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Cocktail culture

Written by Pearl Belgrave


The cocktail. Sweet, bitter, sour or salty…the range of flavours and forms the cocktail has taken over the years is just as diverse nowadays as the culture that surrounds it. Whilst at the pub some may simply choose the first drink that comes to mind, the cocktail requires perhaps a little more consideration. Popular culture leads us to believe that our choice of cocktail embodies a momentary representation of who we are. So what is it that these drinks really say about us?


Take, for example, the way that cocktails have become prominent visual symbols in the media. Perhaps the most infamous quote associated with these concoctions is James Bond's iconic line, “shaken, not stirred”. His drink of choice is the vodka martini, an uncomplicated yet classy drink adorned with simply an olive. Bond’s martini is a symbol of all the glitz and glamour of  Hollywood, a sign of the agent’s sophistication. Mysteriously sipping on a martini, sitting at a bar somewhere deep in a Montenegro casino, Bond’s choice of beverage epitomises his distinct allure and classiness. There are several theories surrounding the meaning of Bond’s specific martini requirements - perhaps shaking the drink leaves a thin layer of water on the surface, enabling the agent to sip away and remain as efficient and sharp as ever. Or maybe it's out of fear that if stirred, the flavour wouldn’t be preserved in the same way, and that just won’t do for the agent! Amidst the myths and fan theories, a pertinent question remains - would Bond still be 007 without his martini? 


Cocktails in film are also prevalent in Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ where we see the central character Dalton shout that he’s had ‘too many fuckin whiskey sours’ as he floats placidly on the lilo in his pool. Other characters in the film are also coded through cocktails, with stuntman Booth sipping on an extravagantly celeried Bloody Mary, and mint juleps being served up by the poolside. 


Jumping from the hills of Hollywood to the glittering nightlife of the roaring 20s, the mint julep makes a reappearance in The Great Gatsby. The julep sets the scene for the 1920s, where drinks are chucked back amongst chandeliers, sequins, and guests donning the iconic  ‘cocktail dress.’ In this way, we can see the rituals of the cocktail beginning to collide with ideas of femininity.  After the long restriction of the 1920s prohibition, women were finally coming together and seizing their newfound freedom, dancing, mingling, and drinking cocktails out in the open.


Whilst The Great Gatsby signifies the beginnings of female cocktail culture, a contemporary audience may think of Sex and the City as a portrayal of the glamourous world of women and their drinks in the present day. Fruity, light, and bright, much like the central character Carrie Bradshaw, the ‘cosmopolitan’ is a touchstone throughout the series, bringing Carrie and her girls together through all their trials and tribulations. Described by Carrie as ‘an oldie but a goodie,’ the Cosmo represents the timeless art of the female debrief - a practice of bringing women together, both fictional and non-fictional, to converse and console each other through life’s ups and downs.  

Sound familiar? The idea of going out for drinks with the girls infiltrates our lives on a daily basis these days. With ‘2 for 1s,’ and  ‘bottomless brunches’ peppering the highstreets, the indulgence of taking a moment in the week to dress up and have a cocktail with friends is an enduring pleasure in our society. However, the feminine associations with cocktails may present some problematic implications. Upon asking my male flatmate whether he enjoyed cocktails, he replied that he never orders them and shied away from explaining why. I replied “do I sense some fragile masculinity?” in jest, although the conversation did reveal some bigger questions about why we associate certain drinking cultures with gender identity. Certain myths permeate even down to the vessels we drink our cocktails from; with theories suggesting that the shape of the coupe glass was designed to mimic Marie Antoinette’s breast. These allusions to sexuality and feminity may run deep, but the cocktail is more versatile than we give it credit for, with its meanings extending beyond these reductive binary codes.


So, when we open the menu and order our cocktail, who do we choose to be? Suave 007 sipping a dry martini, paralytic Dalton on the whiskey sours, or delicate Daisy Buchanan with her Mint Julep? The truth is, whilst maybe the drinks we chose can identify how we are feeling in the current moment, they aren’t reserved for just one character or person. So feel free to dive headfirst into the glorious minefield of cocktail culture, and let yourself be a Bradshaw…or a Bond.

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