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The Worlds Oldest Cocktail Still Served In a Few London Bars
Home Foods & Drinks Cooking Tips & Recipes
By: David Hudson Email Article
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The world’s first cocktail was made in 1586 when there was an epidemic on Drakes fleet as it sailed to raid Havana. The men were too weak to fight and the fleet went into hiding. A small ‘shore party’ was sent to Matecumbe to bring back medicines known to the local South American Indians. They returned with aguardiente de cana with dissolved bark extract from the chuchuhuasi tree, limes, mint and sugarcane juice.
In South America, mint is known as hierbabuena, which translates as ‘good herb’. The South America Indians knew of a cure for various illnesses, made from the bark of the chuchuhuasi tree with aguardiente de caña (the active ingredients from the bark would have dissolved in the alcohol based aguardiente de cana). Mint leaves were said to cure many stomach complaints, limes cured or reduced the effects of scurvy and sugarcane juice made the taste of limes, bark extract and mint more palatable. It is now known that that the bark of the chuchuhuasi tree, when soaked in aguardiente is an anti dysenteric, a digestive stimulant and a febrifuge (reduces fever).
The medicinal mix was given to the sailors on a large wooden spoon with a ‘cocks tail’ handle. Sailors with stomach problems, dysentery, fever or suffering from the effects of scurvy would have found this medicine beneficial for each of these conditions, and the alcohol (not dissimilar from crude rum) would have made the men feel good enough to fight again.
Eventually rum rations and limes were standard issue on British Navy Ships, and British sailors were called ‘limeys’; they also had a reputation for being drunk. A well known children’s song has the words ‘what do we do with a drunken sailor’.

It is recorded that this medicinal mix (subsequently called 'El Draque') was taken during cholera epidemics; for example during one of the worst epidemics of cholera to affect the population of Havana, the narrator Ramón de Paula wrote: "Every day at eleven o'clock, I consume a little Draque made from aguardiente and I am doing very well".
Similar cocktails can still be found in a London bar aptly named 'The Sugar Cane' which is about 5 miles from the Tudor Shipbuilding Yard at Deptford (by the river Thames), where the famous ship, ‘The Golden Hind’ was taken to a dry dock for public exhibition in honour of Sir Francis Drake.

Richard Drake invented a medicinal concoction for use by men on the ships of Francis Drake - on the way to sack Havana. The ‘drink’ was subsequently called El Draque in honour of Sir Francis Drake, and was made on or shortly after June 4th 1586. This drink continued to be consumed for its medicinal qualities. It was made more palatable when one of the main ingredients (aguardiente de cana) was changed from changed to rum, and the resulting cocktail was called the mojito.
The first cocktail (El Draque) is a true sugarcane cocktail, as it had two sugar cane ingredients, ‘aguardiente de cana’ (firewater from sugarcane) and sugarcane juice.
It was named El Draque because of its close association with Sir Francis Drake, whose famous ship ‘The Golden Hind’ was put in Dry Dock at the Tudor shipbuilding yard in Deptford. Similar sugarcane cocktails can still found in various London bars, one of which is aptly named 'The Sugar Cane' which is only about 5 miles from the Tudor Shipbuilding Yard at Deptford where Drakes famous ship was put in dry dock.

Some reference material:-
1) When the bark of a tree chuchuhuasi is soaked in aguardiente, its properties include; digestive stimulant, anti dysenteric and febrifuge (reduces fever). Ref
2) Historian Dr. Eugene Lyon translated a document written at Havana on June 27th, 1586 and identified the English fleet disappeared (went into hiding) on June 4th.
3) Another part of this document (translated by Vicente Gonzalez), indicated sailors from Drakes ships went to Matecumbe 5 days before 9th June (June 4th). It is assumed that they went ashore to get the ingredients for the medical concoction needed for the epidemic and then returned to the ships.

David Hudson is a former University Lecturer and has written various articles including ones identifying ‘who made the first cocktail’.

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