The rise of the cocktail's popularity among young drinkers has helped to propel the British drinker into second place in a league table of alcohol consumption in developed countries. Only the Germans drink more than the British.
The cocktail's resurgence has been fuelled by drinks manufacturers and pub chains latching on to what analysts call a "fin de siecle" mood among drinkers in the 18 to 24 age group. They are drinking more and rejecting warnings about the effect of alcohol.
Research by the market analyst Datamonitor shows rates of alcoholic consumption per capita among 18 to 24s are higher than for any other demographic group. Its report published yesterday forecasts the number of units consumed per head each week in the UK will increase from 15.2 in 1998 to 17.2 by 2003. The number of litres of alcohol drunk per year is expected to exceed one billion or the first time next year.
Datamonitor's drinks analyst, Richard Robinson, said: "It has become fashionable again to be seen living an opulent, indulgent life, which many consumers are prepared to justify to themselves." That indulgence is demonstrated by a rise in the number of cocktails and pre-mixed cocktails now drunk by the under-24s.
The spread of themed bars such as TGI Fridays, specialist cocktail bars, "happy hours" that capture office workers and the emergence of bottled cocktails have all helped to promote the "cocktail culture".
Last year cocktails such as Mule, Metz and V2 were the biggest-selling spirit drinks. Younger drinkers consumed almost 15 million litres of ready- mixed cocktails, a third of all spirits drunk.
Increasingly popular are cocktails such as vodka and the energy drink, Red Bull; others prefer its more potent cousin, TVR, which contains tequila.
Mr Robinson added: "Themed outlets and chains have been crucial in changing the traditional image of pubs and bars as being dark, smoky places to a more continental positioning that not only appeals to young adults but has been successful in attracting more female customers."
The Wine and Spirit Association, which represents suppliers and wholesalers, said demand started to pick up with the introduction of the controversial "alcopops".
A spokesman said: "First it was Two Dogs and Hooch and then there was an uptake in general for mixed alcoholic drinks. Pre-mixed drinks are one of the biggest growth areas in the UK."
Tim Hampson, of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said drinkers were more adventurous and prepared to steer away from the traditional print of lager or bitter. "There is less and less loyalty to a particular brand or single type of drink. People will drink what they want. They may start the evening with a mixer or a cocktail then switch. Pubs and bars seemed to have responded to that and there is growth in those kinds of drinks accordingly."
Mark Bennett, spokesman for Alcohol Concern, said: "Drinking cocktails will not excuse the drinker from the health problems associated with alcohol consumption."
Five Exotic Venues
MASH AND AIR, MANCHESTER
Clientele: hip urbanites and fashionable girls
Best-selling cocktails: Mash Passion, Mashtini, Mash Bloody Mary
Sarah Callie-Canet, marketing manager: "The flash and creamy cocktails of the Eighties weren't cool. They're now more subtle and pure, with fewer ingredients."
THE MATCH BAR, LONDON
Clientele: Bankers, lawyers, media buyers
Best-selling cocktails: Russian Spring Punch, Bramble, Big Mac
Stephen Thickitt, manager: "Cocktails weren't good quality in the Eighties. They were expensive and drunk by the elite. We're trying to attract all types."
Clientele: Those trying to recapture holiday spirit
Best-selling cocktails: Caipirinha, Mango Margarita, Morello Martini
Robert Jupp, manager: "Three years ago here you couldn't buy a cocktail. People are becoming more educated about what they want and we're meeting the demand."
Clientele: Female singletons and Bridget Jones clones
Best-selling cocktails: Cosmopolitan, Sea Breeze, Margaritas
Alex Turner, assistant bar manager: "More are bought because people have more money, and there are more bars."
TGI FRIDAYS, BRISTOL
Clientele: Hen and stag parties, birthday parties, graduates
Best-selling cocktails: Long Island Iced Tea, June Bug, Green Eyes
John Loder, quality manager: "You've got to keep up with the season changes and give people what they want."Reuse content