Those sweet, languorous weekend days when our friends’ blissfully oblivious parents would leave us alone in their hard-earned suburban compounds. Long Saturday afternoons with nothing to do, no awkward parental meddling, and incredibly easy access to a well-stocked liquor cabinet.
Being 16 (or 14), or whatever your liquor cabinet cherry-popping age was, you probably didn’t reach for the Macallan 18 year or that neglected bottle of Dolin Dry Vermouth. You saw what you wanted almost immediately, gleaming quietly in its glass (plastic) bottle in the far corner of the liquor cabinet. That bottle of vodka. Deceptively clear fire liquid, elixir of the gross black magic of your teenage years.
Of course, back then, cherub-faced innocent that you were, you about to shoot the stuff. So you’d grab some orange juice. (Or purple stuff, or Sunny D.) And thus, your introduction to the world of mixed drinks became one of the simplest and sneakiest concoctions of all alcoholic beverage history: the Screwdriver. The great, and idiotic, beauty of it: if and when said parents return from Home Depot or that Tantric therapist they’re seeing, you can sit around sipping your “orange juice” and listen to what they learned (or, alternately, try to block it out with years of therapy).
Believe it or not, you’re not the first.
The Screwdriver might be a sneaky, and extremely simple, mixed drink. But it’s history is a bit more complicated. There are a couple origin stories, all of them delightfully plausible and more extreme than most cocktail beginnings. One story attributes the Screwdriver to American marines circa World War II, who would dose their O.J. with vodka—not on a regular basis, presumably, since, well, marines.
There’s also this reference, from a 1949 edition of Time magazine: “In the dimly lighted bar of the sleek Park Hotel, Turkish intelligence agents mingle with American engineers and Balkan refugees, drinking the latest Yankee concoction of vodka and orange juice, called a ‘screwdriver.’”
Not to imply the drink was invented in the States, but by the late 1940s was at least of sufficient note to get mention in Time magazine. And then of course, there’s another story, which refers to American (and/or multi-ethnic) oil workers in the Persian gulf in the mid 20th Century. With long hours and a relatively dangerous job, the oil workers (who we probably have a lot more to thank for) started mixing vodka into their orange juice. Lacking the typical oil rig barspoon (and what an oversight), they had to stir the drink with something. (Pretty sure we used a butter knife back in high school.) Ready at hand was, you guessed it, a screwdriver.
We’re assuming it wasn’t rusted or coated in oil, but then again, vodka. The name stuck, and (we’re hoping) nobody ever had a workplace injury related to some over-eager Screwdriver stirring.