Celebrity bartenders, barstardised gin & a horse’s ass

The History of the Cocktail {part 1}

As with most things booze related, it’s quite difficult to track a definitive history of the cocktail. Mixed drinks called punch have been documented as far back as the 1500s, however the first publication of the word cocktail was in The Balance and Columbian Repository newspaper in 1806, where it eloquently states;

“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 origin of the word cocktail is also a bit of a mystery. Some claim the mixed drink was named after the custom of docking the tails of less desirable horses to make them easier to sell at market. This practice consisted of depositing ginger in the horse’s anus, causing it to cock its tail up and look lively. Therefore, it is argued the naming of the cocktail heralds back to its stimulant properties, causing the imbiber to cock-tail reminiscent of the horses. Others maintaining it’s simply derived from the French word 'coquetier' an eggcup like measure, used by Apothecaries in New Orleans to dispense alcoholic tonics.

Another source describes a slightly sexier history for the term cocktail. George Bishop's 1965 book The Booze Reader: A Soggy Saga of Man in His Cups, states;

"The word itself stems from the English cock-tail which, in the middle 1800's, referred to a woman of easy virtue who was desirable but impure…and applied to the newly acquired American habit of bastardizing good British Gin with foreign matter, including ice." 

One thing almost everyone can agree on though is the popularisation of the cocktail in the mid 1800’s thanks to ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas. From all accounts Thomas was a bit of a celebrity and a hell of a lad. He ran bars across America and toured the US and Europe, showing his bartending skills to the world. In 1862 Thomas published the world’s first cocktail and bartending book, titled The Bartender’s Guide to Mixing Drinks. The book is almost as relevant today as it was when it launched, it contains recipes for many classic cocktails, from the sling to the julep, the flip to the sour. All of which, us Bristol Syrup Co folks are very big fans of.

Written by Dee Davies