TALES OF THE COCKTAIL
Cocktail. What a strange word. Ever wondered how it came to life?
Let’s start with Betsy Flanagan who opened an inn near Yorktown, Virginia in 1779, after her husband was killed during the revolution. Betsy wasn’t a big fan of her English neighbour who owned a bunch of fighting cocks. So one night she decided to serve her neighbour’s roasted birds to her customers and even decorated everyone’s drinks with tail-feathers. Her clients loved it and started calling her creation “Cock-tails”.
According to another legend, Antoine Peychaud opened an apothecary shop in New Orleans’ French quarter in the 1830’s, and sold his own homemade bitters made of water, sugar and cognac. For measurements, he used an egg cup –which is called a “coquetier” in French– and some believe that with time (due to Chinese whispers) it became a “cocktail”.
Both stories sound quite fun, don’t they? Well they aren’t true.
It all started in London in the 17th century, when King William of Orange was left with a grain surplus due to an extremely good harvest, which lowered alcohol prices. To take advantage of this situation — and “for the health of the nation” — he reduced taxes on distillation. British distillers produced around 500,000 gallons of neutral grain spirit in 1689.
By the 1720s, London distillers alone produced 20 million gallons of spirits. After four decades of William’s economic planning, the city experienced the 18th-century equivalent of a crack cocaine epidemic.
Gin Lane by William Hogarth
The oldest use of the word “cocktail” was found in the March 20, 1798, edition of The Morning Post and Gazetteer (a long-defunct London newspaper). The paper had reported on March 16th that the landlord of the Axe & Gate tavern returned to his pub after winning the lottery and, “in a transport of joy”, erased his regulars’ tabs with a mop. Four days later the paper ran a satirical article listing who owed what and cock-tail was on the list.
At the time, the term cocktail referred to horses that had their tails cut short, as to indicate their mixed breed. A blend of water, oats, gin and ginger was given to these horses to raise their price as a horse with a spring in its step, wide-open eyes and a tail held high would sell for more. A piece of peeled ginger and gin magically made that happen – at least until the horse was sold.
A decade later, the first definition of cocktail (as an alcoholic beverage) was published in the May 13th 1806 edition of The Balance and Columbian Repository, a publication in Hudson, New York.
“Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else”
The ingredients listed (spirits, sugar, water, and bitters) match the ingredients of an Old Fashioned, which is a late 19th century term used by bar patrons to distinguish cocktails made the “old-fashioned” way from newer, more complex ones.
The world of mixology has indeed come a long way since then. Here are 4 atypical cocktails that have caught our eye.
The Coquetier – Pret a Diner (Berlin, Germany)
Rum, cinnamon and chocolate served in an eggshell. #TheRealCoquetier
Sourtoe Cocktail – Eldorado Hotel Bar (Yucon, Canada)
The alcohol of your choice served with an amputated human toe. Intrigued? Click here for more information.
Wakey Wakey Eggs and Bakey – Chapel Tavern (Reno, Nevada, US)
This hangover cure is basically a Bloody Mary that doubles as a sandwich.
Doug Laming’s Margarita – Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining (Sydney, Australia)
Pearls of Margarita that burst in your mouth #DrinkGasm