Where is the beginning? Humans have been fermenting beverages for thousands of years. So, we've had a lot of practice! We long ago determined that fermenting both preserves (or prevents spoiling) and tastes yummy. Possibly the very first, a neolithic mixture of rice, honey, hawthorne, and grape dates ca. 7000-6600 BCE. (Source: Penn Museum.) Around the same time beer and wine are being made in the Middle East.
We're going to start in the 1800s in the US. A "cocktail" was originally defined in print in New York in 1806 as combining spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. (I'll spare the details of the origin of the word cocktail; suffice it to say it involved perking up a sluggish horse so it cocks its tail.)
Early cocktails included the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep. As popularity spread across the US, the practice of mixing drinks in front of a customer with ice became standard. Bar tenders (typically men, although women were tavern keepers in places) wore formal dress and were thought of as as the aristocracy of the working class. Bars - saloons and taverns - were for men only, unless you were a lady of the evening. Eventually, side rooms with private entrances provided a "proper" place for the ladies to sip a Sloe Gin Fizz.
As time went on, so did the Temperance Movement. On January 6, 1920, the Volstead Act became law, making the manufacture, sale, transport, import/export, delivery, and possession of liquor illegal. Boom! Prohibition began, and lasted for 13 years, 307 days. Not to be shut-down, the American entrepreneurial spirit devised the underground. Moonshine, rum running, bathtub gin, and "medicinal whiskey" became common. Shhhh!
The Speakeasy became the place to go. Men and women, dressed to the nines, fancy cocktails, special glassware. Think: Great Gatsby. Coco Chanel designed the first little black dress...need I say more? So each time you find yourself drinking a fancy drink, clinking your glass with others, think of this history. You're a part of it now.