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History of the classic Knickerbocker

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1862 | New York, USA


In order to unravel all the cultural connotations tied to one of the oldest cocktails in the world, you have to start from way back. Specifically: from 1625, when settlers from Holland founded the colony of Nieuw Amsterdam on the banks of the Hudson River, which would later become the city of New York.

Among the Dutch colonists, the surname Knickerbocker could often be heard, sounding much like the style of shortened pants popular in the Old World. To this day, Knickerbockers are those New Yorkers who can trace their roots back to the founders of the great city. It’s no accident that the great American writer Washington Irving wrote under the pen name Dietrich Knickerbocker!

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Knickerbocker Hotel opened in Manhattan, famous in part because it was behind its luxurious bar that Italian bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia mixed the first Dry Martini for one of the Rockefellers. One of the first baseball teams was called the New York Knickerbockers. Even the first American national basketball team was called the New York Knicks.

One could mention a whole series of similar examples, but let’s return to the drink at hand. In 1862, the Knickerbocker cocktail appeared in the father of bartending, Jerry Thomas’ book. The first Knickerbockers were shaken and served in shot glasses garnishes with seasonal berries.

In seven years, William Terrington introduced two new versions of the rum-based drink in his book, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks: the Knickerbocker à la Monsieur and the Knickerbocker à la Madame. In the male version, lemon juice was replaced by orange. Meanwhile, ladies were offered a lighter version: sweet sherry or madeira was poured over ice cubes made of lemon water and mixed with soda water. In 1888, Gary Johnson brought his colleagues’ search to a close by adding pineapple and orange slices to Thomas’ original and serving the final product in a glass full of crushed ice. This gives experts reason to consider the Knickerbocker the predecessor of tiki cocktails: in other words, exotic rum-based mixes.

See the recipe


Historian: Vladimir Zhuravlev

Illustration: Mine

Journalists: Sara Davis, Samantha Johnson

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