by krghospitality

Drink Donnybrook: Let’s Talk Screwdriver

by David Klemt

Orange cocktail, like a Screwdriver

Is there vodka in there? Maybe.

As it turns out, the origins of one of the simplest cocktails on the planet—there are just two ingredients in a traditional Screwdriver—are a mystery.

Another interesting note about the Screwdriver: It’s likely a relatively new drink.

If the Screwdriver is an American invention, the earliest most believe it could have been created is the 1920s. That’s when Smirnoff sold the rights to North American distribution to a distiller in the US.

However, it’s possible the cocktail wasn’t invented until some time in the 1940s. Vodka didn’t really become popular among Americans until the ’40s. So, it’s conceivable that the Screwdriver is less than 100 years old.

Still, it’s difficult to believe that someone, somewhere didn’t think to add a splash of vodka to their orange juice in the 1800s. Or that someone didn’t think to “adjust” the taste of the vodka in their glass with a bit of OJ.

Either way, it’s pretty entertaining to know that we don’t have a definitive answer for who created the Screwdriver, where it was first made, and when. When we consider the fact that the recipe calls for just two simple ingredients, maybe it does make sense that we don’t know the who, where, and why. It’s so easy to make that it’s believable multiple people had the same idea around the same time, across the globe.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Drink Donnybrook without checking into some origin theories. So, let’s dive in!

World War II

One theory involves WWII and the US Marine Corps.

It’s quite simple, really. During WWII, stationed overseas, perhaps a few Marines jazzed up their orange juice with a touch of vodka.

Oh, but wait. The Screwdriver may not be attributable to the USMC. It’s possible, according to another theory, that the former US Army Air Forces came up with drink and name when stationed in Ankara, Turkey.

As the predecessor to the Air Force, the USAF may hold claim to the Screwdriver.

If it’s one thing we need, it’s more fuel for the inter-service rivalry between the USMC and USAF.


Two publications mentioned the Screwdriver in the 1930s and 1940s.

According to some historians, Journalism Quarterly at least made reference to a drink called the “Smirnoff Screwdriver” in 1938.

If that’s true, the classic cocktail predates WWII by a year. And if that’s true, it’s possible that American marines, airmen, or soldiers spread it around the world.

In 1949, Time magazine mentioned the Screwdriver. According to the writer, the cocktail was the newest drink grabbing attention at the Park Hotel in New York. Apparently, American engineers, Balkan refugees, and Turkish spies loved the drink.

Interestingly, if Time‘s reporting is accurate, it’s possible the supposed Turkish spies frequenting the Park Hotel bar got the name of the drink from American airmen.

Since apparently no bartenders who worked at the Park Hotel appear to have taken credit for it back in the ’40s, it’s unlikely it was created there.


Okay, so you’re an oil worker. It’s the 1950s and you’re working in the Persian Gulf.

You’re performing back-breaking, dangerous tasks in oil fields. Maybe you need a pick-me-up, and maybe that pick-me-up involves mixing orange juice and vodka together.

But…you don’t have a barspoon. You certainly don’t have a swizzle stick. And you don’t have a coffee stirrer handy.

What you do have is a screwdriver. That screwdriver will definitely stir a drink. It doesn’t take time for this vodka-orange juice concoction to get the name “Screwdriver” because of the stirring utensil.

Well, that’s one theory, anyway.

Two days from now, December 14, you can share all those stories with your guests. Why? Because that’s National Screwdriver Day, a time to celebrate one of the simplest cocktails ever made.

Of course, you and your team can make the Screwdriver your own. Top-shelf vodka, the finest and freshest hand-squeezed orange juice (maybe even blood orange juice), any number of garnishes or rims, a touch of sparkling wine or water… The simpler the drink, the easier it can be to riff on it.


Image: Ryutaro Tsukata on Pexels

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