New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel bar. That’s not all. Finally, there’s another story claiming the cocktail was made in large batches to be sold as a provision to the Union Army and officers during the Civil War. “Despite its multiple origin stories, the fact remains that the Old Fashioned has undergone an evolution through the years, allowing you to make and enjoy your own unique version with whatever you have in your home bar.”


The classic Manhattan is another whiskey cocktail shrouded in mystery. You may have heard the popular version of how it came to be. Dr. Iain Marshall, was a guest at a party thrown by Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston’s mom. And she served him the drink reportedly in none other than New York’s exclusive Manhattan Club in the 1880s, which is where the drink got its name. Historians claim, however, that Churchill was in England and pregnant which casts doubt on whether she was really partying it up in New York. GQ says, “The more likely story comes from William F. Mulhall, a bartender who had worked at the Hoffman House for over 30 years, who in the 1880s wrote: ‘The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black, who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the 1860s.’”

Irish Coffee

Saving the best for last? In the 1940s a new restaurant opened in Ireland near the Foynes airport (one of Europe’s biggest airports and an airbase for transatlantic flights). The restaurant catered to Hollywood stars and political figures. The weather was often terrible, prompting many travelers to become stranded as they waited out bad conditions. “Sympathetic to the plight of the cold and weary travelers, Sheridan decided to whip up a concoction that was both tasty and would warm them up. Apparently, an American took the first sip and asked if it was a Brazilian coffee, to which young Sheridan proudly proclaimed that it was, in fact, an Irish Coffee.” The rest as they say, is history!

Fascinating stories are in Rackhouse Whiskey Club’s DNA. If you want to try these cocktails with an even more interesting story behind the whiskey, check us out. RackHouse scours the U.S. looking for the best craft distilleries with the most interesting stories to curate a unique subscription box filled with full-sized bottles of hard-to-find small batch whiskey. We’re building a community of premium craft whiskey drinkers. And you’re invited! Join us!
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