The holiday season, that is, the party season, is upon us. I don’t know what possessed me to look into the origins of the cocktail but I got curious and started googling. I hope what I learned brings a smile to you too.
In 1806, The Balance and Columbian Repository was asked the question, “What is a cocktail?” It replied:
Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch 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 anything else.

It’s interesting to note that the Repository was a Hudson, New York political broadsheet, that is, a one sided newsletter about politics. Hmm.

That answered the question of what? but why call it a cocktail? There is no definitive answer for this one, but there are some mighty good stories! Here are two of my favorites:

There was a bar in an American harbor in which the owner had a gigantic ceramic container in the shape of a rooster (cock). Every evening the leftovers from the drinks that were served were poured into this cock. There was a tap on the tail from which cheap drinks were served to those less well off guests! Hence the term “cocktail.” Apparently the quality was especially high the day after English sailors had been visiting, as there was a good mixture of rum, gin and brandy in the cocktail.


Betsy Flanagan, whose husband was killed in the Revolutionary War, opened an inn in 1799 near Yorktown where the American and French soldiers would gather to drink a mixture that Betsy had composed that she called Bracer. It so happened that nearby lived an Englishman who raised chickens. Betsy could not stand this neighbor (for obvious reasons), and promised to serve her American and French guests roast chicken, with chickens coming from nightly raids to the neighbor’s farm. From time to time the officers would mock her, claiming she could not live up to her promises. One evening, when an unusually large number of officers were gathered, she ordered them to the living room, where they were served a grand meal of “Stolen Chickens.” When the meal was over, Betsy directed the guests to the bar, where she proudly pointed at the tail-feathers, now used for decorating the bottles of Bracer. The officers gave three cheers: one for Betsy Flanagan, one for the colonists’ cause and one for the defeat of the Englishmen. Then they began drinking, and continued until early morning. “Lets have some more cocktail” one officer allegedly suggested, and a French officer enthusiastically shouted “Vive le Cocktail!!”

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