10 Signature Cocktails From Around the World and the History Behind Them
Far be it from me to tell you what to do on vacation, but I promise that enjoying a caipirinha while listening to samba on a steamy summer night in Rio, or sipping a refreshing Aperol spritz while sunning yourself on the Amalfi Coast are must-dos in those destinations.
Plus, in the age of social media, if you don’t capture a cocktail shot against a scenic backdrop on your travels, did you really even go on vacation? (The answer of course, sarcasm aside, is yes. Please enjoy your trip completely phone-free, if you so choose.)
But whether you indulge in the occasional humble brag or not, there's something completely wonderful about sipping a perfectly crafted cocktail at a local watering hole, as you soak in the sights, sounds, and smells of your new surroundings. Drinking also brings people together — bartenders and patrons, tourists and locals. Some of the most memorable and spontaneous moments while traveling begin with a good drink and some friendly banter.
Just as countries all over the world are known for their unique food and music, many destinations are also known for their libations. Ever wondered about the origins of their signature cocktails and where to get one? Read on for 10 national drinks you must try and where to find one when you’re there.
Mojito - Cuba
Cuba was a big producer of rum and sugarcane in the 18th and 19th centuries and so the country’s national drink sprang out of sheer availability. To make the liquor easier to drink, sugar, mint, and lime juice were added to cut the alcohol. Historians are undecided, however, about the cocktail’s exact origins — some say it was created by English pirates who sailed to Havana searching for gold, while others say it was brought by the African slaves who worked the sugarcane fields.
The most famous place to have a mojito in Havana is La Bodeguita del Medio, where it’s said that Ernest Hemingway — who moved to Cuba from Florida during Prohibition in 1939 — enjoyed the cocktail so much that he scrawled an ode to the drink on the bar’s walls. Now, the weathered and worn bar is literally covered in signatures and messages from past patrons who also no doubt enjoyed the bar’s minty drink.
Caipirinha - Brazil
Brazil’s most popular cocktail is made with cachaça, a rum-like liquor made from sugar cane juice. You may have heard people refer to the caipirinha as a Brazilian mojito, although it’s made with muddled limes instead of mint. The history of the drink is debated. Some say it originated on farms in the São Paulo state for social gatherings and parties. Others claim it was created as an elixir for those suffering from the Spanish flu outbreak in the early 19th century, as the limes provided a high dose of vitamin C.
Fresh fruit is abundant in Brazil and popular variations on the traditional lime version include maracuja (passionfruit) and morango (strawberry). Any way you choose to have it, it’s the perfect drink to sip while dancing the night away.
Before heading into the samba clubs in the Lapa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, grab a cheap caipirinha from the street carts in front of the landmark Carioca Aqueduct. And while you’re in town, be sure to check out our picks for the best places to stay in Rio.
Margarita - Mexico
No one knows exactly who invented the margarita, but we know we can thank our neighbor to the south for this classic cocktail. The margarita combines tequila, citrus juice (most commonly lime juice), and triple sec or Cointreau for a refreshing drink that pairs perfectly with savory Mexican food or can be sipped by itself on Mexico’s sandy shores.
If you’re interested in learning more about the agave plant and the history and process of making tequila, visit the country’s Tequila Trail in the state of Jalisco. Start your trip in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, and take the Jose Cuervo Express, a vintage-style train that winds through the landscape. While you cruise along, a master tequilier will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about the spirit and you can enjoy several tequila tastings.
Pisco Sour - Peru
Though Chile may also claim rights to the origin of this cocktail, most agree that it’s Peru’s national drink. The pisco sour as we know it — egg whites, lime, and Angostura bitters — was invented in the 1920s in a bar in Lima. It's said that expat bartender Victor Vaughen Morris, hailing from Utah, created the drink as a riff on the whiskey sour.
When in Lima, one of the most storied places to have a pisco sour is at the Gran Hotel Bolívar, where the drink was popularized in the early 20th century. Here, it's served in a catedral glass as a double. You'll be following in the footstops of several cultural figures: Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway (where didn't he drink?), and Ava Gardner all polished off more than their fair share of pisco sours here.
Not convinced that you should go all the way to Peru to try a cocktail? The beautiful country boasts several sights that make it a must-visit destination.
Rum Swizzle - Bermuda
Although the dark ‘n’ stormy might get a lot of attention among sailors and tourists, the rum swizzle is what the locals drink — and you should too if you find yourself on Bermuda. The island's oldest pub, The Swizzle Inn, lays claim to the invention of the cocktail in the early 1900s. Typically, the drink is made with dark rum, triple sec, and pineapple, orange, and lemon juices — plus bitters to give it a kick. But, like the laid-back island itself, the drink’s recipe is pretty slack. Bars and restaurants around the island make their own variations using different fruit juices and ingredients like grenadine for a pop of color. One thing, though, remains constant in any swizzle: the drink is shaken until frothy.
Piña Colada - Puerto Rico
The piña colada is a relative newcomer as it was created in 1954 by Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, a bartender at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. Marrero experimented with different concoctions for three months before arriving at a cocktail he felt captured the sunny, tropical vibe of Puerto Rico. The result was a frothy blended mixture of rum, pineapple, and coconut cream.
If you like piña coladas, there’s no better place to visit than the source of the cocktail. You can sip one at the Caribar at the Caribe Hilton while enjoying panoramic views of the ocean.
Aperol Spritz - Italy
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen this ubiquitous orange-red drink in bars, restaurants, and all over social media. The Aperol spritz has become a cultural phenomenon (one that's sparked a hot debate) and is the definitive summer drink of discerning cocktail drinkers everywhere. And understandably so. Not only is the brightly colored beverage fun and easy to drink, it strikes the perfect alcohol balance — punchier than a glass of wine but not quite as strong as a cocktail made with liquor.
Aperol, which was first invented by the Barbieri brothers in Padua, Italy, recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary. Citrusy, sweet, and slightly bitter, the aperitif’s recipe consists of oranges, herbs, and roots, although the proprietary ingredients and proportions are top-secret.
The term “spritz” (German for splash) originates from the Napoleonic wars, after which Austria-Hungary took control of the Veneto region of Northern Italy. The Austrians would add a splash of water to the strong northern Italian wines to make them more palatable, and the practice over time morphed to include sparkling water and liqueur. The spritz really began to grow in popularity in the 1950s when Aperol made an advertising push to drink Aperol in spritz style. By the 2000s, the drink had taken the world by storm.
Looking for the best bars to drink an Aperol spritz around the world? Don’t worry — we got you.
Sangria - Spain
Sangria’s origins likely date back to the Middle Ages, when water was often unsafe to drink due to bacteria and viruses. In response, people turned to alcohol to stay hydrated (not something we would recommend now). A fermented mix of red wine, brandy, and fruit was created. Today, sangria is the classic accompaniment to Spanish tapas, and variations are made using white wine and cava, Spanish sparkling wine.
The delicious food and drink in Spain is just one of the reasons it was named the best country in the world for a vacation. No trip to Spain is complete without a visit to Barcelona, and if you’re looking for ideas of where to drink, start near the Santa Catarina neighborhood, which is brimming with bars and restaurants.
Pimm’s Cup - United Kingdom
A quintessential summer drink, Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is a gin-based liquor that was created by the fishmonger James Pimm in the 1840s. Pimm marketed the tonic as a digestive aid to accompany the bivalves sold in his London oyster bar.
Nowadays, the drink is made with Pimm’s, sparkling lemonade, and topped with whatever fruit you can fit in the glass — though a proper Pimm’s Cup should have strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, orange slices, and a few sprigs of mint (cucumber optional).
During the long summer days in the U.K., Brits gather in pubs to imbibe Pimm’s by the bucket-full, and convenience stores carry ready-made cans of Pimm’s to drink on the go.
Singapore Sling - Singapore
Another drink invented in a hotel bar, the Singapore sling came to be in 1915 at the city’s historic Raffles hotel. Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender at the hotel, noticed that while it was socially acceptable for men to order liquor, per traditional etiquette women weren't supposed to consume alcohol in public and often had to order tea or juice instead. So, he set out to create a fruity, colorful cocktail that looked like juice, but cleverly concealed gin and liqueur. Thus, the Singapore sling was born.
To get a taste of where it all began, pull up a seat at the original curved dark wood bar at the recently-restored Raffles’ Long Bar. Enjoy some bar peanuts with your drink and don't worry about cleaning up the shells — patrons are invited to drop discarded shells where they sit.