The history of cocktails and drinking in America is a fascinating one, dating back more than 300 years. Obviously there cannot be any talk of this rich history without mentioning prohibition and the effect it had on not only how people drank in the 1920's and early 1930's, but also the repercussions that are still being felt to this day. One of those repercussions was the insistence on using artificial ingredients to mask the flavor of substandard spirits. That has been changing over the last few decades and part of the way it continues to change today is the increasing presence of sangrias and margaritas in casual fine dining restaurants.
Before prohibition began, many of the more established bars and bartenders relied on fresh ingredients to create creative evocative drinks. Once the ban on alcohol became law, however, most of the spirits people were drinking were barely drinkable at best and downright dangerous and hazardous in many cases. In order to make this booze potable, people relied on using anything they could to mask the flavor. This became the new norm, and it was one that continued to grow even after the repeal of prohibition in 1933.
The reason for this was because the main spirits people had been drinking before prohibition began, whiskey and gin, took time to age in order to reach their maximum flavor. Vodka, a relatively new player on the scene internationally at this time, did not need any time. It could go right from the still to the bottle to the shelf. The problem was, however, that most vodkas taste like nothing but alcohol, not much of a change from the prohibition era liquor, so the masking continued.
Even in the late 1940's and early 50's, when the tiki craze exploded and people moved towards rum, many bars created artificial mixes in order to maintain a uniformity of flavor. By the 1970's, it was expected that artificial ingredients would be the only kind that were used, and a person in search of a fresh made cocktail would be disappointed almost all of the time.
The pendulum began to swing back in 1985 when the Rainbow Room reopened in New York City featuring a classic cocktail menu with fresh ingredients. Slowly over time this spread throughout the country and more and more bars and restaurants began to overhaul their cocktail program. Two of the latest to feel the change were sangrias and margaritas.
As Latin fusion dining, with its emphasis on fresh ingredients, became more popular, many of the owners began to experiment in the bar as well. They created numerous new styles of sangrias and margaritas that eschewed mixes and prepackaged ingredients for fresh fruits instead. Today many restaurants, not just Latin fusion restaurants, typically feature a few different styles of sangrias and margaritas for their customers to choose from, allowing them to have cocktails that are as fresh as their dinner.
Jack Terry is a freelance writer who also works as a bartender in New York City. http://www.osorioslatinfusion.com