El Draque – The First Cocktail | Recipe Rewind S1E8

Cocktails became popular only sometime in the mid-19th century, where it was transformed in London and Manhattan from a sailor’s scurvy-stay-away, to a fashionable, cosmopolitan beverage.

However, it took a long time to get to that stage.


On how the cocktail grew in popularity

On The Gimlet and the first cocktail

The First cocktail in detail

Disputed or later claims to the first cocktail title


The cocktail has had a long, convoluted history of false starts and it didn’t quite become popular as what we know it is today until the mid-19th century. So let’s start the story from the very beginning.

Most important thing to remember is that, during the age of exploration, scurvy was a huge problem and it was only clarified as a deficiency of vitamin C in 1923.

So in 1655, the British Empire captured the island of Jamaica, where rum was a secret specialty and the Royal Navy issued it as a daily ration for sailors. This ration would stay in place until 1970.

But it became a little problematic. For one, sailors would save up their supplies, have it all once, and then become rowdy, and two, it didn’t do a damn thing for scurvy.

To combat this, in 1740, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon replaced straight rum with ‘grog’, watered down rum. This settled down the sailors, but again, it didn’t do a damn thing for scurvy.

Grog being handed out to sailors, circa 1940.

It took the British Navy sixteen years to issue rations of strained lemon juice in a final attempt to cure the illness. But, vitamin C is fragile; heat and oxidation destroy it.

The general method of preserving things in navies at the time was boiling the substance, then storing it in a wooden barrel. Heating it, then oxidising it.

But they didn’t know the remedy for this was discovered all the way back in 1597, by Sir Hugh Plat. He found that you could preserve the vitamin C by covering it with olive oil. Which was later completely forgotten, until a navy surgeon re-discovered it in 1778.

Then, ten years later, it was found that alcohol had the same preserving effect. So in 1795, a new Royal Navy regulation was brought in, stating that the lemon ration was to be taken and stored in the rum.

So scurvy was cured, but still no cocktail. Well, Parliament’s Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 added sugar to mix.

Lime juice, sugar, rum and water, that’s a cocktail, right? The real agony is that the first cocktail was actually made by British sailors nearly three hundred years earlier!

On June 4th 1586, Sir Richard Drake, cousin of Sir Francis Drake, was sacking Spanish colonies on Cuba, and just before a final assault on Havana, Richard and his crew of 29 ships were taken ill by scurvy. And dysentery, to make matters worse.

Sir Richard Drake, in 1577.

Sir Richard Drake, in 1577.

So they hid from the Spanish on the island, and a small boarding party went ashore to ask for medicinal ingredients. They came back with aguardiente de caña, (a crude form of rum), lime, sugarcane juice, and mint.

And so there, we have the date of the very first cocktail, made by a Brit in Cuba. Richard named it after what the Spanish called his cousin Francis, ‘el Draque’.


  • A handful of fresh mint leaves
  • One lime
  • Two shots of rum (preferably white, but we used dark)
  • Sparkling water to fill

For El Draque, all you need is rum, (preferably white, but we’re using dark), mint, lime, sugar and sparkling water.

First, slice up a handful of mint leaves. Next, cut up small chunks of the lime. Put the mint and the lime in a cocktail shaker, followed up two shots of rum, and fill with sparkling water.

Now, give that thing a good shake! Pour after a minute of mixing, and take care to include all the ingredients in each drink.


Written by Benjamin Daniels


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