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The origins of the word cocktail

Origins of the word cocktail

Today is a special day for any cocktail lover: World Cocktail Day

On this day in 1806, The Balance and Columbian Repository, an upstate New York newspaper published the first known definition of the word “cock-tail”, in response to a reader’s query on an article. For a long time it was cocktail lore that The Balance could also claim the first printed use of the word. Yet at least two earlier occurrences are known to exist, the first in London’s Morning Post and Gazetteer (1978), in a satirical comment on the then Prime Minister, William Pitt, and a second in a US agricultural handbook called The Farmer’s Cabinet (1803).

It's not clear exactly how the word "cocktail" was derived, but there are three popular theories: 

The Egg-Cup Theory (Coquetier)

Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a French apothecary in New Orleans, served brandy with his bitters in eggcups in the late 18th century. As a result, the word "cocktail" is thought to have come from a mispronunciation of the French word for eggcup, coquetier (pronounced cocktay in English). 

The Dregs Theory (Cock tailings)

"Cock tailings" was a term used to describe the mixture that was created when tavern owners combined the dregs (tailings) of nearly empty barrels together. The resulting mixture from several barrels would then be sold at a discounted price. The word "cock" was also used to refer to the spigot (plug/tap) of the barrel, which is how the term "cock tailings" was derived. 

The Docked Horse Theory (Cock Tail)

The term "cock tail" was used to describe an animal with a cock(rooster)-like tail, specifically for horses with docked tails. Coach horses, horses used for hunting, and racehorses' tails were often docked (amputated, leaving a stub remaining) for practical purposes. There are two possible connections: racehorses with cocked tails were perky and sometimes friskier than those without, so "cock your tail up" became a saying similar to eye-opening. The second possibility is that the horses' tails had been changed, and adding other ingredients to create a cocktail adulterated spirits. 

Whatever the truth of the matter, we are marking today with a Whisky Sours, a style of cocktail inspired by The Balance’s famous description of it as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters”. Enjoy!

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