I was filing my backlog of papers and I found an interesting article from a 1936 Spirits magazine on the popularity of cocktails served in hotel bars. The Manhattan cocktail replaced the Martini as America’s most popular cocktail in that year. There are some interesting statistics in the article I thought I would share with you.
The survey was done with more than 1,000 hotels from all parts of the country participating. The top ten cocktails were as follows:
- Manhattan cocktail (ranked third in 1935)
- Martini cocktail (ranked first in 1935)
- Old Fashioned cocktail (Ranked second in 1935)
- Whiskey Sour cocktail Ranked fourth in 1935)
- Tom Collins cocktail (ranked sixth in 1935)
- Rye Highball cocktail Ranked seventh in 1935)
- Bacardi cocktail (Ranked fifth in 1935)
- Gin Fizz cocktail (Ranked ninth in 1935)
- Scotch and Soda (Ranked tenth in 1935)
- Daiquiri cocktail (Un-ranked in 1935)
Cocktails made up 69.5% of all sales at the bars. Beer sales were 22.5% of sales. Domestic Wines were 4.5% of sales and Imported Wines were 3.5%. The percentage of spirits purchased by hotels was as follows:
- Rye: 25%
- Scotch: 24%
- Bourbon: 17.5%
- Gin: 17.5%
- Rum: 5.3%
- Brandy: 4.1%
- Cordials: 3.1%
- Miscellaneous sprits: 3.5%
I find these figures interesting. Rye is so high because aged rye was coming in from Canada, whereas Bourbon was still in short supply and mostly only a year or two old in 1936. Scotch, Brandy and Rum were also aged products imported from Europe, Cuba and other places that did not have Prohibition. Gin, an unaged product, was easily produced by American distilleries, as where cordials. Vodka and Tequila were part of the miscellaneous spirits listed.
The cocktails reflect the fact that imported whiskeys, rum and gin are the major spirits being used to make these drinks. I am actually surprised that Bourbon sales were that high in 1936. There were small supplies of aged Bourbon in the market, but most of these products were either pre-Prohibition stocks or the small supply of four to six year old Bourbons that were allowed to be made starting in 1928 by the six companies that had a license to sell medicinal spirits. This later Bourbon was very limited because the government only allowed three million gallons per year to be made at that time and that total amount was split between the six companies.
The fact that 69.5% of sales at hotel bars were cocktails is also not surprising. Beer and wine sales were not huge at hotel bars. Beer would be more popular in local taverns and saloons. Wine was considered something to drink with dinner, not while socializing in a hotel bar.
I would be interested in seeing a similar survey done today. It would be interesting to see what the most popular cocktails of today are and what are the spirits mostly purchased by hotel bars of today. I suspect Vodka and Tequila cocktails would rank very high in the modern survey and Rum, Gin and Brandy would be a smaller percentage as a result. Rye is growing in the modern market, but I doubt it would be at the top of the list today.
Photo Courtesy of Rosemary Miller
September 9, 2022 at 3:37 pm
1. Didn’t the 1936 Rye category include both American Rye and Canadian Rye – since Canadian whiskey was commonly referred to as ‘rye’?
2. Canadian distilleries were making & shipping bourbon to the U. S. market during and after the Civil War (due to U. S. wartime production interruptions). Did the same thing happen during or after Prohibition?
September 9, 2022 at 7:39 pm
The article does not say but I suspect that the rye is both American rye and Canadian whiskey. Canada flooded the American market with aged whiskey after repeal.
September 9, 2022 at 4:13 pm
What a perfect cocktail menu does your 1936 list make. Little has improved over the years,
September 9, 2022 at 9:36 pm
Here are a few starting points regarding modern cocktail popularity: