A sweetly simple mix of vodka, schnapps, cranberry juice, and O.J., the Sex on the Beach is an easy-drinking party starter. Yet behind its tropical facade lies uncertain origins.
According to one version of the cocktail’s history, in 1987, an ominously named spirits company called National Distribution wanted to boost sales of its new product, peach schnapps. The distributor did what anyone with cases of peach schnapps to unload would do, and headed straight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. During the city’s spring break high season, National Distribution launched a contest to award $1,000 to the bar that sold the most peach schnapps, and a further $100 to the bartender who made the most sales.
Rising to the challenge, Confetti bar’s Ted Pizio incorporated the schnapps into a new cocktail, comprised of peach schnapps, vodka, orange juice, and grenadine. It was an instant success. When asked for the drink’s name, Pizio took inspiration from the crowds of spring break revelers and called it the “Sex on the Beach.”
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In other words, one of the more memorable cocktails of the latter half of the 20th century came out of a marketing promotion.
It’s not known whether Pizio won the competition, but his drink’s popularity is said to have spread back to the colleges and hometowns of the many students who enjoyed it. While Pizio’s original recipe contained grenadine, it’s now much more common to see the cocktail made with more readily available cranberry juice, which shares a similar tart-sweet flavor and red color.
But there are always multiple sides to history, especially when alcohol is involved. According to Mental Floss, a recipe for the Sex on the Beach actually appeared years earlier than Pizio’s memorable spring break special. The first recorded recipe was in the 1982 edition of the “American Bartenders School Guide to Drinks” — five full years before Pizio took the spring breakers by peach-scented storm.
The cocktail, some historians theorize, was likely invented as a simple combination of a Fuzzy Navel (orange juice and peach schnapps) with a Cape Codder (vodka and cranberry juice).
Whichever version of history you believe, the Sex on the Beach remains an easy-to-make, sweet, and fruity cocktail, closely associated with spring break, sunshine, and sandy beaches.