What Does The Phrase 'Craft Cocktail' Really Mean?

What exactly is a "craft cocktail," and what makes it different from a mixed drink? What Jessica Sanders once distinguished as a blend of "quality spirits, fresh juices, and good techniques" in discussion with Paste Magazine has evolved into a trend that really only touches the tip of the iceberg. Sure, you can find them on social media posts, where they're posed fresh and beautifully garnished alongside a fancy meal (or not) — but the craft cocktail has a history that predates all of that, even the legalization of alcohol itself.

A reformation began in 1920 when the U.S. started its 13-year-long ban on importing and exporting alcoholic beverages. Without any alcohol to buy, and despite the risk, Americans resorted to buying and selling their own. While the counterfeit alcohol of the time fulfilled the people's yearning for a high-proof drink, the taste of it didn't. Prepared in stills called moonshine, underground bartenders began using herbs and fresh ingredients to counter the illicit alcohol's foul flavor — a pivotal point for modern-day mixology that has helped define the craft cocktail over time.

Fresh ingredients, new flavors, and presentation are what make a craft cocktail

Once Prohibition ended in 1933 (via Paste Magazine), bartenders only had more freedom to experiment in their craft — except this time, the spirits were much more legit. By continuing to play with fresh ingredients, the craft cocktail evolved as a way to put an elevated twist on traditional cocktail recipes. Swapping ingredients, combining new flavors, and experimenting with different mixers are all ways that mixologists were able to curate drinks and eventually create the high-quality, artisanal beverages we call craft cocktails (via Flying Members).

Craft cocktails are about more than just taste. As Jessica Sanders said, craft cocktails are all about quality — from the ingredients and techniques used to the presentation. Each element behind the craft warrants a higher price that is all worth it for the innovative, unique, and adventurous flavors that each craft cocktail presents. While they do take skill, it's possible to make your own craft beverages at home with practice. By taking the time to learn the different types of cocktail glasses and unusual techniques, you'll be on your way to crafting your own cocktails in no time.