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Cocktail History in America: Home

The guide includes information about materials in the History of Food & Drink Collection relating to cocktail history in America and related food, social, domestic, and economic history. It also has tools and resources for completing historical research.

A Note on the Guide

While the guide is broken up in to chronological eras that reflect major shifts in cocktail culture, it is important to remember, as with food history, cocktail history flows together (pun intended). Punches may be the origins of the modern cocktail, but they remained popular in their own right during many time periods (and still are today). Bitters are a tradition that dates back to the ancient Egyptians, but are significant to every concept of the cocktail after 1806. Prohibition forced Americans to take the cocktail to the speakeasy...or the home, which led to mid-20th century cocktail parties. And the contemporary craft cocktails are influenced by all the eras that came before. 

You may find resources, tools, and suggestions for your topic in more than one section of the guide--Be sure to look around. We also encourage you to use our resources to locate materials (see "Locating Materials" below), as the catalog, finding aid database, and Special Collections Online may be updated faster than the guide with new acquisitions (though the guide will continue to be updated!). And if you get stuck in your searches, need more help, or have a question, contact Special Collections and University Archives (our general information is on the box on the bottom left or you can contact our in-house amateur cocktail historian and mixologist, archivist Kira Dietz). We're here to serve!

About Special Collections and University Archives

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The History of the American Cocktail Collection

The History of the American Cocktail Collection includes cocktail manuals and bartenders guides, books on social activities and entertaining, and a variety of items documenting the history of cocktail ingredients, cocktail creation, and cocktail consumption. The collection also contains materials on individual spirits, the medicinal and alcoholic history of bitters, temperance/Prohibition, and advertising ephemera. We also collection materials relating to wine, beer, and cider in these contexts. The cocktail—and spirits generally—have played a significant role in American history, experience revolution, prohibition, and revival. We acquire books, manuscripts, documents, and occasionally artifacts, which contribute to the scholarship around the ever-evolving place of the cocktail in food and social history.

Locating Materials in Special Collections

Manuscript Collections

The History of the American Cocktail Collection currently includes about 20 manuscript collections that are exclusively or partially related to cocktail history. You can view the finding aids for these collections through our finding aid portal. . 


All of our books relating to cocktail history (more than 415 of them!) can be found using the library's catalog. Most of these books are in Special Collections and University Archives, but a few many be in the circulating collection, as well. If you are looking generally for cocktail history materials, you can search "cocktail history collection" in the Keyword form. Or, you can use this link to see an automatically generated list.


Special Collections and University Archives has begun digitizing some of our culinary manuscripts, many of which include references to or contain recipes for wine and beer-making. We have also digitized a few items more directly related to cocktail history. You can find these items on Special Collections Online. You can also use the search box in the upper right corner of Special Collections Online to search more general for keywords relating to cocktail history. 

In addition, since fall of 2020, Special Collections and University Archives has managed the Food Timeline web resource, which contains references and research around cocktails as a whole and some individual drinks. 

Forty Famous Cocktails: Being a Compendium of Reliable Recipes Carefully Compiled for Use in This Arid Era, Engraved with Humble Apologies to that Master Engraver John Held, Jr., 1930.


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Kira Dietz
Assistant Director
Special Collections and University Archives
University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
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