What's in a Name: Cocktail (or Cock-Tail)

When someone asks, "Hey, do you want a cocktail?", there is no confusion these days about what that might mean. But it's kind of a strange word if you think about it. So, we thought we'd do a little digging about the first documented "cocktails" and how they got their name.


But, before you read on, if you've been keeping up with our previous posts about the history of certain cocktails, they are all a little fuzzy, and this is no different! There are a lot of theories and stories, so here is our best take on the most widely circulated tales.


While many of the first cocktails rose to popularity in America, the first documented use of the name cocktail is actually from Britain. The term was mentioned first in a newspaper in 1798. But, the actual mixing or diluting of spirits even predates this.


One commonly talked about early concoction was made by Admiral Edward Vernon, an admiral of the Royal Navy Ships in the Caribbean, as early as 1655. He issued an order that the rum on his ships must be mixed with two pints of water. He also had the idea to add sugar and lime to make it more palatable. This was called "Grog", after his nickname "Old Grogman". Of course, the additions of lime and sugar also seems to be debated, so who knows, but it sounds like the beginnings of the Mojito to us!


In the 18th Century, the British also had a similar idea with their punches. They were typically made in large bowls with spirits, juice and spices. As cocktails made their way to America, they became more refined, and the first mention of a cocktail in America was from the Farmer's Cabinet in New Hampshire in 1803. This cocktail is made with brandy, gin or rum and mixed with water, bitters, sugar and nutmeg. In 1806, The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson New York, defined the cocktail as we know it today, "Cock tail, then in a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling...".


As the cocktail culture evolved, drinks like the Julep and Martini rose to popularity. However, here's something you probably never thought about, ice. The original cocktails didn't have ice. Everything was just room temperature. It wasn't until Fredric "Ice King" Tudor figured out how to bring ice from the colder climates to the warmer ones, did the cocktail world truly explode. If you are interested in learning more about history of specific cocktails, check out The Bloody Mary, The Martini and The Margarita.


But really, What's in a Name?

Now, where in the world did the name Cocktail come from? Okay so there are several theories, but the most talked about one has to do with horse tails. Yep, you read that correctly. A cock-tail was a term that was used for horses whose tails where either docked (making their tails look like a rooster, typically for work horses), or it has to do with owners putting ginger the horses rear to make the tail stand up and make them look better for sale...regardless, it's widely agreed that the cock-tail phrase originally referred to something with a horses tail. According to cocktail historian, David Wondrich, "If you had an old horse you were trying to sell, you would put some ginger up its butt, and it would cock its tail up and be frisky. That was known as 'cock-tail.' It comes from that. It became this morning thing. Something to cock your tail up, like an eye-opener. I’m almost positive that’s where it’s from.positive that’s where it’s from.”


Of course, there are other theories as well. Some say it was invented in Mexico and named after a princess, others a french egg cup, and there is another story about a New Yorker named Betsy Flannagan.


But based on all the chatter, we're going to stick with the horse story for now and we'll probably never say the word cocktail with out thinking of a horse's tail again.


Drink Wise,

The Owl's Brew Crew



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Owl's Brew / Double Brew, LLC 

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