Imagine if the only drinks we had to wash us over the rocky shoals of life were the same ones our American ancestors drank on the brink of the nineteenth century， before all those waves of immigrants hit our shores.
Back then， American drinking was English drinking， with just a shade of Dutch and German and West African drinking mixed in， along with a handful of local twists and hacks. That meant that the basic building blocks were rum， raw rye whiskey， Dutch-style gin，plus apple and peach brandy， Madeira wine， cider and ale.
If you find all that a bit monotonous， you're not alone： in fact， that's pretty much what drinkers thought then. The first 30 years of the nineteenth century saw American bartenders making extraordinary efforts to， if you will， shake things up.
Then came the immigrants. The 1840s brought vast numbers of people to America， mostly from Germany and Ireland. The Irish， who had not yet taken up stout as their primary national drink，at least brought no innovations： they drank whiskey， we had whiskey （in fact， Irish whiskey then had a considerable proportion of rye in it and they had no trouble adapting to our straight rye）.
The Germans， however， brought real novelties. Lager beer， their national drink， was as yet unfamiliar in America， strange as that might seem considering the oceans of the stuff we drain every year. It was not greeted with universal approbation.
But the Germans brought more than lager with them. They also brought their own tradition of mixology， one that was a good deal more fanciful than the one they found here. When German immigrants began stepping behind American bars， naturally they turned to this tradition.
In German hands， Juleps weren't just spirits， sugar， ice and mint. They were cunningly blended from imported brandy， ports， sherries，dashes of this and splashes of that. And， it turns out， American drinkers liked that.
While the Germans， as a group， had the greatest impact on our way of drinking， there were plenty of other immigrants who made their mark. French and Italian immigrants brought their vermouth with them， and their own mixological skills. In the years before the Civil War， Joseph Santini， an Italian， ran the fanciest bar in New Orleans， inventing the famous Brandy Crusta in the process.
In New York， “Panama Joe” Fernandez， who came here from that country in 1846， became the city's acknowledged master at mixing the plain Cocktail， even presiding at a famous contest between the Irish Lord Louth and one Mr. Tracy from Buffalo to see who could drink more of them. Even the Irish finally broke down and got into the mixology game， producing one of the great successes of the early twentieth century， the Bronx Cocktail.
I could go on; the twentieth century brought its own immigrants and their own contributions—vodka， tequila， the Daiquiri， to name three—that are now indispensable parts of what we drink. But by then the framework had been set.
It wasn't just that immigrants invented specific cocktails or brought specific ingredients with them when they came here. They changed the American mind when it came to drinks. Bartenders learned to welcome new ingredients， rather than reject them;if not everyone went along， there were plenty who would. （That spirit continues today—modern American bartenders are even working with Chinese baijiu， one of the world's more pungent and mixology-resistant types of liquor.）