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T he origin of the word “cocktail,” like many cocktails In George Bishop’s The Booze Reader: A Soggy Saga of a

themselves, is a source of intense debate. H. L.
Man in His Cups (1965), he says, “The word itself stems
8 Mencken did extensive research on the topic but in from the English cock-tail which, in the mid-1800s,
referred to a woman of easy virtue who was desirable but
the end came up short, saying ultimately, the origin
of the word is “quite as dark as the origin of the thing impure…and applied to the newly acquired American
itself.” One of the earliest known references of the term habit of bastardizing good British gin with foreign
declares “what differentiated it [a “cock-tail”] from matter, including ice.”
other alcohols is the addition of bitters,” which should
be used “to enhance the flavor of mixed drinks.” Bitters By the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was
are traditionally an alcoholic preparation flavored with bringing immense growth and technological advances to
volume :: winter
aromatic herbs, barks, roots, and/or fruit for their flavor urban areas, triggering an influx of new jobs and money.
and medicinal properties such that the end result is These changes included the first construction of inns
characterized by a bitter, sour, or bittersweet flavor. One and taverns that were allowed to sell alcohol without the
of the first documented uses of bitters was in New Orle- obligation to rent a room. These spots became central
ans’ French Quarter where Antoine Amédée Peychaud, to communities and where many men spent their free
the local apothecary, would mix concoctions of cognac time and money. By the 1850s, the ease of transportation,
and bitters at late-night gatherings with friends. From refrigeration, and ice machines made it possible to offer
behind the counter in the pharmacy, he would serve his something other than the customary pint of beer. Barmen
drinks in a type of eggcup called a “coquetier,” and many began mixing spirits, bitters, sugar, and ice ultimately
believe this is the origin of the word “cocktail.” giving birth to drinks like the Martini, Manhattan, and
Old Fashioned. The theatrical presentation that came
Another theory holds that the name is derived from with ordering one of these drinks built a new enthusiasm
the term “cock-tailings,” the result of the practice of for these novel concoctions called “cocktails.” It was at
Colonial-era tavern owners combining the dregs this time that the first cocktail and bartender’s guide,
(sediment) of nearly empty barrels together into a new Bartender’s Guide, by Jerry Thomas, who was often
elixir that was sold at bargain prices. This theory makes referred to as “Professor,” was printed in 1862. It was
sense when you know that the spigot of a barrel was later reprinted and released as How to Mix Drinks, or
once referred to as a “cock.” The Bon Vivant’s Companion.

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