Why is a cocktail actually called a cocktail? (part 1)


Why alcoholic mixed drinks are called cocktails is not clear. Therefore, the origin of the name, which means cock's tail in German, is the subject of many theories and anecdotes. With this blog, we go together in search of clues.

The earliest sources point to a connection with horse breeding and ginger in the origin of the word. In those days, because people trimmed the tails of horses that were not purebreds, they were referred to as "cock-tailed horses." Horse traders inserted pieces of ginger rectally into the animals before selling them. This made them look lively and their tails stood up like a cock's tail.

like a rooster's tail.

It wasn't long before a similar cheering effect was attributed to alcoholic mixed drinks, especially those with ginger as an ingredient. Historian David Wondrich says in this context that it was not far from the "mongrel horse" to the "mongrel drink." The

word cocktail could therefore stand as a designation for a spirit that was not consumed pure (purebred), but mixed.

In a March 1798 issue of the London Morning Post and Gazetteer, we find one of the oldest printed records of the use of the term cocktail for a drink. There we read that a pub landlord had cashed in a fat lottery prize and thereupon waived his guests' tipples. According to the article, the then Prime Minister William Pitt, Junior, had consumed a glass of "Cock-Tail", among other things. What this consisted of remains unmentioned, but it is said that it was also known as ginger.

The cocktail historians Brown and Miller point to a possible French origin of the word cocktail. Thus, there must have actually been a French drink called Coquetel, a wine-based mixed drink from the region around Bordeaux. The fact that during the War of Independence in the second half of the 18th century, the Americans were supported by a

French expeditionary force may explain the word's later adoption into English.

Whatever the case, the word first appeared in North America as a term for a drink in 1803, when a newspaper essay said, "11 o'clock. Drank a glass of cocktail, excellent for the head... Called the doctor..., drank another glass of cocktail." Whatever the concoction was; in the first half of the 19th century, cocktails were consumed as early as mid-morning for their restorative effects, especially by gamblers, crooks, and pimps, if Ted Haigh, also known as Dr. Cocktail, is to be believed. Moreover, the expert suspects that the name is due to the fact that the mixed drink was drunk in the morning and acted on the consumer like the wake-up call of a rooster at the first light of day.

In May 1806, a New York newspaper featured talk of cock-tails for $25. In a letter to the editor accompanying the article, a reader inquired about this new drink, which was unfamiliar to him, and wanted to know whether the name might refer to the drink's effect on the male genitalia. Years later, book author William Terrington did indeed define cocktails as "mixtures used preferentially by early risers to enhance virility," but there is no medical evidence to support this. Nor is there any medical evidence to support the idea that the novel cocktails, with their bitter ingredients of herbs and spices, were supposed to cure all manner of ailments and enhance general well-being.

To be continued...

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1 comment
  • A note on some other readings on the origin of drinks being called cocktails.
    Cocktail defined as Ginger and Cayenne or Red Pepper as a cheap drink and as a drink to treat a hangover.
    Cocktail defined as a cheap drink made from a mixture of keg tailings.

    Now… Putting two and two together – for a hangover, a bit of the dog that bit you, would very much seem to be something one drank in the morning.

    Late night at the bar …. The two cheapest drinks available were the Ginger (also referred to as cock/rooster) and Pepper and the other being Keg Tailings (the mixture of bottom of the barrel kegs).

    Spirited and or disorderly patrons calling out for drinks…. Taking heavy accents into account, let alone drunk accents….
    Barkeeps offering “Keg Tails” once mixed… Patrons calling for “Cocktail” intentionally or accidentally mispronounced….
    And like any other slang term in history, it stuck….

    Shelley on

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